A team working together around the challenge of stewardship in the 21st century has worked hard over the past eighteen months to put together “The Generosity Project,” a pilot program running from Sept. 2017 – Dec. 2018 which will work to provide stewardship resources and support to a cohort group of pastors from New England regions. Members of the team have prepared blogs for “The Generosity Project” participants, which will also be shared on the ABCUSA website in the coming months. To learn more about The Generosity Project, click here.
In November, team member Steve Bils, Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast, provides his thoughts about stewardship and giving.
Dr. M. R. DeHaan, a second-career pastor (in his early 30s he gave up his medical practice to attend seminary) is perhaps best known as the founder of the Radio Bible Class and the editor of “Our Daily Bread”. While in high school back in the early 1970s, I had occasion to read his commentary on Hebrews and was so struck by this passage that I copied it by hand into the flyleaf of my Bible:
“There is a vast difference between coming to Jesus for salvation and coming after Jesus for service. Coming to Christ makes one a believer, while coming after Christ makes one a disciple. Not all believers are disciples. To become a believer one accepts the invitation of the Gospel, to be a disciple one obeys the challenge to a life of dedicated service and separation. Salvation comes through the sacrifice of Christ; discipleship comes only by sacrifice of self and surrender to His call for devoted service. Salvation is free, but discipleship involves paying the price of a separated walk. Salvation can’t be lost because it depends upon God’s faithfulness, but discipleship can be lost because it depends upon our faithfulness.”
DeHaan’s decision to leave his successful practice to enter vocational ministry was motivated by his understanding of God’s generosity. God had been extravagantly generous with him in that He offered freely, by God’s grace, eternal life. DeHaan appreciated this gift could only be received by simple faith, acknowledging that Jesus’ offer of eternal life to those who would believe in Him for it was indeed a valid offer. Eternal life was a gift, not a reward, and could not be earned or deserved. He also understood that although it was completely free to him, his eternal life cost God the life of God’s only begotten Son.
That example of Generosity on God’s part was what motivated the young doctor to respond in kind by “denying himself, taking up his cross and following Jesus.” At its very core, DeHaan realized that discipleship, following Jesus, was being a faithful steward of all that God has given him. To DeHaan, our generosity is mimicking the generosity that we saw Jesus model. As Jesus said when he sent His disciples out in Matthew 10, “Freely you have received, freely give.”
During this Thanksgiving – Advent – Christmas season we have ample opportunity to reflect on the abundance with which we are blessed and on the generosity with which it has been given. Because of God’s abundant generosity we have the assurance that we are secure in God’s love and gracious embrace. It is from this position of privilege that we have the freedom to truly love our neighbors as ourselves. This mimicked generosity (don’t let mimic throw you; it essentially means “to imitate”) is an intentional reflection of the values of our Lord Himself. A disciple is one who seeks to develop within themselves the character, values, and mission of their teacher. God so loved that He gave; we show our love by our generous giving as well.
Meditate on these words from the fifth chapter of Ephesians, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us . . .”
Bio: Rev. Steve Bils has served as the Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast (originally ABC of Oregon) since 2009. Prior to moving to Portland, he served as the Associate Executive Minister of ABC of Nebraska, devoting a large portion of his time to his work as the Minister of Mission Support. Steve and his wife, Trudi, will celebrate their 40th anniversary in January with their three children and five grandchildren.