[Extra]Ordinary Generosity

What would it take for you to give 33 times more to charity than the average person in the UK? I want to introduce you to some people who do just that.

I don’t mean actual amount - that probably just takes being richer - I mean percentage cut of your income. Whatever your income.

What would it take for our culture's constant drive to upgrade - phone, house, car, life (with the occasional, well advertised just-giving donation) to become a drive toward generosity?

The Generosity Project

As a church we've been working through The Generosity Project. It's looked at the Bible's account of a God who is generous to his core.

  • A God who is Love - Father, Son and Spirit, existing in an eternity of generosity.

  • A God who overflows in generosity at creation and the cross - dealing with our selfishness.

  • A God who sends his Spirit to make his people more like him - generous in every area, including our finances.

Alongside the voice of the course presenters, we wanted to hear from ordinary, generous Christians we could relate to and to do it in a way that honoured their desire to keep giving private.

Growing to do

This is not a 'Christians have got it all sorted' post. The course told us the average weekly church attender only give 2% of their income to charity (including their church). We felt like we had growing to do.

We wanted to find generous Christians and ask - what does it look like to be financially generous? And more importantly, what motivates it?

We also were ready to be challenged. We felt this survey matched Paul's call to the Corinthians to learn from the Macedonians and ultimately from Jesus when he said:

‘See that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. –2 Corinthians 8:8-9

What Generosity looks like

(See here If you want to see more details about the survey and fuller results)

Just a quick reminder for people out there whose Maths was a long time ago(!) - This is comparing with income before the government takes tax, so the percentage given would be even higher if you used what ends up in your bank each month. Also know £100k is definitely not our measure of whether someone's rich or not, it just marked a change in responses about percentages given away. (i.e. People with £60,000 income were giving twice as much as those with £30,000 income, but it was still a similar percentage).

It was too tricky to anonymously gather stories of their generosity in other areas of their lives, but let me tell you some of the stories their financial generosity paints.

Mr and Mrs ‘Smith’

All that we have comes from you and of your own have we given you’ (1 Chron 29:16)

One couple in this survey earn £60,000 between them (putting them in the top 35% of household incomes) and seem to take home £43,000 per year. They say they are married with a family, but no mortgage. They choose to give away £7,000 a year to causes that seek to tell others the good news of Jesus and £1,000 a year to other charitable causes which seek to do primarily practical good. That means ‘John and Jo’ give 13% of their basic salary and 20% of their take home pay. That's £667 month in, month out.

As with every story, there is something relative about giving. A family with only £20,000 would happily take home £15,000 more and give £8,000 away (& what do we think a Christian in the majority world would make of these figures?!), but we all know it’s not that simple. What did we do the last time our own income went up? Did it just increase our giving, or also our standard of living?

Instead, ask yourself – what would I do with an extra £8,000 a year? Where would I holiday? What would I drive?

Here’s what ‘the Smiths’ say about why they give - ‘Jesus has given everything for us and to us. It is a joy and privilege to give for the work of His church locally and farther afield.’

Ms Generous

When Jesus watches people giving in the temple, he commends the woman who gives out of her poverty rather than out of their riches and that’s because Christian giving is sacrificial giving.

The person choosing to live on the least in this survey was a retired person with a £34,600 pension, who chooses to give £11,500 a year to charity. 50% goes to sharing the good news of Jesus and the other 50% goes to charities giving primarily practical help). Some will think this person is on a good pension, especially given they say they own their home, but if our tax assumptions are correct, they are choosing to live on £14k instead of £25k a year. How many of us would make that choice?

Mr Ordinary Faithfulness

Mr Average earns £26,000 (the average UK income is £29,600). He says he is single with large housing costs. He chooses to give £2,500 away each year of his £21,000 take home pay. 9.6% of income and 11.9% of take home pay. Again, the real issue is not about amounts and percentages. It's that he can cheerfully give this money time and again and say: 'I give because of what Christ has done for me. Everything I have comes from him and I only give him what is his already. I want to play my part in supporting gospel causes for God's glory and to enable those to hear the good news and pass from death to life.'

Mr and Mrs Could B. Minted

Charge the rich not to be proud, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Tim 6:17-19)

The household giving the most are a household with a lot to give, but with lot of desire to give too. Their household income is £250,000, but they demonstrate that Christianity is not opposed to having large amounts of money, prove it’s not what you’ve got that matters, but what you do with what you’ve got. They choose to give £127,000 away a year – 50.8%. They say they are married with young family, that both parents work and that their mortgage is approximately half their expenditure.

Why do they give? They say:

We have received so much from Christ (including our money but much, much more), how good it is to follow his example and learn generosity. It’s all given by him, we can’t take it with us, we may as well put it to good use. Also, we know wealth is so deceptive. Giving is so helpful to try to stop us clinging to it.

Another household in a similar income bracket give ‘only’ £95,000 (43%), though they do mention they are paying down their mortgage quickly in order to give more longer term. They say: ‘It's God's money, not ours, and we want to help advance His kingdom, not ours.’

What would you do with £127,000?! Would you give it all away?!

Numbers don't tell the whole story

It’s worth saying there’s probably a whole load more sacrificial generosity that doesn’t show up on this survey. If these people send this much money out of their account, chances are their generous in other ways too! How many people are they showing hospitality to or helping in other ways? How many of them are putting money into housing not primarily for their own comfort but to serve others and make wise investments? How many of them have chosen lower household incomes than they could have had in order to have time and energy to serve their families, churches and communities? How many of them are being held back in financial giving by their responsibilities to their family? How many of the young families were giving more in their 20s and will be giving more in their 40s as financial situations shift?

This was about encouraging us to pursue a lifetime of generosity. Not about judging another's free decision. Have we become generous like Jesus? It wasn't first about learning from them. Just like the Corinthians, we learn from them only because they have learned from Jesus.

Giving like Jesus

As 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, God the Son...

  • ...though he was rich – living in perfect paradise with His Father and The Spirit.

  • ...made himself poor – taking on humanity, living in poverty, dying on the cross for the sins of all who will trust him.

  • ...so we through his poverty might become rich - We start poor - alienated from God by our selfish sin, deserving eternal bankruptcy beyond death. But Jesus makes us rich - giving us spiritual riches now in knowing God as Father, in forgiveness, in power to turn from our selfishness and one day eternal riches in an eternity of paradise perfection with him.

Do we see the beauty of Jesus' generosity? Are we willing to receive his generosity? And do we want to become generous like him too?