I recently came across a stewardship angle totally new to me. That’s a bit strange, though, because it’s in quite an old book. Back in 1954, Jacques Ellul wrote that with our wealth, Christians are called to announce the truth about God. We must use money, Ellul wrote, as a means through which we testify to the truth -- about God, and about money. For Ellul, the power of money is that it’s a tool for mission and evangelism.
Today’s post considers a related sort of alternative thinking. Written by Greg Mamula, a regional minister in the American Baptist Church, the essay reminds us how powerful -- even subversive -- generosity can be.
Center for Stewardship Leaders
Generosity and discipleship are intricately tied together. Generosity as a spiritual discipline requires us to, as Chris Willard and Jim Shepherd teach, “share all that we have, are, and ever will become as a demonstration of God’s love and a response to God’s grace.” Spiritual disciplines like generosity are a way for the Christian to demonstrate in practice what the kingdom of God looks like.
Generosity as Subversive Kingdom Living
Through the discipline of generosity we engage in the subversive kingdom ways of Jesus. The kingdom of God is more than just a simple reform of a flawed system. Jesus is calling us to move beyond mere improvements to existing structures, governments, economies, and cultures. The kingdom of God is an entirely new way to live. It is altogether separate and requires new rules and governance.
Pastor K. Jason Coker writes, “In the New Testament, God’s reign is the alternative governance founded on subversive generosity that stands opposed to Roman oppression. Today God’s reign provides the moral vision to see through distortions of consumerism. Its subversive generosity does not correct capitalism…it offers an alternative way to systemically understand obligations to one another and God.” Generosity, as an act of subversion, isn’t just a “new and improved” way to live within our culture of consumerism, it’s in fact an alternative way to exist that is in better alignment with the Kingdom of God.
The reality is that most people believe that it is good to be generous. Most would say that being generous with fiscal and other personal resources is congruous with Christian teachings and lifestyle. Yet as Patricia Snell Herzog points out, there’s a gap between what ought to be and what is actually occurring: “Most American Christians think they should be giving more than they do, but they are not uncomfortable enough about it to change their giving.” She goes on to discuss how the psychological concept of dissonance seems to not apply.
Normally when people become aware there is a gap between belief and behavior, they usually alter their beliefs or their behavior. But this doesn’t usually happen in the realm of generosity for Christians. Most American Christians seem to continue to believe generosity is vital and important while not engaging in the practice themselves. As a result, Christians live in a constant state of “comfortable guilt,” where they know something is wrong but don’t do anything about it.
Community Increases Generosity
One way to close that dissonance gap is to encourage individual Christians to think in terms of community, to change the “I” to “we.” Leaders can do this by encouraging people to appreciate their communion with each other, drawing attention to others’ needs so that individuals might appreciate their personal responsibility for generosity in light of their community. This approach is consistent with Kennon Callahan’s findings in Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Congregation, who claims a vast majority of members will respond best to generosity appeals framed on the basis so community, compassion, and reasonableness.
Subversive kingdom living is a difficult thing to do. I don’t claim to be an expert. I fail more than I succeed and miss it more than I see it. But what I understand is that intentionally fostering the discipline of generosity requires the context of a church community to help me to better be able to “share all that we have, are, and ever will become as a demonstration of God’s love and a response to God’s grace.” That is something that I want more of in my Christian journey.
 Patricia Snell Herzog, “Solving the Riddle of Comfortable Guilt,” Christian Reflection; A series on Faith and Ethics, (2015): 39.
Greg Mamula is Associate Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Nebraska.
Upcoming Stewardship Education
Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 1-4, 2017. For more information visit: Lake Institute or Lifelong Learning.
Lakeside will present the Generosity and Stewardship Conference on August 6-9, 2017. Major keynote speakers include: The Rev. Dr. Clayton Smith, Executive Pastor of Generosity at Church of the Resurrection, J. Clif Christopher, author and founder of Horizon and Bishop Ivan Abraham, former Presiding Bishop of Methodist Church in Southern Africa. Lakeside Chautauqua is located in Ohio along Lake Erie with a beautiful backdrop of spiritual opportunities, educational lectures, cultural arts performances and recreational activities. www.lakesideohio.com/generosity