If I had a dollar for every time someone used the word "pandemic" this year, I would be an extremely wealthy man. Each time I hear the adjectival form used within the media, I always brace myself for heartbreaking news.
Perhaps the title "pandemic generosity" seems a bit confusing at first blush. You might wonder, "How can these two words be used in the same phrase without contradicting the other?" That is a thoughtful question. Here is my response.
Let us consider two definitions of pandemic:
1. A pandemic (is) occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population.
2. An outbreak of a disease covering a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population. Which is to say, a pandemic in and of itself does not have a negative or positive connotation since the word picture envisions expanse rather than essence within a given context.
If I say, "pandemic virus," for example, the virus refers to the source and pandemic connotes the spread. We often misunderstand words by restricting their meaning to one semantic range. Words create culture. The right words can produce a positive culture while wrong words tend to provoke a negative culture. I am praying that my words can water the growing seeds of pandemic generosity we observe in Kentucky Baptist life.
Redeeming the times and term
I have been reading several books this summer on spiritual transformation. One book that caught me by surprise was Contagious Generosity: Creating a Culture of Giving in Your Church by Chis Willard & Jim Sheppard. I assumed the content would primarily deal with capital campaigns and annual stewardship discussions prefaced with "I hate talking about money, but we need cash to maintain our ministry so let's get this conversation over."
If you hear a leader approach any topic from a pessimistic starting point, it will shape every succeeding word that proceeds from the leader's mouth. Such doom and gloom about finances creates a feeling of dread that will spread throughout the entire congregation.
In a desire to avoid appearing money hungry, the leader counter intuitively encourages the congregation to hoard resources for a rainy day.
Well, my friends, since it is raining hard on the American economy these days, we do well to meditate on mercy and grow in generosity.
As I stated, pandemic is a nebulous term without a context. We can redirect some of the pain associated with this global pandemic by placing a spotlight on pandemic generosity.
In Contagious Generosity, the authors define generosity as "a lifestyle in which we share all that we have, are and ever will become as a demonstration of God's love and response to God's grace." In other words, believers are transformed toward generosity by looking intently at the blood, sweat and tears of a sinless Savior rather than tightening our "stewardship" grip.
Moreover, the authors rightly argue generosity embraces a biblical understanding of stewardship in three ways:
1. God is the owner of everything.
2. What we have has been given to us by God.
3. The resources we possess are assets to be invested in the kingdom.
I hope you notice the relationship between the sovereignty of God and human responsibility as we look to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection to motivate us toward generosity.
God created the world for His glory and our good. He gave every living creature fruit-bearing trees for food (Gen 1:29- 30), and after the fall of man, He gave permission for humans to dine on slain animals for physical sustenance. God's love was demonstrated when He generously took the life of an animal to cover Adam and Eve after they sinned against Him (Gen. 3:21). He also made a promise that the ultimate act of generosity would come when the Savior crushes the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). If you think about it, the entire creation story centers on generosity.
God's generosity motivates us to be generous
This truth dismantles legalistic giving patterns and selfish hoarding priorities in our congregations. Simply put, our faith will begin to inform our relationship to money, cultivating a culture of sharing our time, talent, treasure and testimony with those in need. We cannot allow the serpent to trick us into fearing that we will receive a negative political label by showing love toward the rural and urban poor.
What inspires our desire to share our resources with hurting humanity is this beautiful phrase from His inerrant Word, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son …" There must be a Christ-centered culture shift if we will experience pandemic generosity.
Cultivating a culture of generosity
I love when Christian friends help us think creatively about cultivating culture. In fact, one leadership guru, Peter Drucker, popularized the saying "culture eats strategy for breakfast." In other words, a congregation will not gravitate into generosity through strategy incentives. Leaders must break the fallow ground of selfishness by modeling kindness and consistent encouragement to plant seeds of generosity throughout the community.
A generous culture, therefore, daily waters seeds of kindness, asking the Lord of the harvest to give the increase, so others might experience the joy of spiritual friendship. Spiritual transformation is the goal. Willard & Sheppard explain, "If you want to see lasting transformation in church, it begins with culture.
Culture is not neutral. If culture is not right, it will be the headwind against everything you try to do. If the culture is right, it will be the tailwind accelerating everything you try to do."
A model of pandemic generosity
"We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia: During a severe trial brought about by affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. I can testify that, according to their ability and even beyond their ability, of their own accord, they begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us by God's will" (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
The next time you hear someone use the word "pandemic," instead of bracing yourself for bad news, breathe a prayer of faith and remember the Word from our sponsor.
Grace and peace.
Curtis Woods is associate executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.