Generosity: Giving With (or Without) Discernment

My entire pastoral life—really, my entire life—exists because of the kindness of others and their generosity toward me and the family. There have been zero years of my life that I’ve made it on my own. Zero.

I took a brief inventory, and here is what I’ve found without even thinking:

  • Birth-18 (the home years): Mom and Dad and money from grandparents for Christmases and birthdays.
  • 18-21 (the LSU years): Mom and Dad and some scholarship money and some work money, but come on, I wasn’t really pulling down the benjamins.
  • 21-25 (the DTS years): Got married at 21. These years were covered by all of the above, the addition of in-laws, some wedding money (it went quickly), and some DTS scholarship money. I also wasn’t working FT at this point; Courtney was.
  • 25-34 (the Baton Rouge years): All of the above, but we also added three kids, “bought” a home (mainly took on debt), and I started FT work. That work? Pastoring. The pay? Other people’s gifts to the church. I also pursued more schooling, which was largely possible because other people helped make sure it could happen.
  • 34-Now (the Spring years): All of the above, but now we’ve added into it a new congregation supporting me, continued support from family, and who knows what else I’m not thinking about. Our vacations (often Pine Cove Family Camp) are even scholarshipped in some percentage.

My entire life has been impacted—directly or indirectly—by the generosity of others.

So when I say generosity is a personal value, you might think, “You don’t have much room to talk about this.” You’d be right. Or you may think, “It’s a value because he doesn’t want people to stop giving.” I’d see your point, but I hope that isn’t the case.

I love generosity because I’ve learned it from others, seen it in my Savior, and find that generosity is a better way to live than stinginess. Why do we give? Because Jesus did. Is it good to be a scrooge? No. I’ve watched the example people in my life—many of them my family or close friends from church—and have learned a model of generosity that I only hope to emulate, not that I have mastered.

But even as we have learned about generosity—and done all we can as a family to live generously—there is another side to it that affects me.

Generosity: The Way of Jesus

Before jumping to the shadow side of generosity (feels weird even saying that), I want to say this: Christians should be the most generous people in the world. They should lead the way in giving their money, their time, their stuff, and their lives away. They should be busy about the work of the kingdom and use the world’s currency to do just that. I want Christians to be ridiculous when it comes to generosity in every way possible, and I want churches to lead the way in how to be generous.

On a micro-level, buying birthday presents or gift cards, picking up the tab at lunch, giving one-time or ongoing support to a missionary, or making cookies for your neighbor doesn’t seem like a big deal. But it is all about the heart, right? When these habits come from a place of generosity and joy and not from a place of transaction (where you can’t wait to get something in return), it is a good thing. When our support is from a place of love, wants the best for someone, and reflects Jesus, then we are doing well (2 Cor 8:9).

But that isn’t always the case for me.

Generosity isn’t Undiscerning—Though I Can Be

Since this is a series about my leadership values (and not just random ideas), I want to share the struggle that I will have with this value. Though I want generosity to lead in every way, I can use it in place of discernment—or what is truly best for someone. The book When Helping Hurts gets right at this idea—that often in our American mindset we think that throwing money at something is always the right thing. Generosity is always the right thing, but that doesn’t always mean the quick option is truly the most generous.

This is a tough lesson for me. In being a recipient of so much kindness, I want to do what I can to play my part. I assume leading with generosity is a big part of that, but it still requires my prayers and discernment. Sometimes there are better—and even more generous—decisions to be made. However, with a quick trigger finger, I might make the quick decision and not the best one. The result: I don’t help people like they deserve to be helped.

Grace is grace—a free gift. Our salvation is a free gift of God. It isn’t a deal we make with God to be a good person in hopes that we keep his favor. However, the grace of God wasn’t some last-second plan, either. We’re told that the work of Jesus was planned before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23). God’s generosity toward us wasn’t careless, but deliberate. That truth is something I need to remember if I want to be more generous.

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