Generosity and the Brain

I believe my leadership calling is to bring insight about the incredible gift from God called the brain into conversations about Christian leadership. So, many of my blog posts reflect this bent from my current learning. Since we’re to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6.20) and the brain is part of our body, we need to honor God with our brains. In this post I explain two significant processes in our brains that influence generosity: the sense of reward we personally experience when we give and the empathy we feel toward the recipient of our gifts.

Many 3D words on a white background with a big word Give in red letters surrounded by related terms such as donation, benevolence, offer, share, generosity, con

I grew up in the church and I tithed even before I was a Christian. I go beyond a tithe because the bible says I’m supposed to be generous. We certainly must preach and teach about generosity, but we also must recognize how people make decisions. Emotions are a vital part of our decision making. In fact, neuroscientists are discovering that people whose emotional centers of their brains are damaged (called lesions) can’t make wise decisions. Often they lack discretion because they can’t emotionally connect that a decision could bring a bad outcome. So, it makes sense that we pastors have some sense of how the brain works.

I’d like to think that Christians give solely from obedience, not on the basis of a reward they will get. They don’t. People give partially because it makes them feel good and gives them a sense of satisfaction. I believe that in many cases, such giving is biblically justified because the bible often speaks about serving God for reward. In fact, when people give, it increases a neurotransmitter in their brains, dopamine, that makes them feel good.

Secondly, neuroscientists have discovered that a key component that increases giving lies in the degree the giver empathizes with the recipient of the gift. If their hearts are touched and they feel empathetically drawn to the need, they usually give more frequently and more generously.

So, in light of what we know about the brain and generosity, I suggest four simple ideas to incorporate into your stewardship plans.

  1. Put a tangible face on giving to increase empathy. Certainly provide budgets, but translate those dollar figures into tangible, heartfelt needs. For example, I’ve sometimes explained that giving helps us do even the small things like buying pampers for the nursery.
  2. Tell stories to connect with people’s hearts (empathy). When I’ve promoted giving we’ve often told stories how their giving has changed someone’s life.
  3. Regularly report financial status to build trust. Trust builds favor and connects with the brain’s sense of fairness. Use clear, concise, and frequent reporting to keep people in the know.
  4. Appeal to personal satisfaction to connect with the reward motivation. Share biblical stories that model how when bible characters gave sacrificially, they experienced personal pleasure and the pleasure of God.

God gave us the incredible gift of our brains. He’s also given us smart people who sit around in laboratories peering into people’s brains with brain scanners to explain how they work. We need to stay teachable and to learn more about his magnificent creation called the brain. If you are a geek, you can read the report I’ve referenced below.

How about you? What insights have you learned that have encouraged people to give more generously?


Hare, T., Camerer, C., Knoepfle, D., O’Doherty, J. & Rangel, A. (2012) Value Computations in Ventral Medial PFC during Charitable Decision Making Incorporate Input from Regions Involved in Social Cognition. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30 (2), pp.583-590.


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The Millionaire Pastor – an Oxymoron?

Some time back I listened to the audio book The Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Burchard. He’s authored two New York Times Bestsellers, speaks to thousands, and offers a plethora of training materials. He became a multi-millionaire before he turned 30. His inspiring book (even for pastors) challengers its readers to become experts in their field and become millionaires in the process. Unlike other self-promoting gurus, Burchard comes across with a servant’s heart. I don’t believe he’s in it for the money. I thoroughly enjoyed his book yet it raised this question in my mind. Should pastors aspire for material wealth?

business millionaire over white - dollars coming down

One of Burchard’s theses is, the more money you make, the more you can help people, which raises these questions.

  • Is it true that the more money a pastor makes, the more he or she could help people?
  • Should there be a limit on how much a pastor makes?
  • Would it be wrong for a pastor to become a millionaire?
  • Is the phrase “millionaire pastor” an oxymoron, an apparent contradiction in terms?

Contrasting answers to these questions abound.

Rick Warren made millions from the sale of The Purpose Driven Life yet gave away 90% of the profits, lives in a modest home, and drives a used suv. On the other hand, a few years ago I watched a TV preacher deliver a sermon justifying his ownership of a Bentley, a $200,000 car.

Lifechurch.tv, pastored by Craig Groeschel, gives away all their stuff for free on their website. On the other hand, when I wrote my first book Daughters Gone Wild-Dads Gone Crazy, I asked a mega-church pastor for permission to use a quote from one of his books. He charged me to use only five words.

I don’t offer clear answers to the above questions. However, the Bible seems to provide some guidelines with these ideas.

  • Scripture clearly endorses paying pastors when it uses phrases such as don’t muzzle the ox, a laborer is worthy of his hire, and its use of the phrase ‘double-honor’ which implies providing pastors with a salary.
  • Pastors are not exempt from these biblical teachings: spend frugally, save wisely, and give generously.
  • The Bible never condemns money per se nor does it condemn the rich. It only cautions us about money’s potential harmful influence.

So when Burchard contends that mastering your message is a ticket to wealth (in our case the message is biblical truth) should pastors exempt themselves?

What do you think?

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Pastor, Do This BEFORE you Talk about Money

Every year as a pastor I’ve taught a 3-5 week series on giving and generosity. One year we titled our series The Treasure Principle, based on Randy Alcorn’s book by the same name. We also sent a copy of the book to every giver on record and encouraged the church to read a chapter each week that matched the upcoming sermon theme. I highly recommend it. If you’re a pastor, you’ve probably felt the same angst I’ve felt when I’ve taught on giving. Even though I believe my heart has been in the right place, I can’t help but think some people felt I was being self-serving as I taught. Here’s what I now do to help mitigate those thoughts in people’s minds.

A Sunday morning church congregation putting money in the offering plate

How pastors should prepare before teaching about money

First, make sure your heart is right by asking yourself these questions.

  • Do I faithfully give?
  • Do I tithe and give beyond a tithe?
  • Do I teach from a desire that others will experience the joy of generosity or because my church is not making the church budget?

Second, at the beginning of each message, acknowledge what some people feel. I actually say something like this. “I recognize that when a pastor talks on money it can appear self serving. I know that some of you may be thinking, I really don’t want to hear some preacher talk about it. I would simply ask that you lower your guard a bit, listen to what I have to say, and then decide how you want to respond. It’s between you and God.”

Third, share your giving story. In one message I explaineded that my wife and I had faithfully tithed and beyond since we were married. I also shared that my parents taught me to give at an early age and that a comment from my 5th grade Sunday School teacher left an indelible imprint in my life that put me on the path to generosity. When people hear our honest stories, it can help lower their guard and resistance to the message. 

When I began serving in ministry 35 years ago, I’d often shy away from the money subject. However, I now realize that giving is as much a part of discipleship as is Bible reading and prayer. I can’t shy away from it, but must approach the subject with tact and grace.

What has helped you get the generosity message across?

If you are not a pastor, what advice would you give to us about how to effectively encourage people to give?

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Our Church’s Giving Increased 33%…Here’s Why

I recently became lead pastor at a great church in London, Ontario, West Park Church. It has a rich tradition, great people, is located in a fast growing area, and has a killer facility. When I arrived we faced a significant budget deficit. We erased our deficit with a special offering around Christmas. However, during the first three months of this year we fell behind again. We then intentionally addressed our declining finances by taking several intentional steps. As a result, the last six weeks our average weekly giving has increased over 33%. Here’s what we did that I believed is positively impacting our giving.

generosity road sign illustration design
  1. I taught a 4-part series on generosity using the concepts in The Treasure Principle written by Randy Alcorn.
  2. We sold the book and encouraged the entire church to read it.
  3. Several of our small groups studied the series. It’s a great 4-week series in DVD format.
  4. We held what we called a “Tithe Demonstration Day” where we encouraged everyone in the church to tithe off one week’s salary. Here’s the bulletin insert we used: Tithe Day Insert 2014.
  5. I moved the offering to the end of the service. I also added a short comment about giving at that time and I often will put a face on giving by showing a picture of some ministry and tying the church’s giving to that tangible ministry. This move also made the offering time less of an afterthought.
  6. We added a challenge after the tithe demo day called the “90 Day Challenge” where I challenged everyone to take another step toward giving during the next 90 days. I even promised that if someone took the next step in that challenge and after 90 days felt it wasn’t worth it, I’d take them out to a steak dinner. Here’s the insert we used: 90 Day Giving Challenge.

I realize that six weeks doesn’t guarantee a permanent trend, but I sense that God is doing a work in our church in the area of generosity.

What has helped your church become more generous?

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This Sermon got the Most Positive Comments ever-and it was on Tithing!

I moved to Canada about five months ago to pastor West Park Church in London, Ontario. I’m enjoying living and serving in Canada. Early on I realized that I needed to teach on generosity. So, last week I brought a message on tithing, the fourth in a series on generosity. I don’t think I’ve every delivered a message that elicited so many positive comments as did this one. So, if you teach on giving, I hope this message will help. I’ve included a short outline below as well as a link to the full text of the sermon. The manuscript doesn’t reflect perfect grammar, but I hope you find it useful.

tithe

Tithing sermon outline:

Title: Tithing..say what?

Introduction: give caveat about pastors talking about money.

Main scripture: Malachi 1, 3

Review main points of prior sermons on generosity.

Big idea: you can grow a heart of generosity by making these four choices

  1. Assess your current giving level: the 7 kinds of givers
    1. $0 givers
    2. impulse givers
    3. cash givers
    4. percentage givers
    5. tithers
    6. tithe plus givers
    7. living cap givers
  2. Understand the real meaning of tithing.
    1. Deal with the objection that tithing is Old Testament
  3. Create a realistic giving plan. (1 Cor 16.2)
    1. systematic
    2. personal
    3. proportional
  4. Start somewhere. Where you start will not be where you want to end up.
    • cautions: don’t wait until you can afford it
    • don’t wait until you are dead
    • don’t wait until you have more money
    • don’t wait until you can fully think it through.

Challenge to join next week’s tithe demo day.

Here’s the link to the pdf: tithing by Charles Stone 2014 for blog

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