I encounter a lot of people who hold shallow understandings of generosity. This leads to feelings of guilt or shame — either because they don’t give like they think they should or they do only to suppress those feelings.
All too often, our understanding of generosity is confined to dollars given and hours served. When people think of generosity these frequently become the measurement we use to determine if we are generous. This can lead people to a feeling of guilt and shame because, either from their own perspective or the perspective of others, they do not give enough in these two areas.
During the past few years, the organization for which I work, Thrivent, has partnered with Barna to explore the ways in which different generations live out their generosity. The results have significant implications for how we think about generosity and discipleship.
I often share a very simple definition of discipleship: walking together through the journey of becoming more of who Christ desires us to be. Using this simple definition, we begin to see the discipleship opportunity emerge: As we become more like Christ, we naturally give to others by coming to a deeper understanding of what we have received and this takes place every day of the week, not just Sunday.
Research conducted by Barna Group revealed that four out of five U.S. Christians do not first think of financial giving when they think of generosity. Instead, additional forms have emerged:
--Hospitality: Openness, welcome, unqualified acceptance, lacking judgment (only one-third of U.S. Christians limit “hospitality” to hosting people in one’s home).
--Emotional-relational support: Being there for someone, compassionate listening, verbal encouragement, and support.
--Volunteering-service: Helping one another through unpaid labor
--Monetary giving: Giving financial resources to create a positive impact.
--Gifts: Non-financial presents.
Each of these expressions can show up stronger during particular life events and stages. There’s even evidence that these are stronger with some generations versus others. Understanding how people are living out their generosity on a day-to-day basis beyond what takes place on Sunday is our discipleship opportunity as church leaders. How can we walk alongside people in their journey of generosity knowing that it does not look the same for everyone?
Most Christians agree that the thrust of discipleship is a striving toward Christlikeness, toward perfect obedience to God. If that’s true, then we need to broaden our vision of generosity to include the kind of character we see in the life and teaching of Christ. We certainly need to be generous with our time, talent, and treasure. But we have also received so much more! We have received Mercy. Compassion. Grace. Forgiveness. As we broaden the picture of what we have received, we will naturally begin to see those things given to others on a daily basis.
How can we begin to think differently about generosity? Start with discipleship.
If God’s generosity is foundational for our giving of ourselves, it is also a building block for discipleship. Many people are motivated to be generous through compassion and spur-of-the-moment thinking. This doesn’t always fit nicely into a paradigm of rhythmic, biweekly giving.
We can raise generous disciples through a wide variety of creative expressions, knowing our world desperately needs more of it. After all, generosity is not confined to one day of the week.