Nov  2013 08

Driving around Tulsa and noticing church sign boards (which I do mostly to see which wording might provide a glimpse of unintended humor), I know it is stewardship season in congregations. The buzz word is “generosity.” Please don't get me wrong. Since I returned to PTS in 2005 I have raised money for the seminary as part of my job, if not AS my job. Really, I might be forgiven for being less than functional in other aspects of my position as president. But there is little grace available if the seminary runs deficits. So, I deeply appreciate the need to raise money. As I say around here, at the end of the day, everyone wants to be paid!

But I hope the growing use of the word generosity today is more than another technique but will lead to different practices and dispositions.   Some years back, Michael Durall wrote Creating Congregationsof Generous People and marked a turn from stewardship language to generosity language. Then James Hudnut-Beumler wrote a tremendous little book, In Pursuit of the Almighty's Dollar, a history of Protestant congregational fundraising in the US. Do you know that preachers have been trying to persuade their people for several centuries to raise their giving percentages, with little demonstrated success? Do you know that the practice of taking up tithes and offerings in worship using an offering plate is a post-Civil War invention? Did you know that the theology of stewardship coupled with stories of increased giving coupled with miraculous stories of increased wealth for the giver also come from the end of the 19th century? And the clergy lament of how much more the church could do if everyone tithed is at once old and new--see Christian Smith’s Passing the Plate to read his many pages of what abundant giving would mean. There is always a danger, well demonstrated in historical practice, that our fundraising needs turn profound theological concepts into techniques.  

Using the word generosity cannot be merely a technique or a guilt word. The word expressing something sacred. Several years ago, I looked up the original meaning of the word. “Generous” is derived from the same word as genus, as in genus and species. Hundreds of years ago, the term generous was used only with the genus of nobility. Generous is how a noble person acts when she or he fulfills her or his noble status. As a Christian, I believe everyone is created noble, for we are created in the image of God. To be generous then means to act as one created in God's image. So, to encourage generosity is nothing less than encouraging us to act according to our genus, and to treat orders accordingly. And becoming a generous human being requires a whole lot more than a technique.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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