Watching the members of a church move from discontentment to gratitude, from selfishness to selflessness, might just be one of the most awesome things a pastor can experience in ministry. It’s a sign that God is working through the hearts of the people to make them more Christlike, and it’s evidence that their pastor’s persistence and effort have paid off.
Unfortunately, when a person becomes a Christian, their tight grip on money could be one of the last things to go. Even lifelong Christians struggle in this area, so it’s probably no surprise to you that cultivating generous hearts in your church isn’t always an easy task. But have hope: It’s not only possible, but worth the time, effort and prayer that go into it. As Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
So put God on speed dial and put the following tips to work.
1. Teach Generosity by Example
More is caught than taught. In other words, you can preach about generosity all you want, but until you become generous yourself, your church members probably won’t experience a heart change in themselves. Even worse, if you try to tell them to be generous without showing them what generosity looks like, the whole message will be lost because you’ll be doing one thing while saying another. Be intentional about modeling this—and encourage your staff to do the same—and remind them why we give: It’s a reflection of God’s ownership and it’s praise and worship.
2. Create Opportunities for Your Church to Give (Besides Passing the Plate)
It may feel manufactured and insincere at first, but the more your members practice generosity, the more everyone will want to keep it up. Radical generosity is the most fun you can have with money, after all.Challenge your members to think creatively and dream big. Maybe your church could build a house, give away a car, or adopt a neighborhood!
But generosity isn’t only about money. Time and talent count too. So set up mission trips to take your congregation out of the comfort of your church building. Partner with local charities. Choose opportunities with wide appeal and that will allow members to give in multiple ways. Praise members when you see them giving and emphasize the beauty of seeing God work through their hearts. Then share those stories with your church. Seeing generosity in action helps others catch the vision.
And when they don’t get it right, give them grace. Not everyone is born with a generous heart, but it can be nurtured.
3. Model Contentment
Generosity isn’t possible without contentment, and you must demonstrate that as a church leader. Openly discuss contentment and its enemies, greed and materialism. Your members probably can tell where your heart is on issues of materialism, self-indulgence and selfishness, and you can’t defeat these things if you’re infected with them yourself. Remember that contentment starts with gratitude, which comes when we feel completely blessed by everything we already have. We don’t have the constant desire for more stuff, and our wants become secondary to others’ needs.
As giving becomes a more natural part of your members’ character, their whole perspective will shift. Jesus’ words in the Parable of the Rich Fool will take life: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist of the abundance of things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
With every act of giving, your church is taking a stand against discontentment. They’re essentially saying that they not only have enough for themselves, but they have enough to share with others. And that’s the fertile ground of contentment.
4. Incorporate Biblical Stewardship Into Every Aspect of Church Life
Radical generosity, contentment and gratitude are all signs of spiritual maturity, but they can’t really become deeply rooted in your members’ hearts until they understand biblical stewardship. It’s your job as pastor to begin incorporating this message into everything your church does by casting the vision and mobilizing the staff and volunteers to take part as well.
So what is biblical stewardship? Psalm 24:1 summarizes it: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” True biblical stewardship recognizes that God owns everything, from money to time to relationships to every item in our homes and tree in our yards. He owns it all. And us? We’re just the managers of all those things. But management is a huge responsibility!
Here’s the deal when it comes to generosity. We have to view ourselves as managers of the money in our bank accounts, not the owners. Why? Because owners think of themselves; managers must think of others. Owners worry over their money; managers don’t need to worry because the money isn’t theirs to begin with. Owners hold with a tight fist; managers hold with an open hand. When we remember this, generosity becomes a lot easier to cultivate.
Keep in mind that fostering generosity in your congregation doesn’t happen overnight or by accident. It takes planning, intentionality and time. But you can—and should—start now. You also need to be consistent and persistent. If you are, you’ll witness a spiritual and financial transformation in time.