Measuring generosity is a complex matter for many North Americans. However, no generosity audit is complete without giving attention to relationships.
Biblical texts speak plainly about how generosity should be built on healthy, caring relationships, including one of the most well-known: “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3, NRSV). Here are some relationships to consider.
The vast complexity, variety, and beauty of creation is the measure of God’s generosity to us. The Rev. Canon Carla Valentine Pryne describes our Creator as a generous God who can “make a forest out of a few seeds, a planet out of breath and song.” As a daily recipient of the gifts that the earth has to offer, what are you doing to lovingly care for it and to keep it sustainable for the generations to follow? There is not enough space in this blog post to list all of those possibilities. Individually, make an effort to reduce household waste, take fewer and combined trips, and use environmentally friendly products. Groups can take part in litter clean-up days, volunteer with food-gleaning organizations and food pantries, and grow community gardens. Everyone can support denominational and organizational ministries that support these efforts and more.
Another popular biblical text about generosity is what is often referred to as the Golden Rule: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Mt. 7:12, NRSV). Generosity to others is the essence of the gospel. A closer look finds that Jesus modeled that generosity in unexpected ways. While our giving takes many forms and supports a variety of important missions, it is worth considering if and how the recipients of our generosity are improving the lives of others. Disaster relief, ministries to the homeless, and summer school lunch programs are clear examples. Love-filled generosity requires us to go deeper and consider how we can contribute to improving systems that create barriers to others’ well-being. In an increasingly polarized world, sometimes the most generous thing we can do is to make a personal commitment to help solve these bigger challenges.
In a conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves (Mt. 22-34-40). We don’t always pay attention to the last two words of those commandments, and may even feel guilty for doing so. However, we will be our most generous when we are spiritually and emotionally healthy. In a society that emphasizes accomplishments, the Rev. Betsy Schwarzentraub suggests that we need to separate being from doing to discover our true possibilities and find hidden opportunities. An
attitude of being, she says, “opens us up further to ‘being-in-the-world,’ where we recognize the value of our involvement with others and are able to interact more meaningfully with our environment.” Wellness manager Tammy Devine says, “Seeing life as a gift and listening to God’s direction for our lives allows us to be an extension of God’s love for the sake of the world.”
Especially for Faith Communities
Faith communities can be the sweet spots where loving relationships and generosity meet. Our biological and faith communities are the most significant influencers of our understanding and practice of generosity. Congregations large and small can nurture a variety of loving relationships with creativity and imagination. Intergenerational interaction is experiencing a revival in some congregations. This can be a powerful and transformative setting for learning about faithful generosity from one another.
If you want your faith community to thrive as it learns to live generously, be sure to give attention to developing flourishing relationships. Linda Staats, coordinator for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Generosity Project, says that faithful generosity is a lens, a language, and a way of being in community. Use relationship language by creating a narrative budget that shows how the outcomes of your giving are a blessing and witness to those in your community. Share a vision of generosity that provides opportunities for persons to leave a legacy so that your ministry of relationship-building can continue in a vibrant way. Cultivate community by establishing ways for persons of all ages to share their wisdom about faithful generosity with each other.
Be assured, measuring your generosity by assessing the quality of your relationships is well worth your investment. It’s how we make these key stewardship concepts real:
- · claiming Christian stewardship is discipleship: how we live our lives in response to God’s bounteous grace;
- · naming giving as an essential part of our life as Christian stewards: meant to be practiced generously and joyfully;
- · celebrating God’s abundance as our opportunity to be channels through which God’s generosity can flow and God’s love can be shared.
Read more from the Rev. Canon Carla Valentine Pryne, the Rev. Betsy Schwarzentraub, Tammy Devine, Linda Staats, and nearly a dozen more stewardship thought leaders and practitioners in the Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine. Subscribe today and get 4 issues filled with thought-provoking, practical, and inspirational articles about faithful generosity.