3 Painful Reasons Church Generosity Isn’t More
Every church depends on the generosity of its members for financial and volunteer support. Church generosity isn’t always top of mind. And for churches, there are often painful reasons why they aren’t giving more than they receive.
There’s an old anecdote about a man who was trying to understand how big God is so he asked Him, “God how long is a million years to you?” God said, “A million years is like a second.” Then the man asked, “How much is a million dollars to you?” God said, “A million dollars is like a penny.” The man smiled and said, “God, could you spare a penny?” God smiled back and said, “Sure just wait a second.”
In all my years working with and being around pastors, I’ve never met anyone who said, “We have more money than we need right now.” You probably haven’t either. Interestingly though, statements about the lack of resources come from the mouths of leaders of all different church sizes. The need for more resources is not just a small church problem.
If your vision is bigger than your budget, you’re in good company.The Bible is filled with men and women called by God to accomplish something beyond their means. Moses didn’t have the speaking skills required to approach Pharaoh. Gideon didn’t have enough soldiers after God dwindled his army from 10,000 to 300, and the disciples didn’t have enough food to feed 5,000 people. If your vision doesn’t exceed your resources and abilities, you’re not dreaming BIG enough.
I love the blunt honesty of the disciples in the story of the feeding of 5,000. When Jesus challenged them to feed the crowd, they didn’t know what else to say but “With What?” It was a valid question. There was no way they had enough food to meet the need.
Almost every pastor has felt under-resourced at some point or another. Maybe you feel under-resourced because you have nothing, or maybe you feel under-resourced because even though you have a lot, you don’t have what you feel you need to do what God has called you to do. That’s one reason comparison is so silly— resources are relative.You are only responsible for being faithful to what God has called you to do—It doesn’t matter what someone else has.
I’ll confess that I often struggle with facility envy. I pastor a church that was built in the 1970’s with an “A-frame” sanctuary, and a Sunday School square. We still have a functioning Sunday School bell if we wanted to use it. I’m grateful we’re debt free, God has been so good to our church, but our building doesn’t convey the personality of our church. I would be lying if I didn’t admit every time I visit a modern facility the “new building” smell sends me into a trance.
Here’s what’s amusing though. I have a friend who pastor’s a church with a $6 million facility, and he’s jealous of my facility because he still owes a large portion of the mortgage. Resources are relative. For every person, you envy ahead of where you are there is someone behind you who feels the same way about you.
Every leader loves the rush of fresh, God-given, vision. However, when you lack the resources to accomplish what you feel God is inspiring you to do, you ask the same question the disciples asked, “With What?” You recognize a need but don’t feel you have the means to meet it. If you feel under resourced in your current season, let me challenge you with 3 questions about your leadership.
Your church will never be more generous than your. Go back and read that statement again. You set the bar. You shouldn’t be the largest numerical giver in your church, but you should be the largest percentage giver in your church.
I talk to many pastors who are frustrated at the lack of generosity in their church, but when I ask if they tithe or how much they personally give, the conversation gets awkward, because they don’t. You better be buying what you’re selling, or people will see right through you. I don’t preach on giving because I want people to give more. I preach on giving because I have personally experienced the life-changing power of generosity and God’s blessing. I don’t want anything from them; I want something for them. There’s a difference, and it’s conveyed more than spoken.
Only you know your motives, so only you can answer this question. Why do you want more resources? The answer may be that you want to reach more people with the gospel, but sometimes the noble answer masks selfish or self-promoting motives. There are countless inexpensive ways to share the gospel, a TV broadcast, new facility, or any other expensive option may not be right for right now. Be careful that you don’t desire good things for the wrong reasons because you’re comparing your church to someone who has a 10-20-year head start on you. Almost every great church and pastor I’ve met tells a similar story of innovation out of desperation. Don’t allow a desire for more resources to rob you of the joys of your current season no matter how scarce they may be.
One of the biggest myths in life and leadership is, “if I had more I would do more.” If you had more time, you would be more productive. If you had more staff, you would reach more people. If you had a better facility, your church would grow. The list goes on and on, and the “more myth” includes money as well. If you had more money, you would be more generous, right? Maybe, but not likely.
Jesus taught us that what we do with little is the best indicator of what we will do with more. Instead of looking at dollars and cents in your church budget, look at percentages and ask yourself, “does the way our church currently spends/allots money honor, God?” If the answer is no, or you’re not sure, stop making excuses and start making changes. There is no sure-fire formula for God’s blessing, but the Bible implies over and over again that blessing usually follows behavior. Do the things corporately you teach your people to do individually: budget, live below your means, put generosity first, and be content.
It is easy to be bitter towards people who don’t give, to be bitter towards God for not providing more resources. But before you allow your heart to become toxic ask yourself:
Am I modeling extreme church generosity?
Are my motives pure?
Have I been a good steward of my current resources?
The answer to these questions might be yes, and for reasons unknown to me and you God still chooses to have you in a context with scarce resources. If so, be encouraged. God sent quail into the desert, a raven with meat to Elijah, and kept oil flowing for a widow. He multiplied two fish sandwiches into an all you can eat buffet. God will always make sure you have the resources you need to do what he’s called you to do. Just because you don’t know how he is going to do it, doesn’t mean He doesn’t know how.
Don’t allow limited resources to limit your vision; you serve a limitless God.
Jason Isaacs is the lead pastor of Hope City Church in Louisville KY. His latest book, “Toxic Soul: A Pastor’s Guide To Leading Without Losing Heart” will help you find healing for your soul, recover your passion for ministry, and overcome discouragement and defeat. You can buy a copy here.