The Generosity Project is a collaborative effort between ABCUSA, regions, and local congregations. The Generosity Project aims to help pastors re-frame the conversation around stewardship and generosity in their congregations. Bi-monthly blogs help support new growth and understanding as we deepen our ministry and discipleship. The reflection below was provided by Rev. Stacy Emerson.
I have been challenged by a speaker at a conference who contested the emphasis on the word “abundance” in our language around stewardship. She cautioned us to remember that there are a variety of people in our pews, most likely, who are facing very different challenges. Some may absolutely resonate with the concept—they have jobs that are secure, good insurance, enough savings to worry little about the future. We may want to celebrate the abundance of God and encourage the sharing of God’s many blessings when we are trying to fundraise for our church. But how does that abundance talk sound to someone who has been out of work for months due to the pandemic? How does abundance resonate with someone working a full-time job and 2 or 3 side gigs to pay for student loan debt, rent, and car payments? Or someone who was just diagnosed with cancer and doesn’t have adequate insurance? It is not that they don’t feel blessed or want to be a part of God’s work in the world…it’s just “abundance” rings kind of hollow. And we inadvertently touch into places of shame or hurt rather than generosity.
The speaker pointed out that God does not guarantee abundance as we Americans tend to define it. Wealth, prosperity, perfect health—these are things our culture lifts up as the successful, valued life. Abundancy in our culture means some have more while others have less, but those who are worthy know an abundant life. However, in the Bible, abundancy is not defined in those terms. God only promises to be enough. God promises sufficiency. Abundance implies that there is a scale—from scarcity to abundance, and there is always the possibility for “more abundance.” This moving goal post keeps us dissatisfied with life and each other, and when we seemingly fail in the pursuit—the loss of a job, say, or unbearable debt due to an unexpected health event—we feel far short of the “abundance” we are supposed to know. And so we live everyday fending off scarcity and the idea that we don’t have enough, so we work for more. We are fearful of the future, so we numb the anxiety. We are stuck in the thinking that abundance is out there, someday, and we live today dissatisfied with everything. Sufficiency, on the other hand, acknowledges that life is never going to be perfect—God never promises that—and the constant pursuit of “more abundance” is an unhealthy one.
I am still wrestling with all the ramifications of shifting the vocabulary of stewardship. It’s why learning how to “re-frame” the conversation is so critical for us in the church today. At the very least, we need to be mindful of what we mean when we talk about the “abundance” of God and invite each other into conversation about the provisions God desires for every creature. What is the difference between abundancy and sufficiency? How do the words and images we use encourage or inhibit generosity in people? Can we escape the scarcity mindset and find a new frame of reference for the stewardship of our lives, our resources, and our ministry?
These thoughts and questions are part of the work we do in The Generosity Project—to find our more, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA. She is also the Coordinator for The Generosity Project which is about helping congregations deepen their understanding of stewardship as a call to generosity as disciples of Jesus; re-framing the stewardship conversation; and cultivating generosity in pastors, lay people, and congregations.