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. Jill Harvey.
The 1981 film – “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” – raised the moral, ethical and legal question of whether or not a person has the right to terminate their life. As the title implies, the main character – an artist who is paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident – wants to die and assumes he has the right to do so because, whose life is it anyway?! (The implicit answer is: “It’s mine, that’s whose!”) We could well ask a similar question about money.
In the church, we regularly announce that “all we have comes from God,” so our offerings are merely “giving a portion back to God.” That is absolutely a healthy attitude toward money. But… do our actions and our financial decisions back it up? Three incidents from 3 different churches come to mind when I consider that question.
In a small struggling church, memorial funds were mistakenly deposited into the checking account, and the treasurer used that money to pay bills. Needless to say, the family of the deceased was very disappointed when they found out. A few years later, the church received an unexpected and anonymous windfall of $2,000. That money was enough to eliminate a growing budget deficit. But, a member of the family connected to the “lost” memorial gift demanded “her” money back, and so the windfall was deposited into the memorial fund where it sat, unused, for years.
In another small and somewhat struggling church, the Board of Deacons entertained a request from a sister church for financial help with an unexpected and costly building repair. A gift of $100 (a generous amount at the time) was proposed. But the Head Deacon blocked the gift, declaring: “We can’t give away our money; we need to keep it for ourselves!”
And in another church (not so small, not particularly struggling), the Music Director views the money budgeted for the music program as being “his” money. He further feels that, since it is “his,” so long as he is spending it on music-related items, he does not need to be accountable to the congregation for his purchases and expenses.
These stories, and others like them, illustrate how tightly we tend to hold on to what we perceive as “ours,” even as we declare that “everything we have is a gift from God.” It seems to be a human tendency to assume that, once the gift falls under our control, it is indeed ours to keep.
True generosity occurs not when we give what is “ours” to God. True generosity stems from understanding that these gifts were not “ours” in the first place. As stewards, we are called to use all the resources provided to us by our Creator in service to our Creator. “Ours” and “mine” is the language of holding on; “generosity” and “stewardship” speak the language of letting go… letting go and letting God use the gifts that were given to us for that very reason.
Some people think that, in order to be generous, one must first be wealthy. But God has given generous (and different) gifts to us all. Whether those gifts are large or small, by relinquishing our hold on what is “ours” and remembering, instead, that our resources belong to God, we may become active participants in God’s plan and agents of God’s grace… in our churches, in our towns, and it our world. Which only seems fair, because, whose money is it, anyway?
The Rev. Jill Harvey is the pastor of the Niantic Baptist Church in Niantic, CT and a cohort facilitator for The Generosity Project.