From Stewardship to Generosity

May 16th, 2011

A few years ago, I had the privilege of speaking at a training seminar at a large United Methodist church. My host was on staff at the church, and he described how he had recently changed his title after reflecting upon the book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (one of the five practices being "extravagant generosity"). Formerly the Executive Director of Stewardship, he was now the Executive Director of Generosity.  He, the other staff, and the congregational leaders decided “generosity” comes closer than “stewardship” to describing his purpose and role.

This made me think. What’s the difference between “stewardship” and “generosity”? What comes to mind when you hear those words? For what distinctive purposes are they best suited? How do people respond to those terms?

We are stewards of the earth. We are stewards of those things entrusted to us, inherited by us, and earned by us. We are stewards of our wealth and possessions and physical bodies. Stewards are those people in ancient times who were trustees, who had responsibilities, who cared for things owned by someone else. Today you don’t hear much about stewards and stewardship outside the church; it’s a language derived from our biblical roots and our church heritage. It risks becoming insider language, not easily accessible or immediately understandable by those new to the church. There is something slightly weighty, heavy, dutiful, and legal sounding about the word. I grew up hearing about stewardship, stewardship campaigns, and committees on stewardship. The language focused our attention on supporting the church financially. 

Generosity is an aspect of character. It is an attractive quality which I aspire to and desire to see cultivated in my children. The opposite of generosity is selfishness, self-centeredness, greed, and self-absorption. Generosity extends beyond just the use of money, although it most definitely includes that. There are generous spirits; generous souls; people who are generous with their time, with their teaching, with their love. Generosity finds many biblical sources, and is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It sounds more organic, more generative, less legalistic, less formal than stewardship. I have to explain to my teenage sons what stewardship means. They know generosity when they see it.

I admire and respect people who are generous, and I want to become like them. Generosity is not a spiritual attribute someone acquires apart from the actual practice of giving. It becomes discernable through action. We never describe people as generous who keep everything for themselves and only serve themselves.

Generosity focuses on the spiritual qualities of the giver, derived from the generosity of God, rather than on the church’s need for money. One of these terms is not superior to the other. Perhaps there are shades of difference in how they are perceived by young and old, those new to the faith from those long-established in our churches. Maybe using both wisely helps us reach people at different places on the journey of faith.

Whatever term you use, the bottom line is that churches must emphasize the Christian’s need to give more than the church’s need for money.

Consider the following lists of do’s and don’ts for congregations seeking to grow in generosity:


  1. Speak confidently and faithfully about money, giving, generosity, and the difference giving makes for the purposes of Christ in the world and in the life of the giver.
  2. Emphasize the Christian’s need to give.
  3. Teach, preach, and practice proportional giving with the goal of tithing.
  4. Use God’s name accurately by appealing to the highest of life-giving purposes for giving.
  5. Speak of joy, devotion, honoring God, and the steady growth of spirit that leads to greater generosity.
  6. Delight in giving.
  7. Hold pledge campaigns that are about mission, spiritual growth, and relationship to God.
  8. See that stewardship efforts deepen prayer life, build community, unite people with purpose, and clarify mission.
  9. Express gratitude to serve God through giving.
  10. Encourage people to grow in their giving
  11. Share stories of lives changed by practicing generosity.
  12. Publicly thank God for the generosity of the people.
  13. Express personal appreciation to those who give.
  14. Cultivate the hearts of the people in the way of Christ.
  15. Emphasize mission, purpose, and life-changing results.
  16. Provide a compelling vision that invites joyous giving resulting in meaning and purpose.


  1. Talk in general terms about stewardship.
  2. Emphasize the church’s need for money.
  3. Treat proportional giving and tithing as if they are optional and unessential.
  4. Employ fear, guilt, pressure, and shame as motivation for giving.
  5. Apologize, groan, whine, act embarrassed, or feel awkward as you encourage giving.
  6. Treat giving as if it is a duty or obligation.
  7. Hold pledge campaigns that are about money, dollars, and budgets.
  8. Allow stewardship efforts to focus on the church as an institution, rather than its people and purpose.
  9. Be reluctant or resentful when it comes to serving God through giving.
  10. Allow people to stagnate in their giving.
  11. Keep stories of generosity secret for fear of embarrassing or offending anyone.
  12. Forget to publicly thank God for the generosity of the people.
  13. Take for granted those who give.
  14. Neglect the hearts of the people in the way of Christ.
  15. Emphasize shortages, budgets, and institutional loyalty.
  16. Coast along without a vision that spurs members to find meaning and purpose through giving.


This article is excerpted and adapted from Robert Schnase's Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving, and the related leader's guide for congregational study.

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