Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Inviting Generosity One Lunch at a Time

By David S. Bell

A well-known political commentator was invited to lunch by a billionaire corporate leader. The commentator was anxious about the lunch meeting. He pondered the anticipated conversation. He wondered where they might dine – what food they might eat. The venue was a far constant from what he had conjured in his mind. They met at a hospital cafeteria. Their lunch conversation was interrupted sporadically by staff and family members of patients. The commentator observed that the billionaire offered compassion and a "Christ-like" spirit as he engaged with folks.

The lunch was followed by a tour of the hospital. The tour was also peppered with sidebar conversations between the wealthy host and patients, family members, and staff, alike. One man sobbed expressing appreciation for the care of this hospital and the billionaire's generosity to it. The tour ended with the lunch host inviting the political commentator to be a donor to the hospital foundation. The commentator was so moved that instead of just wanting to be a donor, he inquired, "Can you teach me how to die broke and help others in the process?"

The reply: "That's a deal I can make!"

As I read this true story in a magazine focused toward high-powered executives, I was immediately reminded of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. The contrast between a wealthy, modern-day CEO and the scholarly, pietistic preacher of social justice is vast. Yet, this story seemed to raise some comparisons. One of Wesley's financial goals was to die penniless having helped others throughout life. Wesley demonstrated phenomenal generosity. Wesley called us to give all we can. A steward lifestyle is advocated throughout the Old and New Testaments. Financial giving is a serious responsibility of the committed Christian – not to give what we do not possess, but to give generously from those assets that we have acquired.

Yet, how often has the cultivation of financial generosity been sidelined in the church? How often do we decide to lead a "soft" annual campaign? How often do we make excuses for people's apparent inability to give? How often do we ignore planned giving? How often do we deny the competitive nature of charitable giving? How often do we simply not ask? I know far too often!

As a result of our inaction, the remainder of the charitable world ends up informing donors, and frankly many avid churchgoers, about the theology of generosity. Here are six key steps to place financial generosity back on the playing field of discipleship:
  • Know the values, mission, and vision of the church
  • Tell stories over and over and over again of changed lives as a result of ministry
  • Overcome the fear of money talk in the church
  • Develop abiding relationships with potential major donors
  • Personally invite people to support ministry with a financial commitment
  • Thank donors routinely for their contributions and gifts
The results may surprise you. People are seeking opportunities to give. You might find people willing to give at unprecedented levels – maybe even some people who strive to die broke while helping others in the name of God. It may seem outlandish, but it would not be the first time that someone was willing to give it all for the sake of helping others. Jesus did it. Early church founders strove for it. A political commentator is learning how to do it. What about you?

David S. Bell is the President and Executive Director of the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan. David has a keen understanding of current economic and consumer trends impacting charitable giving, which he gained through experience as a pastor, development director, and national church leader. David is Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and active member of The Alban Institute, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Christian Leadership Alliance, and the National Association of Church Business Administrators. David graduated from Drew Theological School and holds a BA in Religious Studies and Secondary Education from The College of Wooster. David and his wife, Ethel, have two children and reside in Brighton, Michigan.

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