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Generosity in the Church: Development or Discipleship?

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Words are important. Words mean things.

My wife and I are both “word-nerds” in a different way. Her way is lovely – she likes to dive into Scripture, consider the implications of New Testament Greek and what that means for modern interpretation. I have the obnoxious word-nerd tendency – it mostly has to do my unlovely bias against people who say things like “orientated”. I know. It is terrible. My kids disassociate with me in public. I’m working on it with God’s help.

But in my dialogue with leaders about the money category of church life, a number of titles get slapped on the conversation. And for the most part, that’s ok because we all pretty much mean the same thing. Or so I thought. I’m beginning to doubt that what I mean is the same thing as what others do.

I am finding articles written about “How To Fund Your Ministry” or the ever-present term “Annual Giving”. These are not distasteful phrases to me on the surface. But something has not been sitting well with me when I see them.

I now believe that there is an inherent starting position in regard to this topic. One’s posture is either to figure out how to do development (funding some-thing) or discipleship (guiding some-one). And I love them both. Let me explain.

Donor Development is an amazing profession. These men and women use their energy to raise financial support for worthy causes – nonprofits, schools, hospitals, humanitarian organizations and more. In my view, the modern concept of development is a critical bridge between people with passion and people with financial fuel. In much of my writing and speaking I do not denigrate, but rather employ much of what I have learned from this field.

Discipleship of people toward generosity is a cousin to donor development. Yet, it carries with it the Judeo-Christian idea of a Rabbi teacher and followers. The way a life is formed and transformed is by walking in the way of a mentor. The church is – or should be – filled with a lot of people who are giving and receiving mentoring (discipling). When someone is shown and taught the way of living open-handed instead of closed-fisted around their money and possessions, they are being groomed in the way of Jesus.

Here is where the words or phrases hold a critical distinction. As I mentioned, it is with the starting point. In the one case, the methodology employed is focused on the organization. In the other, it is focused on the person. You may think I am splitting hairs, but to me the difference is critical. The difference is the goal of the energy and what defines success in the endeavor.

My encouragement to church leaders is to understand the difference.

Because I believe the church going forward needs leaders who do see the distinction. And if I had a bias, it that the church is declining in a lot of places in the West because it places its energy in trying to raise money to sustain the institution but not focus on its core mission of creating disciples.

If more people who follow Jesus were mentored to live with open hands and self-sacrifice, we would bring heaven to earth in ways we cannot even fathom. Making budget would not be the headline of the story but making disciples would.

For more information about generosity as discipleship, why don't you view the replay of a webinar I recently hosted - Creating a Culture of Generosity. Registering to view the webinar also will give you a free download to the Introduction and Chapter 1 of my new book, Creating a Culture of Generosity, which released March 1.

Greg Gibbs is a pastor, consultant, author and coffee roaster. He and his wife Andrea live outside of Detroit. After having raised four children, they are empty nesting with their dogs, Walter and Gus. Andrea is the Director of the Internship Program at Kensington Church, where they both attend. Greg is a Senior Lead Navigator for Auxano, a church consulting group and he is co-founder of The Impact Report Company. He has been in church ministry for three decades.