Through examples and commands, the Scriptures challenge His followers to strive for abundant generosity. In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul describes an amazing example from a very poor church (the church in Macedonia) that exemplified lavish generosity through an offering they took up for an even more destitute church than they (the church at Jerusalem). As you read these 10 qualities of a generous person, ask yourself how well your life embodies each.
First, some backstory. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth, a relatively wealthy church. A year prior they had committed to collecting an offering for the poor church in Jerusalem. But, for whatever reasons they had not completed it. Paul address this issue in 2 Cor. 8 by using the generosity of the Macedonian church in hopes that they (the church in Corinth) would complete the offering. I believe this chapter points to these 10 qualities.
- Give out of a joyful heart. Paul describes the Macedonian church as overflowing with joy.
- Don’t tie generosity to their financial status. Famine and a heavy handed government worked against the Christians in Macedonia. They were destitute themselves, but didn’t let that limit their generosity.
- Willing give. This church didn’t have to be coerced. They initiated giving.
- Consider giving a privilege rather than a duty.
- Look for ways to give. They didn’t focus on their bad economic situation. Instead, they looked for how they could help others in spite of it.
- Have experienced a work of deep grace. Grace is a theme found throughout the 2 Corinthians. They truly understood what Jesus did for them and their lives evidenced that understanding.
- Welcome challenging giving opportunities. Paul wrote in verse 8 that giving can actually “test the sincerity” of our love. They weren’t afraid to step out in faith with this challenging opportunity.
- Match their intentions to reality. Unlike the Corinthian church that intended to give but didn’t, the Macedonian church decided to give and actually did.
- Expect wise stewardship of their gifts. In verse 20 Paul says he took pains to make sure that how they administered their gifts looked right not only in the eyes of God but also in the eyes of the givers as well.
- Enthusiastically give. One of the Christians Paul sent with this message was described as being zealous. I believe Paul mentioned this quality to point to their need to be enthusiastic about their promise to give.
Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the late 1800’s and 1900’s served for 55 years without a furlough and spent the final two decades of her life bedridden. She captures the essence of true generosity with this quote.
You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.
How would you describe your generosity?
In the 1992 presidential race Ross Perot coined the phrase, “giant sucking sound,” to describe his concern that a proposed treaty would cause American jobs to go overseas. I believe it aptly describes how ministry can sometimes feel to church leaders. Every day church ministry demands that we sooth someone’s hurt feelings, solve a ministry problem, seek new ways to grow our churches, or satisfy what seems to be some church members’ increasing expectations. Ministry does feel like a “giant sucking sound” that can suck the life out of us. How do we know if our ministry is drowning us?
Major crises can certainly increase our stress as church leaders. But often lots of small stresses converge at once that unless we see the warning signs, we can end up casualties of ministry. Several years ago several church issues converged at once and I found myself not liking ministry, feeling stressed, and not being a very nice person to be around. I had to step back to re-calibrate my life. My first step was to take inventory and define reality.
I’ve listed below what I saw happen to me as I got sucked into ministry stress. As you read these, ask yourself if you can identify with any.
- I felt like I was skimming my most important tasks as the senior pastor in an attempt to get to everything else that was screaming for my attention.
- I felt so tired when I got home that I wanted to go to bed at 8.30 every night. Sometimes I did.
- I easily began to do mind-numbing stuff like check Twitter every hour.
- When I went home all I seemed to talk about were the problems at church.
- What I’ve always enjoyed doing (looking and dreaming ahead about new ministry ventures) I now had little internal drive and motivation to do.
- My daily devotions suffered.
- I felt achy all the time.
- I felt anger floating just beneath the surface ready to quickly surface when faced with another stress.
If you hear that “great sucking sound” in your ministry, I suggest you take inventory as I did as a first step in gaining a healthy balance in ministry.
What have been indicators of that “great sucking sound” in your ministry?
Several years ago I got a tweet that a large church in the southeast was starting another campus in the county where I started a church over 20 years ago. This church started out with over 1,000 from day one. The church I started finally reached 500 after 14 years. I must confess that unpleasant emotions crept into my heart when I read this tweet. The curse of comparison had reared its ugly head. When we pastors compare our work against others, what can we do?
Our fallen human nature naturally tempts us to compare ourselves with the more successful, the prettier, the smarter. I believe we often do so to build ourselves up ao we can feel significant. No matter your vocation, position in life, or size of your ministry if you are a pastor, you probably face this same curse.
I don’t have pat answers, but a few choices have helped me avoid the vortex of discouragement that comparison can bring.
- I must remind myself that my identity comes not from my performance, but from my relationship with Christ.
- I must do my best with the opportunity God gives me right now and if I do, I will please Jesus. Jesus commended the guy who returned 10 talents back to him the same way he commended the guy who returned 4. They each had different levels of giftedness, yet they both were faithful to the task they were given.
- I must believe the words of Paul when he said that ultimately it’s not what I think of my performance that counts, but what the Lord thinks.
What you say about yourself means nothing in God’s work. It’s what God says about you that makes the difference. (2 Cor. 10.18, The Message)
What has helped you avoid the curse of comparison?
Shame is a powerful and often silent killer of our soul. It has afflicted many pastors and ministry leaders. Edward Welch, author of Shame Interrupted (a great book) defines shame in this way. Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated. Or, to strengthen the language, you are disgraced because you acted less than human, you were treated as if you were less than human, or you were associated with something less than human, and there are witnesses (Kindle loc 177-180). So how do we deal with it. Here are some thoughts.
3 Ways Leaders can Deal with their Shame
- Realize where shame comes from.
- It comes from our own sin.
- It comes from sins others commit against us.
- It comes simply by association (i.e., someone in your family commited something scandalous and you feel shame because of it).
- It comes from our humanness (i.e., when we realize we don’t have what it takes to achieve our goals in life; this is often true for pastors when they realize they may never pastor a big church).
- Take comfort in God’s perspective on shame.
- He takes great interest in the shamed, forgotten, and marginalized (1 Cor. 1.26-28).
- Jesus experienced shame for us and therefore knows it intimately (Is. 53.3).
- God loves us not because of our worthiness (our perception that we have it all together) but because of His loving nature (Deut. 7.6-8).
- Make four critical decisions.
- Turn to his face in repentance. Read the amazing story of Isaiah’s encounter with God in Is. 6.1-7 for the biblical basis of my thoughts below.
- When we feel shamed, we don’t want to look someone in the face. We want to avoid them. However, Jesus wants us to come into his presence and look Him in the face to deal with our shame caused by our own sin. He wants us to confess and repent. Psalms 34.5 says, Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
- Receive his touch of forgiveness.
- Jesus often physically touched the outcast, broken, and shamed. Human touch can often melt away shame. Jesus wants us to experience his touch of forgiveness and cleansing
- Drink deeply of His Spirit.
- In John 4 we read the familiar story about the woman at the well. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for water, he crossed many shame barriers: rabbis did not talk to women, Jews did not talk to Samaritans, and Jews did not contaminate themselves by eating or drinking with non-Jews. He offered her life-giving water from His Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit can wash away our shame as it did for this woman.
- Feast at his table of acceptance in the church community.
- After Peter denied Jesus, he felt great shame. Yet, after Jesus’ resurrection and after Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him, he had a meal with Peter and the other disciples which pictured his being welcomed back into community. Shame can melt away when we experience real community in the church.
Shame stings, but it need not be deadly. Although people and circumstances around us may still shame us (and it hurts), Christ can release us from its destructive power.
1Pet. 2.6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
What has helped people you know deal with their shame?
Dave Berry, one of the funniest guys on the planet once wrote, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.” I’m not sure if he’s 100% right, but he’s close. Meetings, and extended ones like retreats, often don’t achieve their intended purpose. Why? Because we make significant mistakes when we plan them. Consider these five mistakes and potential corrective measures.
Here are some dumb mistakes I’ve made when planning and holding retreats.
- Packing too much into a retreat (which have ranged from 1-3 days). I once handed out about 20 different documents for review and study.
- Talking too much. At times I’ve talked/taught so much that I left little time for thorough interaction.
- Going too long. As the adage goes, “The brain will absorb only what the rear can endure.”
- Not including R&R.
- Including other leaders too late into the planning process. In one church I asked our elders to join us after we had completed our planning. They ended up not being on the same page and the pastors felt like our retreat was a waste of time.
As I’ve grown in my retreat leading and planning, these factors have contributed to better success.
- Narrow your discussion to a fewer number of topics.
- Create a “talk about later” list of subjects that surface during the retreat.
- Hold your retreat off-site rather than at the office.
- Begin and end at a reasonable hour. Don’t wear people out.
- Do something fun like watch a movie together.
- Listen more that you talk. Remember the acronym, WAIT, which means Why Am I Talking?
What tips can you share that have helped make your retreats effective?