By Matt Potter
Quite a few years ago I attended a weeklong workshop in Indianapolis called “Faith and Fundraising.” This outstanding experience was put on by The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The attendees were not just Catholic, like yours truly, but also Protestant ministers and development professionals. All of us were exploring better ways to help our dioceses, parishes and congregations in the never-ending quest for ministry funding.
We covered many topics relevant to our unique ministry of raising money for religious purposes. One afternoon during a discussion, our instructor used the term “transformational gift.”
I had never heard the term before and, being relatively new to the field, made some assumptions. The first of these was the belief that a transformational gift must be huge, as in six- or seven-figures. The second was that a gift that large would certainly transform an organization, allowing them to pursue whatever goals or dreams they had.
What I had not accounted for, however, was that was not where the largest transformation took place.
St. Paul tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7) Whenever I heard this phrase intoned, I raised my skeptic flag because it was usually followed by a plea for money. That request would be satisfied after I wrote a check and Father would quit asking for money. He gets his money, I get peace and quiet.
This is transactional giving in its purest form. It’s a lot like going to Target; I fill my cart, take it to the checkout, pay for the merchandise and go home with my new possessions. I owe nothing more to Target, and they owe nothing more to me. Transactional giving has its place, but it is not uplifting, joyful or redeeming. It does not open our hearts to the Lord, and it is ultimately unsatisfying.
When that verse from St. Paul’s letter is used as a small hammer to garner donations from the faithful, what is often missed are the verses around it that place it in context. So right now, grab the Bible that you have next to you and read 2 Corinthians 9:5-8. I’ll wait.
(Cue “Final Jeopardy” theme)
“. . . bountiful gift and not as an exaction.” — Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to give to the brothers out of joy, not because of obligation;
“. . . whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.” Don’t be stingy, because;
“. . . whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Finally;
“. . . God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.”
God gives us all we need out of His abundant grace. When we give out of that abundance, we never lack for anything. In fact, we receive back more than we ever gave.
We are not just talking about money here, but rather something much larger than that. We are called to give EVERYTHING to God: Our very lives. We don’t hold anything back. We give from our abundance, and we do it with joy.
A transformational gift comes from the heart, not the bank. Its effect is greater on the giver than the receiver, by orders of magnitude.
When we adopt a life of stewardship — when we move from scarcity to abundance — we realize that the gifts we have been given do us no good to keep them to ourselves. The paradox of stewardship is that the way we multiply the gifts God has given us is for us to give them away.
As always, thanks for reading. I would love to hear from you. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next up: The truth(s) about stewardship.