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.
Recently while on vacation I had an opportunity to worship at a church in a different tradition than my own. I always enjoy the chance to see how other pastors conduct a service. On this Sunday, the offering turned out to be quite a surprise. The pastor announced the offering by saying, “OK folks, it’s time to pay the bills!”
What?!! To say that this “surprised” me is an understatement. I was actually shocked. This was more than a pastor not doing things the way I do them; for me, this was a full-on theological disconnect and the polar opposite of everything we talk about in The Generosity Project.
Well, I was in for another surprise. When I mentioned this to a (non-church-attending) friend, she said, “Well, it’s practical, and that’s probably a better approach.” (I didn’t have the nerve to ask her “better than what?”) When I asserted that, in the long run, giving out of a spirit of generosity is a healthier and more effective approach than “give us money to pay the bills,” she challenged me: “And how do you know that?” To such a question, I can only plead “experience”!
Believe me, I have been a member of churches that continually begged for money to “pay the bills” or “keep the doors open.” And I always felt guilty that somehow, I was not giving enough. In fact, the constant message of “we need money” can make the most generous giver feel like it’s not enough. That’s because, when we focus on scarcity instead of abundance, we encourage people to think about what they don’t have rather than what they do have. And what we do have is often more than we realize and more than enough.
In my current pastorate (13 going on 14 years), I stopped talking about funding the budget a long time ago, focusing instead on the abundant blessings of God and how we are called to use those blessings in God’s service and as God’s stewards. The results of this “risky” approach speak for itself. While we are not a “wealthy” church, we are definitely a church that consistently finds itself having what we need to continue operating as God’s stewards. Or, to put it another way, we have enough.
Mind you, we didn’t get there overnight. I took a pay cut in my second year, and there were a few years early on when no one on the staff got a raise. But, as our spiritual understanding of what it means to be God’s stewards and what it means to be generous has grown, our financial worries have diminished, and we – as a congregation – have developed a much healthier approach to our finances. We are by no means perfect when it comes to money, but we are generous. And that generosity is extended with a healthy measure of joy in giving.
Does generosity mean that we can pay our bills? Of course it does. But, while “paying the bills” may be a happy side effect of generosity, it definitely (in my humble opinion) is not the point. The point, rather, is to reflect God’s generosity to us, as we use all the gifts God has given us to do the work of his kingdom here on earth.
The Rev. Jill Harvey is the pastor of the Niantic Baptist Church in Niantic, CT and a cohort facilitator for The Generosity Project.