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 February, team member Lisa Harris-Lee, director of Mission Engagement and National Network Initiatives for the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, provides his thoughts about stewardship and giving.
In Jesus Christ, all things hold together. This is a promise of harmonious interdependence that is echoed throughout the promises of God and the hope of salvation that we are eternally united with God. Humanity and divinity, heaven and earth, visible and invisible, past-present-future, the seen and unseen, the tangible and intangible, personal and communal, mission and stewardship, generosity and gratitude are all held together in Christ.
How do we hold generosity and gratitude together?
- By giving with God in mind. Can we tell a story through our giving that ties back to our gratitude to God? Can we create an opportunity through our giving for someone to draw someone closer to God or become a better witness for God? What if these questions became the litmus test of how we give and what we give?
- By remembering how generosity and gratitude are woven together in Biblical narratives.
- In John 4, the woman at the well generously shared with the people in her village the good news of the Messiah’s presence because she was grateful she had an encounter with Him.
- In Mark 14/Luke 7, the forgiven woman generously broke the alabaster jar and anointed the feet of Jesus because she was grateful for His grace.
- In Luke 15, the father of the prodigal son generously hosted an extravagant party because he was grateful his son was alive and returned home.
- In Luke 17, the man healed of leprosy generously thanked and worshipped Jesus because he was grateful for his healing.
- In Luke 19, Zacchaeus generously gave half his possessions because he was grateful Jesus saw him, accepted his hospitality and brought salvation to his home.
In every account, the grateful one and the giver were the same person. There are those who are motivated to give because of the gratitude expressed to them for the gift. The greater generosity is by those who give because of what has been given to them.
In no case did Jesus, demand the expression of generosity. The generosity flowed as response of their gratitude.
How many gospel stories can you identify that join together gratitude and generosity in this way?
How do you say, “Thank you?”
In Learning the Way – Reclaiming Wisdom from the Earliest Christian Communities, Dr. Cassandra Carkuff Williams (ABHMS Director of Discipleship) offers a powerful story about the connection between gratitude and generosity.
For Valentine’s Day one year, I did a children’s sermon in which I gave each of the children a flower as a reminder of God’s love for them. With wide-eyed smiles, they proudly and carefully carried their little treasures back to their pews. Later, as Sunday school began, one of the adults arrived huffing, “I am so ashamed. Not one of those children said ‘thank you.’” She was late for the adult class, because she had taken time to admonish the children for their oversight. After class, one by one, remorseful children shuffled their way to me to apologize and say, “Thank you for the flower.” No happy saunters. No smiling eyes. My response to each child was, “ I appreciate your words, but I already heard you say thank you. I ‘heard’ it in your smile and in the way you handled your flower.” The children may not have expressed their gratitude in the “right” way but genuine thankfulness had emanated from them. The children’s gratitude had issued from their belief that I had given them flowers simply to show them love – no conditions, no expectations. Once the “should” entered the equation, the authenticity of their celebration was replaced with perfunctory words.
Christian community deals not in obligatory politeness and pretense but in the currency of real gratitude. Gratitude is an earthly, irrepressible, lived response to the love of God freely offered through Jesus. (Learning the Way, p. 98)
Be careful to consider that every expression of generosity you offer could be planting seeds of gratitude that bloom into acts of generosity that far exceed their expression of gratitude to you.
Are our calls to generosity invitations to remember all God does and has done? If your offering appeals are commanding, demanding and guilt-filled they are not invitational. Our calls to generosity are sometimes couched in the language of obligation and duty [should and ought] when they are better positioned in the language of gratitude and invitation [remembrance and come close].
Consider occasions you have been most generous and what inspired or motivated that act of generosity? Were you generous because you were grateful for the generosity poured into your life or were you generous so that someone would list your name among donors, offer a special seat or say, ‘thank you’ to you?
Bio: The Rev. Lisa R. Harris-Lee, director of Mission Engagement and National Network Initiatives for the American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS), joined the ABHMS staff in September 2008. She brings to her position the same passion that helped her answer the call to ordained ministry in 1994—“a passion to bring people as close to God and as close to one another as possible,” based on the great commandment to love God, neighbor and self. She previously provided leadership to ABHMS’ Neighborhood Action Program (NAP) Christian centers and Children in Poverty initiative. Ministry has called Harris-Lee to communities in 42 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guyana, Haiti, Thailand, Burma and South Africa. Prior to attending seminary, Harris-Lee served for two years in public policy positions in New Jersey and Washington, D.C.