When we first started in the ministry, we lived in a town that was about a 35-40-minute drive from the church. We commuted like that for a year and a half. Then we decided that we really needed to move to the town where the church was. However, I was only half-time while I was attending seminary. And because of that, it wasn’t the church’s responsibility to provide us with a parsonage- a house for the pastor and their family. So…where would we live? Then…a miraculous thing happened. There was a a small United Methodist congregation in the same town as my church who didn’t use their parsonage…and so…they offered it to my family…FREE! All we had to do was pay the utilities! So we got to live in a perfectly fine 3-bedroom house, IN the town where I was serving, free. And THAT, my friends, is the textbook definition of what we’re talking about today!
Today we wrap up our five-part series on Bishop Robert Schnase’s book, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. The first week we looked at Radical Hospitality. The 2nd week we focused on Passionate Worship. Week 3, we talked about Risk-Taking Mission and Service. Last week, we considered Risk-Taking Mission and Service. Today, we wrap things up with a look at Extravagant Generosity.
So what IS extravagant generosity? Extravagant Generosity is abundant giving- which is as much about attitude as it is about amount, as much about quality as it is quantity. Extravagant Generosity is humble giving, the often anonymous gift of something valuable that makes a difference. Extravagant Generosity is a response to Jesus’ love…and it’s communicating that same love to those who need to feel it, sense it, experience it for themselves.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15– Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
Did you hear what the Scripture said? It said if you sow sparingly…you’ll reap sparingly. BUT…if you sow generously then you’ll reap generously. As you sow…so shall you reap. You get back what you put in. However you want to say it…we clearly have some input into the whole thing. We don’t have to be small-minded. We don’t have to live a life of spiritual scarcity. We’re God’s children. We are the people of God, for crying out loud! We’ve read the back of the book…we KNOW how it all turns out!! We’re can afford to be something the world thinks is crazy- generous…in our giving, our emotions and our gestures. We can show the generosity of love; we can live with open hands. Why? Because God’s generosity is the source of our generosity. And we don’t have to fearfully worry whether there’s enough. God gives Himself away extravagantly- and in doing that His love multiplies, because love is extravagant and generous- like God. And a life penetrated by His love is nothing more and nothing less than beautiful. We’re always looking for the shortcut, the easy way, the bargain. Know what a bargain is? A bargain is something you can’t use at a price you can’t resist. But when you look at the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on the cross and see that God’s extravagant generosity caused Him to lay down His life for us…can you think of a more fitting way to live your life than Extravagant Generosity?
Think of a person who has shown you Extravagant Generosity. It might be someone very close to you…or it might be someone you met once…and never saw again. They may have been extravagantly generous with their money, or their time, or their compassion, or their love. Think of the amazing impact they’ve had on your life. What legacy will we leave for our kids…and their kids…and their kids? When we practice extravagant generosity, our children and our children’s children might know the extravagant abundance and generosity that is God’s love as it manifests in the church.
Vibrant, fruitful, growing congregations practice Extravagant Generosity. These churches teach, preach, and practice proportional giving with a goal of tithing. They encourage their church members to grow in the grace of giving as an essential practice of Christian discipleship, and as a congregation they practice generosity by their extraordinary support for missions, connectional outreach ministries, and organizations that change people’s lives. They thrive under the joy of abundance rather than starve under the fear of scarcity. They give joyously, generously, and consistently in ways that enrich the souls of others and strengthen the ministries of the church.
Churches that practice Extravagant Generosity speak confidently and faithfully about money, giving, generosity, and the difference giving makes in the life of the church AND the life of the giver. They emphasize the Christian’s need to give for more reasons than just the church’s need for money. They emphasize mission, purpose, and life-changing results rather than shortages, budgets, and institutional loyalty. These churches view “giving beyond their walls” as indispensable to their Christian discipleship, mission and vitality. Churches that grow in giving know that generosity increases with participation in ministry and community, and so they work to deepen the core ministries of worship, small group learning, and mission. The spiritual maturity that comes from growing in extravagant giving brings clarity of purpose and greater integrity to all the church’s ministries.
Extravagant Generosity: the love of Jesus in us, moving us to give our lives—our time, our talent, an even our treasure to a mission. Many people spend most of their life losing their health to try and gain wealth, and then spend the end of their life losing their wealth trying to gain their health. Have we bought into the fear and paranoia of scarcity that the world wants us to cling to, or are we willing to engage in Extravagant Generosity?
So…five practices- Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity. In the windup, they need to be embedded into the very fabric of our congregations. In the end, they work together to enhance the mission of the church. After all is said and done, they produce…and signify…fruitful congregations.