CORE STRATEGIES: Extravagant Generosity

The incident stands clear in my mind.  It was mid-December of my first year at University United Methodist Church in San Antonio.  Jim (I’ve changed the name and some parts of this story but NOT the essence of the tale to protect anonymity) called and asked for an appointment.  Later that day he sat across the desk from me and slid a piece of paper over to me.  It was a five figure amount of money (the sum $23,000 and change sticks in my mind but I’m not exactly sure).  Puzzled I looked at him.  “That’s one tenth of our share of the business profit for this year,” he said.  “Sue and I always tithe on our profit.  What would you like the money put to?” I knew their giving pattern.  They already gave over a tithe (10%) on their combined salaries.  While far from the wealthiest in the congregation, they were among the largest givers year in and year out.  “I don’t understand,” I stammered.  “You already tithe.” Politely he responded as if stating the obvious.  “Of course, but we also tithe on our bonuses.”  Such is a picture of our last but far from least Conference core strategy – extravagant generosity. Most readers will recognize extravagant generosity as one of the five practices of fruitful congregations.  Others will note its reflection of the original core practices of the Methodist Movement under John Wesley. (“Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”)  Still others will make the biblical connection to the earliest church found in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4:32-37). Bishop Robert Schnase writes in The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, “First-century Christina communities, the Methodists of the 1700s, faith mentors, and models of Christian living today – all have discovered a truth as sure as gravity, that generosity enlarges the soul, realigns priorities, connects people to the Body of Christ, and strengthens congregations to fulfill Christ’s ministries. Giving reflects the nature of God. Growing in the grace of giving is part of the Christian journey of faith, a response Christian disciples offer to God’s call to make a difference in the world …. People who give generously to the church do so because they genuinely desire to make a positive difference for the purposes of Christ and because they want to align their lives with higher purposes” (pp. 106-107). To this high and holy purpose we will seek to work as a Conference.  Two immediate practical examples of this strategy come to mind.  First: recently we brought Dr. Clif Christopher to the Central Texas Conference to lead a workshop on stewardship for both clergy and lay leaders.  (I commend his writing including most recently Rich Church Poor Church: Keys to Effective Financial Ministry and commend Joe Park as well as other members of the Horizons Stewardship team.) Second: we are actively looking for a part-time development officer for the Central Texas Conference.  This position has already been approved by the Core Leadership Team and was reported at the last gathering of the Central Texas Conference. Standing strong behind this activity is a Conference that is committed to extravagant generosity.  This is demonstrated in our mission response to those who are hungry, hurting and homeless (whether it be physically, spiritually, or psychologically - or some combination of the three!).  It is demonstrated by a long – decades long! – Conference culture that expects from both churches and clergy full faithfulness in paying apportionments. Together we are living the biblical dream of Acts 4!  I am proud to be the bishop of the Central Texas Conference.