In their recent book, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson claim that generosity is a practice, not a “haphazard behavior but a basic orientation to life.” In Galatians and Ephesians, Paul talks about generosity as a virtue, a habit of the heart, and a character trait. Generosity as both virtue and practice connects attitude to action.
Other research suggests that generosity is a learned character trait. Children watch and learn from their parents and grandparents. Children learn to give by being encouraged to give. Children whose parents share with them their theology of giving grow up to be more generous in their own giving.
Pastors, Stewardship leaders, and congregations should provide opportunities throughout the year to cultivate and encourage generosity, and one of those unique opportunities is the Annual Stewardship Emphasis. Keith Mundy, Program Director for Stewardship Ministry for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has shared the
following reasons for why he has found this to be important:
1) Stewardship is about recognizing that all we have belongs to God. Whatever we have during our lifetime is simply entrusted to us for the journey. Everything belongs to God.
2) The spiritual discipline of giving is an important discipleship practice, just like worship, prayer, and service. Take time once a year to reflect on and appreciate how God has blessed you, and determine how your household will regularly
3) Having an emphasis on what it means to be a steward helps us to grow better stewards in our home, church and community. Stewardship is not about paying the bills. It is about using the gifts God has entrusted to us, individually and collectively, to do God’s work. An emphasis each year helps teach us about what it means to be stewards of God’s varied grace.
4) An emphasis on stewardship provides an opportunity to reflect on the role of money in our lives. One of the ways people in a church can respond to this emphasis is by making a financial commitment. This is both an example of living
out the spiritual discipline of giving and an opportunity to share in God’s generosity.
So often I find that churches use the Annual Stewardship Emphasis as a means of figuring out what the budget will be for the coming year. What an amazing transformation there would be in your congregation if the budget was an expression of the ministries you believe God is calling you to do and an expression of faith that God has already equipped you with the resources you need to accomplish them.
The Annual Stewardship Emphasis then becomes an opportunity for spiritual growth, Bible study, mission interpretation, and talking about dreams for the future. It’s a time to share stories of generosity with one another: as the writer of Hebrews says, we encourage one another to show love and do good things. (Hebrews 10:24). It’s also a
time for us to provide resources for families to help them teach their children about the joy of giving.
Our generosity is measured by our giving and volunteering as well as the way in which we nurture relationships with one another. “When people of faith catch a glimpse of what happens because of their generosity, they give because there is something sacramental about giving. In our giving heaven meets earth, earth meets heaven, and God shows up!” (Dr. William Enright, Lake Institute on Faith and Giving)
Associate for Stewardship
*Excerpts taken from Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation published
by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center.