photo: Tax Credits, Creative Commons

photo: Tax Credits, Creative Commons

The subject of generosity in churches is a tough one. As pastors, we know we have to talk about it for two reasons. The first: It’s all over the scriptures and we’d be ignoring a large portion of what Jesus taught if we didn’t discus it. The second: Because the survival of our church relies on the generosity of its congregation.

It’s part of our job as pastors to encourage our congregations to give—both for their own personal walk with God and for the well-being and sustainability of our church as a whole. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I know pastors who are groaning internally as they see their “giving talk” coming up the pipeline. It’s one of those, “here we go again” talks because often the pastor feels like he’s having to beg for money and the congregation feels like they’re being hit up for it.

With all this focus on generosity, what if I told you there was one good reason not to be generous?

That reason: bad motives.

Giving is good (and needed) but when we give for the wrong reasons, it amplifies the distaste we all have for these giving conversations.

Here are three questions to help you check your motives for giving:

1. Do I feel anxious when I give?

One of the most important reasons we tithe is because it reminds us that our security comes from God, not from our money. Giving away money isn’t an easy thing to do, but that’s why it’s so important. It’s a faith-building exercise, reminding us that God is our provider as we watch what happens when we give Him our resources.

But giving should increase faith, not be an exercise that induces constant anxiety. If you’re feeling anxious about giving, you might need to spend more time with the Lord on the subject, asking Him to help you see how He provides for you.

2. Do I hope other people notice how much I give?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about how your left hand should never know how much your right hand has given. This is an illustration of the fact that giving is not a public activity. It’s not something to earn you a reward from man—whether that’s praise, affirmation, or extra points for being holy.

If you’re giving hoping that those around you are going to notice and affirm you for your generosity, Jesus says, you have already received your reward in full. If what you’re looking for is praise from men, that’s all you’re going to get. You will not receive praise from both God and men.

3. Do I feel bitter or resentful of how much I give?

Feeling bitter or resentful for how much you give is a great indication something is off in your heart about giving. God doesn’t want us to give out of bitterness or obligation. We don’t have to give. We get to give. Giving out of bitterness does not produce the same fruit as giving out of love and generosity.

 

If you answered yes to any of those questions, I have a challenge for you.

For the next month, I challenge you to focus less on giving more.

Yes, I said it. Stop focusing on giving more, and instead focus on the heart with which you give.

God has great blessings in store for those who trust Him with their money. Our reward is spiritual and eternal, and He rewards us with a greater measure of faith in Him. But if we’re just giving to give, without our heart being in the right place, we’ll never receive any of these blessings.

For the next 30 days, give less. Give just a little bit, but pray a lot. Spend time with the Lord and ask Him to teach you what it means to be generous, and to trust Him with your finances.

Focus on this for 30 days and see what happens. I think you’ll be surprised.

photo: Agatha Villa, Creative Commons

photo: Agatha Villa, Creative Commons

If you’ve been in the church for a while, I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase: Love the sinner, hate the sin.

We know we’re called to love all people, but we use this phrase to explain how we can love people, even when we don’t agree with how they’re living their lives.

It’s understandable that we’d desire a phrase like this. It’s hard to know how to love someone who is doing things we know are clearly wrong or harmful to them. We don’t know how to love that person while not feeding into the belief that what they’re doing is okay.

Our love for people and our conviction about what they’re doing are two heavy things to carry, and we often find ourselves falling to one side of grace or truth.

And while this is a valid and understandable struggle—I don’t know if this phrase is really the key to solving this tension.

Here are three reasons I’m not sure this phrase is helping us become more like Christ.

1. It introduces hate into the conversation.

The first thing to note is that Jesus has never been about hate. Jesus talks about love and grace and mercy, but never hate. So introducing hate into the conversation is automatically a deviation from His teaching.

Also, if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality, it’s hard to feel the difference between your sin being the target of the hate and being the target yourself.

2. Jesus didn’t shame people.

The woman at the well and the prostitute in the square are great examples of how Jesus treated sin and the people trapped in it.

In the case of the prostitute in the square, while the Pharisees were up in arms about her sin, Jesus paid little attention to it. He didn’t condemn her, or shame her, or make a point of loving her but not her actions. He just loved her. And then He gently guided her towards a different kind of life.

3. Changing someone’s sin isn’t our responsibility.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” implies that other people’s sin is our responsibility to fix—as if we’re going to change the sin by treating it a certain way—and that’s just not true. When we make ourselves the “sin police” we get into murky territory, straying far to the side of truth and losing much of our grace.

We aren’t responsible for fixing, or removing, or condemning someone’s sin. We’re responsible for love. God takes care of the rest.

photo: Joris Louwes, Creative Commons

photo: Joris Louwes, Creative Commons

“I’m just not a people person.” Have you ever heard someone say that?

Introverts usually say it, a quick and easy excuse out of any situation involving small talk. Trust me. If anyone can understand this, I can. I am a huge introvert and sometimes (like Jerry Seinfeld says) I feel like “people are the worst!”

And yet I would argue all of us (yes, all of us) are people people.

You might not be outgoing or an extrovert, and that’s perfectly okay. But anyone looking to live a meaningful life glorifying to Christ is a people person, whether they feel like it or not.

Here’s why:

1. Jesus was a people person.

Jesus’ life and ministry are characterized by His love of people. He had a core group of people He traveled and ministered with, had close friends, and was constantly surrounding Himself with all kinds of people. If we want to become more like Jesus, we need to learn how to love people, how to be around them, and how to care for them.

The good news for all the introverts out there is this: Jesus took time to Himself. There are many times throughout scripture when Jesus went off to be by Himself, to pray to God. So it’s perfectly okay for you to do this too.

Enjoying time alone or recharging that way is not the same as disliking people. They’re not mutually exclusive.

2. Without people, life is meaningless.

Although difficult to think about, considering the end of our lives is a great way for us to determine what’s important while we’re still living.

Have you ever heard someone on their deathbed talk about how they wish they would have worked more? No. Most people, at the end of their lives, lament that they didn’t spend more time with the people they love, and it’s because people are what make our lives meaningful.

There is no achievement, belonging, or social status that can replace having loved ones in your life. The rest falls short without them.

3. You need people to survive.

We need each other, plain and simple. When God created the earth, He declared all of His creations to be good, minus one detail: It was not good for man to be alone.

We were made to need each other. The expression of this looks different for different personality types and temperaments, but it is no less true for an introvert than it is for an extrovert.

We need to be loved, cared for, and supported through life’s difficulties. No man is an island.

 

When we’re frustrated by the people around us, or overwhelmed, or when we haven’t had enough time alone, it’s easy to declare that we’re not a people person. But we really are, we were made to be.

photo: Giuseppe Milo, Creative Commons

photo: Giuseppe Milo, Creative Commons

If you were to ask 100 pastors how they wanted to grow, you’d here a variety of answers: becoming a better speaker, leader, or influencer. There are countless books on these subjects, tips and tricks and skills to hone. And while being a better speaker, leader, or influencer is a good thing, I’m wondering lately if none of those things are the most important quality in a pastor.

There’s a book I ran across recently by Dr. Lynn Anderson and the premise of the book is that the most important quality for any pastor to have is that they smell like their sheep.

Did you expect me to say that?

I know. I thought there was a typo in there the first time I read the title. But the idea is that the most important quality for a pastor to have isn’t to be a great speaker or an amazing, innovative influencer. It’s that he is in close proximity to the people put in his care as a leader.

So what does this look like, practically? What does it look like for a pastor to “smell like his sheep?”

1. Be engaged.

For a pastor to know their congregation intimately, they have to be engaged with it. This looks like being involved in their lives on days other than Sunday. If your church is particularly large, a way you can be engaged is through social media, being available and engaged online.

2. Be a good listener.

I think that maybe the most important prerequisite for being a good speaker is being a good listener. You’ve been in those conversations before, the ones where the other person is performing a monologue in front of you and calling it a conversation?

Pastoring a church does not have to be this way, even though we’re the primary ones speaking on Sunday mornings.

We need to be listening throughout the week, observing, hearing what’s going on within our church body. That’s how we listen, and how we know what our congregation needs.

3. Be compassionate.

To be a great pastor, we need to have sympathy and empathy for what our people are going through. We need to seek to understand where they’re coming from, asking questions, and again, listening to their responses.

4. Be authentic.

This is where we get in trouble most as pastors. We feel pressure, naturally, to be great leaders for our congregation, but this sometimes causes us to want to cover up our struggles. Our congregation doesn’t need this.

In fact, I don’t know anyone who would rather follow a “perfect” person than an authentic one.

Authenticity is key for being amongst your sheep. They need it, and so do you.

5. Be replaceable. 

It’s tempting in any position of leadership to want to feel irreplaceable. It’s difficult to feel like someone could easily come in and either repeat, or top what you’ve spent so much time and hard work doing.

But as pastors, it’s important for us to be replaceable. We are not doing anyone a favor if we’re the only leader in our church. It’s our job to train up other leaders. That’s the only way to create growth that’s beyond us.

 

This is a humbling list—much more difficult than becoming a better speaker, or memorizing a few leadership strategies. But this is a list that truly makes you someone worth following, and that’s an area worth growing in.

photo: Jeff Turner, Creative Commons

photo: Jeff Turner, Creative Commons

We all lack something. We all have something in our lives that isn’t as we wish it were. Maybe you grew up without money or you lost your job last year. Maybe you have a physical disability that keeps you from walking normally or speaking as other people are able to.

Maybe you’re like me and grew up without a father, and none of those are good things.

There’s no denying that the losses we endure, the suffering we go through, the lack we feel, are all incredibly painful experiences.

But just because they’re painful doesn’t mean God won’t use them for good.

I’m not just talking about a hopeful “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’m talking about an actual tangible advantage in your life that comes out of the disadvantage you suffered (if you haven’t checked out Malcom Gladwell’s book David & Goliath, you need to! It’s amazing and the inspiration for this post).

It’s the flip side to the disadvantage coin—your greatest weakness can become the source of your greatest strength.

A common example comes with our senses. 

Losing a sense—sight, hearing, taste, smell—is never a good thing. But we know that when one sense is lost, sight for example, the other senses become stronger to make up for that lack.

Hearing, taste, touch, or smell can become major advantages for someone who’s lost their sense of sight. Their greatest weakness can produce their greatest strength.

And this is true for your disadvantage as well. I know it’s been true for mine.

Growing up without a father is one of the toughest things about my story. The longer I’m a father, the more I see how much I missed out on. But because I didn’t grow up with one father, I’ve spent my whole life seeking Godly men who would become father figures for me, and as a result, I’ve found many.

I am surrounded by a group of wise, generous, loving men because I lacked a father, and that great disadvantage has become one of my greatest advantages.

What are your greatest disadvantages? What are you missing, what have you lost, what can’t you do, and how could that turn into your biggest strength?

Three ways to make the most of bad circumstances:

1. Reframe 

Look at the bad circumstance in your life, and purposefully look for the advantage in it. This is difficult and takes time, but it can be done with any situation.

Did you grow up in a poor family? What appreciation for money or frugality have you developed as a result that could be of great benefit to you financially?

There’s an advantage to every disadvantage. We just have to look for it.

2. Reach Out 

When we’re going through something, it’s easy to feel isolated in it. It’s easy to feel like we’re the only ones who’ve experienced this, who have felt this way, who need help in this area. But when we look outside ourselves for a moment, we can see that if we’re struggling with this thing, there are probably other people who are as well and who are feeling just as isolated as we are.

If we reach out to people who are going through what we’ve been through, we’re able to support each other through it. We can help each other turn our disadvantages into advantages.

3. Redirect 

Often when something bad happens to us, we have a hard time focusing on anything else. We re-live that moment, that incident, those years, and it causes us to be stuck in the past, never allowing us to live a different story.

When we find ourselves stuck in the past, we need to intentionally redirect our thoughts towards the future, thinking about how we can shape our lives moving forward despite what has happened to us in the past.

I don’t want us to make light of the things that have happened to us—not at all. But I do know that when we are able to look at the negative things in our lives and purposefully see the good in them, we’re able to make something new where something was lost.