During the past week, I’ve preached two sermons on Extravagant Generosity for churches moving through the Consecration Sunday program. The messages were well-received, the spirit was positive, and I couldn’t discern any noticeable extra resistance, hesitance, or negativity because of the economic news. It sure seems like it would be easier to talk about tithing and proportional giving if the stock market were up by 40% rather than down by 40%. Yet, interestingly, often during stressful times, giving remains steady.
I’ve also met with several groups of clergy during the last couple weeks, and I’ve heard mixed responses about giving trends. Most pastors report that giving in their churches was up a little or about even to last year. A few report a slight downward movement, but feel hopeful about the remainder of the year. I found this encouraging and, frankly, biblical. Wasn’t it during a period of severe affliction that the churches of Macedonia gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, out of their abundant joy and extreme poverty? (II Corinthians 8)
Now here’s the most extraordinary story I’ve heard on the topic all week. I spoke with a pastor yesterday who had a most unexpected outcome to a stewardship sermon. He’d been focusing on Extravagant Generosity, helping people understand the place of giving in their walk with Christ. The church had about a million dollar debt on a building. The pastor, almost as an aside, expressed his hope and vision that one day the congregation would be free of debt so that it could spend as much on missions as it does on itself.
The next morning a couple came to the church office and said they had talked about the pastor’s sermon all afternoon. They wanted to do something, and they wanted to do it right away. In fact, they wanted it completed within 24 hours. They wanted to immediately transfer a gift of money and securities to pay off the entire debt of the church! (Two quick side notes: First, remember that this is at the rock bottom moment in the financial crisis, and these people were usually moderate givers. Is grace amazing, or what? Second, no one knows why they were emphatic about doing it immediately, but they insisted on doing it that very day. Don’t you wonder if they wanted to do it quickly for fear they might change their minds!?!?) To make a long story short, the building debt was entirely paid off immediately. An ambulance was called to resuscitate the pastor!
Talk about Extravagant Generosity! I hope and pray that this gift blesses the contributors in their journey of faith as richly as it blesses the congregation and its ministry. Imagine the freedom and power this now gives the congregation. And imagine the people who will be reached through mission and service as the congregation can now shift budget resources toward extraordinary ministry. Glory be to God, the giver of all good things!
What can we learn?
Pastors, never underestimate the power of God to use your words to help the Word take root in the hearts and minds of people. Like sowing seeds upon a rock-strewn, weedy path, some of the seed assuredly takes hold in ways we can never imagine.
Laity and pastors alike, what extraordinarily unexpected and costly expression of love for God and others might God be calling you to offer? What’s the boldest step you’ve ever taken in your walk with Christ? Christ’s ministry was radical, passionate, intentional, risk-taking, and extravagant. With the Spirit’s help, how might these qualities stretch us to do things we never imagined possible?
Yours in Christ,
PS: Check out the previous blog entry for further reflections about this time of financial stress. And please sign up to receive free email reminders from the Five Practices Blog. Get your friends and members of your church to sign up, too!