Crammed in my drawer next to my bed are years of arts and crafts, given to me with almost ecstatic anticipation by my four daughters over the years. A Beauty and the Beast coloring page; a blue, yellow, and green woven bracelet; a pink and yellow glazed pot, just perfect for a few coins. In each instance, my daughters worked, wrapped, and then gave gifts to their daddy out of a freedom, delight, and self-forgetfulness.
Like my daughters, Americans are generous. Yet Americans aren’t exactly joyful. Today 3 of 5 Americans report being lonely and 1 in 6 struggle with mental illness. During the pandemic, as we see philanthropic needs mount, some are skeptical that generosity will really help the painful world we live in. Many are asking a basic question about their money: can my giving really make an impact on problems this big and far-reaching?
Motives for giving have shifted even in the past couple of decades. Fred Smith, president of the Gathering, a group of Christian philanthropists, has pointed out that a sophisticated industry has emerged in the last generation that stresses the cleverness of avoiding taxes through giving. Instruments for facilitating tax-advantaged transactions, often sending money to special accounts to be given at a future date, are seen as smart philanthropy. The underlying motive is just as much about redirecting funds away from the government as is about supporting your favorite cause. Why give? Evade Uncle Sam.
The rise of socially conscious business has also called into question the habit of generous giving. Many organizations see business, not the nonprofit sector, as a better medium for social change. As such, impact investing — sometimes even with dollars already given to foundations or donor advised funds — is seen as a “smarter” investment. After all, this way we can earn a return and invest again later, rather than “lose our principal for good” by giving money away. Why give? Hold off and focus on investing instead.
For everyday givers like my wife and me, our ability to give is so small that we sometimes wonder whether we can make an impact. As we recently walked through Hudson Gardens, a public garden on the south side of Denver, I mentioned that we should consider making a gift to support the water lily garden. “But what good will our $100 really do?” my wife asked. “They must get support from much larger foundations.” We questioned whether our giving can make a sufficient impact. Why give? Don’t bother. It won’t make an impact anyway.
Of course, the much larger reason many couples don’t give is more basic: we have lots of expenses. Shouldn’t we pay off debt, save for my kid’s next soccer season, or just “give” the money to the furniture company that’s going to deliver a new ottoman for my living room in three days? And minimally, shouldn’t I save the money in case of a rainy day? Why give? Just wait until you’re rich. And then give when you can be sure the nonprofit will make a big splash one day in the future.
I recently read a book from one of the 20th century’s most prominent artists that challenged my perspective on philanthropy. Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese-American writer and poet living at the turn of the 20th century. His little book The Prophet has been translated into more than 100 languages. He asked many of the same questions we’re asking about giving, yet had an attitude about giving that restores the freedom and joy to an activity that many of us often can make a utilitarian exercise. Here are four insights from Kahlil Gibran on giving.
First, free yourself from the fear of tomorrow.
“For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And what is fear of need but need itself? Is not dread of thirst when your well is full the thirst that is unquenchable?”
How much, exactly, is enough? Andrew Carnegie said that the art of capitalism is turning luxuries into necessities. At what point, then, do we finally reach contentment and say, “I have enough for myself and those I love. Now I can give”? Gibran’s point is that even if our wells are overflowing, we still may be gripped with a fear of tomorrow. Internal peace that there is enough for me must precede our ability to freely give and freely receive.
In the Christian tradition, we point to Jesus’ teaching about the lilies in the field. If they are adorned with splendor greater than that of the uber-wealthy King Solomon, yet are here today and wilt tomorrow, will God not all the more take care of the children he loves (Matthew 6)?
“These are the believers in life and the bounty of life,” says Gibran, “and their coffer is never empty.”
Why give? There’s enough for all of us.
Second, because our money and possessions are temporary, the best time to give is now.
“And is there aught you would withhold? All you have shall some day be given; therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors.”
My house. My car. My business. My bank account. My kitchen countertop, my backyard, my clothes, and my book collection. This is a particularly poignant view at the outset of an economic recession, when the fear of tomorrow tends to cloud our view of the future.
They all will soon be in the possession of another. This insight of Gibran is simple but profound: you can hang onto nothing. Because this is true, drink in the peace and satisfaction of giving now, and let its blessings flow into your life and the life of your family, company, or community.
Why give? We can’t keep our possessions anyway.
Third, give generously because ultimately we’ve first been given to.
“You often say, ‘I would give, but only to the deserving.’ The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.”
Will the organization use the money well? What are your metrics of success? Can you share with me how this money will impact others and create permanent change?
Embedded in these questions is a good instinct: to be responsible with the wealth and resources we have and to use them well. Yet the human heart twists this good instinct and we like to think that we came across the money through our own hard work and intelligence, and we only want to then pass on our hard-earned wealth to “the deserving.”
Yet Gibran questions this attitude. Nature gives its fruit because it was made to produce and to give; to do anything less would make it less than it was created to be. Have we “worked hard” for our wealth? Yes, many of us have. But do we then “deserve” what we have?
Gibran reverses the question: do you, who have received so much free of charge, “deserve” to give to the receiver? Who really is being charitable? The giver, the recipient of the joy of generosity, or the receiver, who humbly and “charitably” opens himself to receiving?
Gibran says it bluntly, “See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.”
Why give? We’ve first been given to.
Finally, the deepest satisfaction is reserved for those who give neither out of joy nor pain, but simply because it is their nature.
“There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.”
The final stage in generosity is neither to sacrifice for a cause, to experience pleasure, nor even to develop virtue. It is simply an act that flows from their nature, like a flowered tree gives its fragrance for free to any who pass by.
In stark contrast to the giving that is looking for an ROI, whether social, economic, cultural, or spiritual, this kind of giving is truly done freely. It is unconditional and it flows naturally from the character of the one who has been released from the bonds of accumulation and pride.
Why give? It flows from the nature of the whole, complete person.
As I look next to my bed stand, I see a small pillow, stuffed and sewed by my oldest daughter, given to me for my 35th birthday. I imagine her sewing, intently, not for thought of reward, but simply to give. When I see the stitches, I simply smile. “Through the hands of such of these God speaks, and from behind their eyes he smiles on the earth.”
This post first appeared on the Denver Institute website. A big thank you to Chris Horst for reading an early version of this article.
Due to the pandemic and the federal government’s response, about 150 million Americans are eligible to receive stimulus checks. Yet when my wife and I found out we were going to receive a check we started to ask: do we really need it all, or might we know somebody who needs it more?
Several weeks ago, two friends and I in Denver hopped on a call to explore what we could do to help. After some back and forth, we decided to start a website called SharetheStimulus.org.
The idea is simple: we’re asking people to make a pledge to give a portion of their stimulus check to any cause or person in need, go and make a donation, and then share the story with us. And it’s getting some traction. Here’s a story 303 magazine did about the movement.
We’re now about 3 weeks into this project and here’s what we’ve learned.
(1) People like giving in community rather than alone. As we reached out to individuals, churches, businesses and nonprofits, we found that it was really pastoral leaders who took this idea and ran with it.
One pastor, Jim Bergen of Flatirons Church, asked his congregants to consider whether they needed all of their stimulus check, and if they didn’t, give 50 percent away. Just in their church, as of April 28 they had 521 people give a portion of their stimulus checks. Woodmen Valley Church in Colorado Springs had 395 givers give nearly $200,000 in just two weeks.
What we learned was that it was far more effective to ask people to give alongside trusted community, like a church, than it was to give individually. Churches are critical avenues of generosity and trust in a time of need, and as unemployment benefits drop at the end of July, they’ll be critical support systems as the recession deepens.
(2) People like giving locally. What have people given to? People have given to all sorts of charities, like food banks, rescue missions, or organizations caring for immigrants. But they’ve also been really creative: one person gave a writing desk to a person who was out of work to finish her novel. One person gave his stimulus to cover the medical bills of neighbor. One family made a list of single people they knew and did a circuit of dropping off meals and homemade cards.
When it comes to giving, many feel alienated, like it’s only something for the affluent. One man said, “‘Generosity’ is normally something commended to upper-middle class and wealthy people. But this felt like a ‘generosity for the rest of us’ idea. We can all realize our affluence and identify others with greater needs than we have.”
This movement of “giving in the middle” is a powerful force, not only for economic impact, but for creating social capital and real relationships in a time of isolation.
(3) Widespread giving is a powerful tool for social and personal renewal. In Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build he said that social reform and the renewal of our institutions requires personal renewal. Thinking about my own experience sharing our family’s stimulus check, I think this is right.
Last weekend our family had fun sharing our stimulus check by putting together an elaborate gift package with goodies for our grandma who was shut into her nursing home. As we drove by in a family parade in front of her nursing home and cheered on Grandma Alberta, I felt this deep sense of joy wash over me. It really was more blessed to give than to receive.
Ryan Streeter mentioned in a USA Today 0p-ed that perhaps now is a time for a national tithe. Perhaps forms of local generosity – even something as small as giving a portion of an unexpected check to a neighbor – may be just what our hearts, and society, need most.
Not sure where to give to or what charities to support?
Here’s a list of nonprofits along the Front Range that are serving the spiritual, economic, and social needs of Coloradans.
Don’t see your favorite Colorado charity on here? Drop me a line by contacting me and, as able, I’ll add it to the list.
This post first appeared as a part of SharetheStimulus.org, a campaign to encourage widespread generosity to both individuals and causes affected by the recent pandemic.
Friends, a happy Labor Day to you!
To celebrate your work, I wanted to give you a gift: a free Bible study on Faith and Work.
The study is structured around people’s stories. In a series of articles, I highlighted the way people are living out their faith in the workplace.
Each study has a brief story Bible study participants can read at home. After each article, and before the study, we encourage you to Pause and Reflect on what the story might be telling you about God’s call for your own work.
The Bible study is structured around six sections: Introduce, Discuss, Explore, Apply, Closing Thoughts, and Prayer. It also has additional Resources.
Here are the weekly topics for “His Story, Our Stories: Encountering God Through Our Work”:
(1) “Light for Electricians,” (Creation)
(2) “Investments for the Kingdom” (Calling)
(3) “Showing Hospitality to Strangers and Spring Breakers” (Fall)
(4) “Productivity and Grace: Management and Labor at a Denver Manufacturer,” (Witness at Work)
(5) “A Well-Designed Journal Can Change Your Life,” (Culture)
(6) “A Growing Charter School Planted in Rocky Soil,” (Organizations/Companies)
Looking for more material? Visit Scatter.org.
For years we at DIFW have focused on what it means to live out the gospel in supposedly “secular” work, like business, medicine, law, or the arts. But several years ago we came to the uncomfortable realization that there was one field we had overlooked: pastoral ministry.
Now, we hadn’t completely overlooked pastors. But we had done two things. First, we assumed being a pastor was intrinsically “sacred.” But as my colleague at DIFW Brian Gray says, who was a pastor for 10 years, “It’s possible to wait tables very ‘sacredly,’ but pastor very ‘secularly.’” In our work with pastors, we’ve seen being a pastor, too, can devolved into just being a “job.”
Second, I felt like we had started to look at pastors as a means to an end. That is, we hoped pastors would come to “get it,” meaning that they would teach their congregants to be missionaries and servants of God in society through their work. And once they “got it,” we wanted them to influence their congregations with a robust theology of vocation. But after several of our key church relationships cooled off, I began to ask: have we been using pastors to get to their people, or had we been serving pastors? Had we really asked what might it look like for pastors to deeply live out their own faith through their work?
When working with pastors in our city on topics surrounding vocation, we also realized that getting churches to engage the social and cultural needs of their cities through their congregant’s work was often nearly impossible because they were dealing with too many issues in their own churches. Difficult elders, flighty volunteers, shrinking budgets, conflict amongst members, unclear goals. We realized that if churches weren’t led by pastors with unusual skill and competence, spanning from preaching and teaching to conflict resolution, community impact was nearly impossible.
Yet pastoral excellence, too, is elusive! We also realized that attaining pastoral excellence is difficult for many pastors (just as excellence is for people in any field!) because they were dealing with so many of their own spiritual and emotional issues—or not dealing with them. In a survey we did this last spring with nearly 20 pastors in Denver, many told us anonymously about their own loneliness, fears and doubts. Many were longing for communities of clergy peers with whom they could be honest, vulnerable, and open – and found that this was usually difficult to do inside their own congregations. Pastoral ministry can be hauntingly lonely.
As part of a grant application process we did this last spring (for which we were summarily rejected – so take this following list with a grain of salt!), we put together our convictions about what it means to be a thriving pastor.
We summarized the marks of a thriving pastor in three categories: personal (points 1-3 below), professional (4-5), and public (6-8). We also believe thriving pastors put themselves in the right context (9-10) to grow. Thriving pastors lead from the inside out: they draw on the life of Christ from within, pursue excellence in their craft of pastoral leadership, and influence their churches for the sake of their cities and the flourishing of their communities.
Drawing on our work with pastors in the Denver metropolitan area along with external research on pastoral health, we at DIFW believe there are ten characteristics of a thriving pastor.
1.Personal Humility and Deep Spiritual Health. Thriving pastors “face their own shadow” in the context of vulnerable relationships. They open their hearts to God’s transforming grace through practicing spiritual disciplines, and they sustain pastoral habits of mental, emotional, and physical self-care. Their first call is to love God with all of their heart, mind, soul and strength.
2. Embracing the Call to Be a Pastor. Thriving pastors listen to God’s voice over a lifetime and embrace a professional identity without being unhealthily dependent on that identity for a sense of personal worth. They embrace a distinct call to be a pastor. They recognize their limitations and leverage their God-given gifts for their congregations and communities.
3. Healthy Families, Marriages, and Friendships. Thriving pastors are surrounded by healthy relationships, including first their spouses, then children, family and friends. Safe, open and honest relationships are critical to pastoral flourishing.
4. Leadership Management and Skill. Thriving pastors exhibit pastoral competence and learn new leadership skills often left untaught in seminary education (e.g., casting vision, managing projects, managing budgets, hiring well, etc.). They recognize short-comings and depend on mentors to navigate leadership challenges, especially early in their career.
5. Emotional Intelligence. Thriving pastors exhibit growing emotional intelligence and self-awareness, especially as it relates to leading and “reading” their church and its key leaders. They are able to build trust and lead healthy growth and change in their congregations.
6. Social Engagement. Thriving pastors lead churches that serve the needs of their particular community, especially the poor. They commit to social justice and civic renewal in response to Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
7. Vocational Discipleship. Thriving pastors lead churches committed to forming men and women in their vocations as agents of reconciliation and restoration in families, workplaces and cities.
8. Evangelistic Witness. Thriving pastors lead evangelistic churches committed to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed with their communities and the world.
9. Community of Peers and Mentors. Thriving pastors have communities of clergy peers and mentors who help them navigate personal, professional, and community challenges over a career. They embrace friendships with other pastors and leaders outside their church.
10. Becoming an Adult Learner. Finally, thriving pastors take ownership for their own development and embrace learner-directed, problem-oriented, and contextualized learning environments over a lifetime. They write their own “syllabus” and embrace peer feedback.
Today pastors face increasing complexity in their ministerial roles: the pull to be both spiritual and organizational leaders, and the pressure to offer cultural leadership in communities that no longer recognize their moral authority. Pastors – like all of us – need rhythms of spiritual formation, self-care, family health, and professional development to thrive with resilience.
We all face deep challenges in the workplace and long for God to use us to bless and heal this broken world. Perhaps one day, both lay leaders and pastors will lock arm and lean on one another to imitate King David who “shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Psalm 78:2).
I’d be interested to hear from you. What do you think we missed in this list? What did we get right, and what did we get wrong? What specific examples can you give of deep pastoral health and resilience?
For more on this topic, see:
Where does Denver Institute fit into the broader nonprofit community? Or more specifically, why financially support Denver Institute in your own giving portfolio?
All executive directors of nonprofits think about year-end giving this time of year, and I’m no different. Occasionally, it can be helpful when they make their own case for support and explain where they fit into a broader nonprofit ecosystem.
Most nonprofits exist to pick up the broken pieces of society. Addiction, homelessness, lack of opportunity – take your pick. When society falls apart, the nonprofit community plays a critical role in serving the poor, widow, orphan and sojourner. This is a good, biblical reason to financially support any one of a number of organizations serving the underserved.
But occasionally we must ask, how did society get here in the first place?
What about our leaders, our institutions, and our economy is so broken that it left out such a large percentage of our neighbors? What are the beliefs, values, and norms that have shaped the influencers of society – whether known or unknown – that need to change to build a more just social and economic structure?
These are questions for leaders.
At Denver Institute we form men and women to serve God, neighbor and society through their daily work. We tend to serve leaders and influencers in their respective industries, and we unashamedly believe that leaders, and the decisions they make, are fundamental to a healthy society.
When we think about our charitable giving, we need both a top-down strategy and bottom-up strategies. That is, we should give generously to organizations serving the poor. But we also should give to institutions trying to form future influencers with a solid ethical core who can in turn influence the institutions and systems that often cause the problems nonprofits deal with every day.
Several weeks ago I had lunch with a bright financial advisor. A kind and humble man, I shared an observation with him, “Often our charitable giving is addressing the same problems that we are financing through our investments.” He chimed in with an example: “On the one hand, we fund ministries that help men addicted to pornography. Yet in our investment portfolio we hold companies like Time Warner that sell pornographic channels to their subscribers.”
Here’s where we need to both fund organizations that help with pornography addiction and try to influence the CEOs, business leaders, and investors who can shape the companies that are causing the problem in the first place.
Another example: job training for low-income communities. Numerous nonprofits offer some kind of job training to women and men who are trying to get back on their feet. And so they’re hired by a company, hoping to get their life back together. But a recent conversation I had with a friend who works for the Association of General Contractors went essentially like this:
“The real problem is not in the training, but in the companies that hire them. I’ve seen far too many construction companies treat new employees like just a pair of hands – hours are terrible, there’s no chance for advancement, workplace culture is toxic, and benefits are scarce. We need companies who not just hire people for dead end jobs, but create good jobs where people can find a hope and a future.”
Political philosopher J.P. Nettl can shed light on this debate on how philanthropy can affect cultural change. He thinks we can learn a lot about effective social movements through observing cave formations. There are two type of rock formations: stalactite rock formations come down from the top of the cave. Stalagmite formations, however, come up from the bottom. When stalactite and stalagmite formations meet in the middle they form a single column. Social movements are strongest when both top-down and bottom-up approaches are united.
In our charitable giving, we also may want to consider ways to regularly give to both nonprofits serving the poor and the educational institutions serving current and future leaders.
Denver Institute convenes thought leaders, influencers and future leaders (through our 5280 Fellowship) in an effort to form leaders who will shape their workplaces and organizations for the good of the whole city. We’re certainly not the only organization trying to do this work, but if you’re looking for a nonprofit that’s doing good work in this area to add to your portfolio, consider giving to Denver Institute.
Photo: “5280 Fellows learn from Dan Dye, CEO of Ardent Mills”
Tomorrow is Colorado Gives Day, a 24 hour drive to support the nonprofits across the state of Colorado. As the leader of a nonprofit that participates in Colorado Gives Day, I thought I’d post a handful of my favorite videos on generosity from my friends at Generous Giving and National Christian Foundation.
Here are my top 6 videos on generosity to inspire your own spirit of generosity as you prepare to schedule your gifts online tomorrow.
6. “Work like a doctor, live like a nurse”
After becoming a doctor and accomplishing all of her life goals at an early age, Dr. Lockey realized that her dreams had not brought her life fulfillment. As she served on medical missions teams and sought direction from God, she realized that an abundance of possessions would never bring true joy. So, after wrestling with God, she took a radical step of faith…
(see video above)
5. “Bill & Vonette Bright – Surrendering Everything”
In 1951, Bill and Vonette Bright, founders of Campus Crusade for Christ, signed a contract with God to surrender everything to Him. The Brights share what their commitment has meant for them; the pouring out of their lives in ministry to the King, trusting Him to provide for their needs. What I love about this video is that in this video, you can almost see them shining with a luminescent joy….
Bill & Vonette Bright – Surrendering Everything from Generous Giving on Vimeo.
4. “I Like Car”
A woman gives everything she has to a widow and is surprised by the response of those around her…I started crying the first time I saw this video.
I Like Car from Generous Giving on Vimeo.
3. “Use Your Business to Fund Ministry”
Many business owners have a heart to give charitably but feel hindered by their limited cash flow and the high taxation of their businesses. My friends at National Christain Foundation can help business owners donate a non-voting interest in your business, receive a substantial tax deduction, and still maintain management oversight of your business.
This video won’t make you cry – but it will certainly make you think about what tax-wizards can do to unleash generosity in the Body of Christ.
Using Your Business to Fund Ministry from National Christian Foundation on Vimeo.
2. “The Gospel, Grace and Giving – Tim Keller”
In typical brilliant/humble/life-changing fashion, Tim Keller makes the case why generosity is core to the gospel itself. God first gave himself to us….
1. “Alan Barnhart – God Owns Our Business”
Katherine and Alan Barnhart added an interesting twist to the American dream and made it their business not to get rich. As newlyweds, they set up safe guards to protect them from the pitfalls of money as they took over a family business. From the beginning, they set a financial finish line and told God if He prospered the company they would use it to advance the Kingdom instead of advancing their lifestyle. With a winsomeness that is contagious, Alan tells the story of God’s richness toward them and their journey to live the life that is truly life promised in scripture.
This video is seriously my favorite testimonial on generosity. Who gives away 99% of their business (and then eventually the last 1%), and lives on a tiny fraction of what they could be spending? Incredible. Makes me think twice about not only generosity, but the legacy I leave for my children and their children.
Alan Barnhart – God Owns Our Business from Generous Giving on Vimeo.
So many charities, so many choices. This time of year, year-end fundraising appeals pour into our mailboxes. How are we to decide between the many worthy nonprofit causes that are asking for financial support?
If you’re anything like Kelly (my wife) and me, you have to make this choice carefully. We’ve set aside a certain amount each year in our charitable giving budget, and we want our donor dollars to make an impact.
For us, there are two giving categories that won’t budge anytime soon: the local church and the poor. We believe we have both a duty and a joyful opportunity to support our local church (Littleton Christian Church) as it proclaims the gospel to our community and nonprofits like HOPE International that are serving the poor and marginalized throughout the world. I believe these two categories should be universal priorities for Christians.
But I think many Christians have often overlooked a third category for charitable giving: culture. Actually, I believe the culture category is necessary considering the redemptive scope of the resurrection and what it means to be a follower of Christ in this world. Education, the arts, scientific research, leadership development, even politics (Did I really just write that?). The broader arena in which we work and live needs generous donor support – and without generous culture patrons, our entire civilization is negatively affected. Not a small claim to defend!
Here are three reasons why I think we all need to add “culture” to our annual giving priorities:
Imagine if you had to buy a $20 ticket to go to church each Sunday. Would you be incensed? What if you grew up in a community with no symphony, or you never visited an art museum or arboretum as a kid? Do you feel like other children should have that experience today – even if they can’t pay for it?
We live in the age of philanthrocapitalism – a view that says philanthropists ought to act like angel investors, and nonprofits should cease with this fundraising nonsense and act more like businesses.
Many nonprofits should indeed develop earned revenue streams (book sales, event ticket sales, or fee for service). And many organizations need to vastly improve reporting and metrics. But some valuable human endeavors are simply not profitable. And never will be.
(A) Education. It’s not profitable. It just isn’t. When a Ph.D. student spends five years studying medieval Hebrew manuscripts, or a kid learns a multiplication table for the first time in second grade, there’s no way these activities can – or should – be profitable. Experiments in for-profit higher education, like the University of Phoenix, haven’t gone well. The point is that education is good… and costly. And it will perpetually require donor and/or government support to impact lives and shape an educated citizenry, which our businesses, churches, hospitals and, yes, schools, depend on.
(B) Science. Building the large hadron collider, a massive particle accelerator, is costly. Really costly – to the tune of about $13.25 billion. Now, why on earth would anybody fund this? Because this activity could push all of humanity forward through a new scientific breakthrough. It’s not profitable – but it is valuable. Cancer research, a children’s hospital, the chemistry department at your local university – each need donor support.
I fully understand the need for sustainability in the nonprofit world. Trust me: as the executive director of a nonprofit, I understand this. We actively work on minimizing risk and diversifying our income streams. But it’s also worth remembering that there are incredibly valuable human endeavors that require generosity and can only flourish with the support of people who think private schools and preserving primate habitats – “culture” – are worth donor support.
Colossians 1:19-20 says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” All things, many theologians have pointed out, means the individual soul but also neighborhoods, cities, and entire areas of human endeavor, like art, law, manufacturing, agriculture, retail, and investing.
Or take a less-quoted example: Zephaniah 3. When God judges Israel for her sin, he says, “Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.” God is judging not just individuals, but cultural norms that had become unjust. He speaks to government leaders, the media (ancient prophets functioned in many ways like the media of today), and corrupt religious leaders.
God’s law, given through Moses at Sinai, lays down a vision for a just society, not the private salvation of individuals nor isolated acts of charity. As soon as he tells people to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God,” he follows up by mentioning the integrity (or lack thereof) of their business practices (Micah 6:8-11).
God cares about all of his creation, from neurotransmitters to nuclear energy. And because of human sin, each area of the world is distorted due to sin. Syria is crumbling, spiritual emptiness is rampant, caustic partisan division is paralyzing Washington, and refugees are suffering.
Anthony Bradley, a theologian at The King’s College, defines human flourishing as “a holistic concern for the spiritual, moral, physical, economic, material, political, psychological and social context necessary for human beings to live according to their design.” Does our giving reflect this broad view of human flourishing?
We can’t change all that has gone wrong, not give to every cause. But we can do something. Why not pick an area of culture – like spurring on the generosity movement, contributing to the formation of a potential leader, or even giving to a bunch of scholars thinking about culture – and give generously?
Last week I was talking with my friend David, who, through his career, has become personal friends with many high ranking government officials in Africa. One day, he took an emerging leader from the Congo (a lawyer by trade) to visit one of the world’s biggest private equity funds (hundreds of billions in assets). The fund manager said, “We’re interested in investing significantly in the Congo. But we can’t yet. Because of the scope of the investment, we need to see political stability for at least 10 years before we invest.”
The young leader went away encouraged – knowing that this investment could create thousands of jobs for his countrymen – yet knowing he needed to work on building networks of moral integrity in the upper echelon of leadership in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help stabilize a county that’s been torn by civil war.
The point has been well made by documentaries like Poverty, Inc. or books such as Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing that entrepreneurship and business does more to alleviate systemic poverty than charity ever will. But that’s not to say that charity isn’t necessary. On the contrary, what we most need is a certain kind of moral fiber among business leaders that turns wealth creation into societal benefit. Earning more money can mean the chance to buy more whisky and prostitutes, or it can mean the chance to invest in your kid’s education. The formation of ethical leaders, especially in business and government, is critical to poverty alleviation. (Gary Haugen has also made the case that the rule of law and preventing violence from sweeping through countries is also critical to development work.)
In summary, if we care about the poor, we can’t just give to the next natural disaster or emergency fundraising appeal we get in the mail. We need to build up institutions and the people who lead them because it leads to jobs, stability, and cultures of virtue that can put poverty to rest for good.
The Most Generous Country in the World
Americans are the most generous people in the world. We give away over $1 billion dollars a day. We give away $373 billion a year – and 73 percent of that is from individuals like you and me. (Though we give the most by total contributions, Australia and New Zealand edge us by a greater percent of people who give to charity each year.)
And people of religious faith are the most generous of all Americans. It’s controversial, but true. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute reports that the average annual giving among the religious is $2,210 per year, whereas it is $642 among secular Americans. Christians even give to secular causes more generously than secular people.
Each year, Kelly and I strive to give more generously for the core reason that God has first given generously to us.
It’s makes me excited to give this year to the church, to the poor – and to the cultural endeavors that God so loves (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19).