Abundance for the center-city church

August 18th, 2015

We are the ones paying all the bills! Listen to us,” said the eighty-seven-year-old woman while clapping her hands in the young pastor’s face.

“It’s our money! We are going to use it the way we want,” offered the finance committee chair when speaking of the endowment.

“We have always allowed groups to use our building for free,” explained the church secretary when orienting the new pastor.

If you are part of a center-city church, then these words may sound familiar. You know the landscape of scarcity with an aging congregation doing everything possible to protect what’s been in a building that’s seen better days.

Is it possible to instead see abundance?

How can we reimagine stewardship and wealth in the heart of the city?

We imagine abundance by defining generosity as a virtue and a practice. Generosity as virtue is a core habit of the heart that influences how we act in faithful love toward God and neighbor.

Life in the center of a city provides daily glimpses of pain and brokenness: individuals sleeping in parks at night, people digging through the trash for food, and young girls waiting for their pimp to collect them as the sun starts to rise. We choose as individuals and congregations to respond to the pain or turn away from it. Some center-city churches install gates to protect the building while others have flung open the doors. But generosity of any form can’t be cultivated without intentionally shaping the hearts of disciples until they are large enough to hold and respond to the pain of a community, which produces actions that embody the heart and mind of Christ.

Generosity is also a practice that links our giving to God’s intentions for the world. Our center-city churches are offered countless opportunities to love God and neighbor by meeting needs that are often on our doorstep while also pursuing justice for the poor and oppressed. We can’t expect our members to embody generosity through the offering plate if our churches are not embodying generosity through what we do with our weekly offerings and all that is entrusted to us. One church chose to no longer have people purchase Easter lilies for pleasure but rather invited people to give the money they would have been spent on lilies to an “Easter life fund” that was used to meet needs of people who turn to the church for help, such as bus fare, medication, food, and rent. How can your church use what God has given to you to heal the brokenness of the world, enabling all people to flourish?

Becoming a generous church is always linked to hospitality. The longtime members of the church can set the standard by demonstrating how a life well lived is always spent in community: sharing meals, card games, and sometimes entire living spaces. One congregation was transformed when a ninety-year-old member invited a young couple to live with her. The intentional community formed in the four months together set a new standard for generosity, one that this couple is now offering to others through their home but especially through their tithing and their leadership that always seeks to make sure the church is providing places where life is shared. We must offer our congregations regular experiences of God’s abundance beyond the communion table where all are welcome and no one is turned away.

Center-city churches are also given a unique opportunity to see their property as an asset for members and the community. Imagine how much ministry could take place in your building if every space became multipurpose instead of being used once or twice a week. Partnerships with space enable you to do more together than you could ever do on your own by sharing the cost of cleaning, electricity, and upkeep. Every time we give space away, we are proclaiming that the ministry of the group we host is more important than the ministry of our church. But we flourish when we partner with organizations who are in great need of space, and sharing the facility costs can enable the church to put more money into ministry. Abundance is always present when we act to expand the scope of community.

Money for ministry has no value on its own. It’s what we do with money that makes a difference. When congregations see money as a redemptive tool for the flourishing of an entire community, then anything is possible.

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