I love the fact that Scripture teaches proportionate giving. It tells me that I don’t have to be wealthy and give away large sums of money for my giving to matter and to be noticed by Jesus. But it also challenges those who have been blessed with extraordinary resources to be extraordinarily generous.
Proportionate giving provides a place and gives value to the full spectrum of giving. That spectrum begins with the “widow’s mite” and extends all the way to “to whom much is given, much is required.” There is a place for everyone. Every authentic, heart-felt offering is noticed and valued:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
Although full chapters in other books have been devoted to the truths contained in this passage and full-length sermons have covered these few verses in great depth, I simply want to underscore two ideas around which we can build a theology of stewardship. They are:
- It is not necessarily the size of the gift, but rather it is the size of the heart. In today’s economy, the widow’s gift would not buy a piece of candy, yet her response was noticed by Jesus and forever captured in scripture. She made the headlines in scripture. That’s huge!
- In recognizing the response of the widow, Jesus did not criticize or speak negatively about those who had wealth and gave large sums. He recognized and acknowledged their gifts as part of the response to the temple treasury.
There is an often-overlooked passage on the other end of the spectrum on giving that should challenge those of us in leadership with respect to wealth and capacity:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasures for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19)
There are two truths (among others) to be learned here:
- We are to be bold and challenging toward those whom God has blessed with great ability to give. The word used in this passage – twice – is command.
- Those who have been blessed with wealth are expected to be generous and willing to share.
As pastors and church leaders in the arena of stewardship, we should look for – and even create – ways to offer ministry opportunity and challenge to those with the unique capacity to make gifts of extraordinary size and impact. Some of the most generous people I have met in this ministry of stewardship are extremely wealthy. They understand that God is the source of their abundance. They understand that God has blessed them for a reason . . . and they want to share their blessings. They want to give their wealth away. They are looking for avenues to invest and they are intent on making a difference with their resources.
Unfortunately, organizations outside the church that depend on the generosity of major donors for survival understand the mindset of the major donor better than we in the church, and they are approaching these donors, asking them to consider investing in what they are doing. They are not afraid to ask. They passionately believe in their mission and vision. The church is missing out on this great outpouring of generosity for three reasons: 1) church leaders don’t understand the biblical teaching around wealth and responsibility; 2) church leadership does not understand the mindset of persons with affluence and what motivates them to give, and 3) church leaders are simply afraid to ask.
I worked with a church several years ago where the pastor told the story of a wealthy family in a nearby church giving two significant gifts one year – both of which made the local newspaper. The first gift was to the church where several generations of the family regularly attended. The second gift was to a nearby university where several family members had attended and received various degrees. The gift to the church was $250,000. The gift to the university was $2.5 million – 10 times the amount given to the church. When asked why the difference in the two amounts, the answer was simply, “The university asked for $2.5 million.” The local church cannot be afraid to ask, but it must be done in the context and spirit of ministry, stewardship and relationship.
I am beginning to see more and more churches create and embrace a ministry to those with high resource capacity. They understand that the person with wealth has spiritual and personal needs just like every other family in the church. They also understand that the key to a successful ministry in this area is to develop a relationship with these individuals when there is no “financial ask” connected. Then it is about the person, not his or her money. And, when the “ask” does come, it is comfortable and natural.
We are pleased to offer the latest post in our series of excerpts from Joel Mikell’s eBook, Crafting a Theology of Stewardship . . . and Why Your Church Needs One!, which lays out a framework for pastors and church leaders to develop a biblically based theology of stewardship and generosity. Next up is Perspective #6: Biblical stewardship does involve sacrifice. There is always a cost involved! Joel’s eBook is available through Amazon.