I don't believe anyone believes that generosity is a bad thing.
To be honest, most people (I believe) want to be generous and grow in their generosity.
Sometimes, it's just down right difficult to live generously. Whether it's a busy schedule (time), competing priorities (talents and skills like work and relationships), or financially (inflation, salary ceilings, macro economic realities, unexpected expenses... let's be honest - life in America is expensive)... living generously like Jesus takes work.
That's one of the reasons Beth and I were so thrilled to have the incredible opportunity to attend our first Celebration of Generosity event last week in Phoenix. We wanted to discover how we could grow in our generosity as a family, today.
What is the Celebration of Generosity?
The Celebration of Generosity is Generous Giving’s annual gathering. It’s an intentional time when people are invited to have significant conversations about financial generosity. The event leaders stress that generosity is not about dollars and all about God’s heart for us and all people. As a result, conversations about generosity focus on aligning how we use and manage our stuff - our time, relationships, skills, and money to God’s heart and what God wants to see in the world. Why? Because in the end, it’s all God’s. We can’t take any of it with us because it isn’t ours to begin with.
Over 650 people heard inspiring stories from people engaged with a national foundation that assists families with wealth management and how to execute complex gifts for charitable causes. We also received biblical teaching from people like Christine Caine (who also spoke at the IF:Gathering via video). We experienced Spirit-led worship led by Matt Maher and Martin Chalk (nothing like a worship leader with a Scottish accent!).
It was a fantastic opportunity for Beth and me, along with 12 other OSLCers, to connect the dots between God’s generosity to us and how Jesus invites us to live out that same generosity to the world.
I left the gathering reflecting on God’s faithful generosity to Beth, our boys, and our families. The truth is that while we have rarely had significant excess, we have always had enough… and in many ways, more than enough (even when I don’t recognize it).
To be honest and vulnerable with you about this topic, here’s a snapshot of Team Bayer.
Beth and I believe that all things are a gift from God - not good or bad, but rather a gift. And like all gifts - kids, work, food, our bodies, relationships, knowledge, clothing, school, the internet, tech (I could go on…), we are invited to manage money in alignment with our relationship with Jesus.
Beth and I don’t have generational financial wealth. Both of our fathers were pastors, and in many ways, we didn’t know just how little money our families had when we were growing up - and yet, we always had enough. My dad’s side of the family were farmers. My mom’s side of the family were railroad workers. Both of Beth’s parents’ sides of the family were educators or pastors. We have immigrants on both sides of our family who left everything behind and spent everything they had to come to America.
Since the ministry is not a publicly traded commodity, we do not have business equity. Therefore, the currency of our portfolio is primarily relationships, time, and skills - not dollars, euros, or crypto.
As a family, we strive to live simply in a world that thrives in indulgence (the struggle is real). Like every disciple and ministry leader in scripture, we live paycheck to paycheck - depending on the generosity of God’s people. We pay self-employment taxes and contribute to Social Security.
We manage debt (a mortgage along with some consumer debt resulting from a combination of some bad (past) tax advice, having purchased a house right before the 2009 housing crisis and selling it in 2013, unexpected medical expenses, and (honestly) some choices we made that weren't "mistakes", but were outside of our means at the time).
A large part of our retirement comes from an employer-paid pension plan. In addition, we have contributed a very small amount to an individual retirement plan to supplement future retirement.
As parents, we live in the tension to manage all the joys and challenges of three (growing) boys.
While dollars are not our core motivation for living, from time to time, we do sometimes dream of what we would do if I transferred my skills to a corporate setting which would produce a storehouse of cash, dividends, stock, and perks. I have had headhunters reach out and ask me to join their firms. Yet, I feel deeply called to ministry, and that’s an intentional, God-driven choice. Would we be "happy" and feel satisfied? No - we don't think so. Why? Because satisfaction only comes from a relationship with Jesus - not from stuff. Easier said than done... but if God's Word is true (which we believe it is), then we lean into it and trust it.
And yet, when opportunities to help others present themselves to be generous (and overly generous), we respond. For example, we have helped (and continue to help) make it possible for people to go to camp. Treating people to a special meal (lately, it has been inviting them to our house to join family dinner), helping students pay for their college education, raising young children, or covering medical bills all have become a generous response to the generosity God has given to us.
Perhaps you can relate to Team Bayer.
So, what did a married couple with an overly generous heart, living paycheck to paycheck, who trust that they always will have (more than) enough, learn from last week’s event?
I’m glad you asked.
First, good things are different from good works.
I never really gave this much thought until Tony Evans shared it from the stage. There is no shortage of good things to spend our time on. Hobbies. Family. Friends. Work. Church and ministry. They’re all gifts from God. Yet, God calls us not to good things but to good works (Ephesians 2:10).
What are good works? God has already given us the answer: To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
Justice. Mercy. A relationship with God. Those are the good works that God invites us to invest our time, talents, and finances into.
Another learning is an operational definition of justice.
John Mark Comer encouraged us not to allow others to redefine such a beautiful and biblical word. He helped me understand the biblical definition of justice as “disadvantaging yourself to give others a greater advantage.”
Justice is generosity in action. And both begin and end with the heart of God. The heart of God is always about giving all people the more significant advantages of grace, belonging, acceptance, and unconditional love by disadvantaging himself by sending Jesus not to condemn anybody but to save all people (John 3:17, Philippians 2:1-10). Oh, sweet justice!
Justice is not a matter of human equality or making the scales even. It’s disadvantaging yourself so others receive a more significant advantage.
Regarding money, the truth is that God owns every dollar, won, euro, yen, and bitcoin in the world. He holds every nanosecond in his hands. He is the giver of every musical talent, technical skill, and unique personal gift. Those aren’t equal scales… God owns all of it. We get to use some of it.
What a spectacular picture of the Christian faith. God gives. We receive. With every act of generosity, we continue the story of God in real-time. In this way, everything works together to bring the advantage of Jesus’ forgiveness, life, and promise of eternal salvation to all people.
One way that the Bayers work this out is by learning to understand that everything we have - our clothing, shoes, house, hot tub, sports court, time, education, knowledge, meals, shopping trips, travel time, cars, and so much more are resources to help people know Jesus, not just for our enjoyment. We share it. We give it away. We disadvantage ourselves (not for self-gain), but as an acknowledgment that it isn’t our stuff, to begin with… it’s all God’s stuff on his excellent work of grace and mercy.
Finally, while it was not a learning, per se, we both left with the burning desire to return to something we used to do: work out a Giving Plan.
For the Bayers, having a Giving Plan is a matter of being faithful to God, who gave us each dollar. It acknowledges our relationship with God who gave us each cent to be used for good work, and not knowing how we manage it means that we are not faithfully responsible for God’s money entrusted to us.
So, leaving the conference, we resolved to get back to laying out our Giving Plan. Jeanne McMains reminded us about the “Share. Spend. Save.” Approach - which we used in the past. Our friend Jenny introduced us to this system of managing our time, stuff, and money. In fact, she gave our kids piggy banks with those three “banks” for them to start thinking in those three ways. This is how the approach works.
The first part of our Giving Plan is to determine how much money we share. Right now, between 10 and 11% of each paycheck acknowledges that God gave it to us - so we give it back to him through the local church. Over the years, we have grown from 3% to 5% to where we are now. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been so worth it. We’ve seen people come to know Jesus through the ministries those dollars support. And that’s good work! In addition, we support a child through Compassion. We are also planning to talk with our kids about sharing “as a family.” That means our kids will get to choose how to share some of their allowance and special gifts given to our family.
Then, we lay out our Spending Plan. This includes being faithful to provide for the kids God has entrusted us to care for and satisfy our debts (which means to ensure they're none past due). So, things like housing, mortgage payment, insurances, creditors, food, utilities, safety, and clothing. These are the basics. This is excellent work... God's work of providing for others as He has provided for us! We also include how best to invest in our kids’ talents and skills. Music lessons are a big one for us. That’s our choice based on learning how God has uniquely gifted each of them.
We then save about $50 (which, at this point in our lives, is usually spent on unplanned medical expenses).
After that, if there is excess, that is added to our Giving Plan to share as God leads us.
That’s it. That’s how we lay out our Giving Plan.
It’s not perfect… we are working to pay down debts... we are figuring out how to adjust as the cost of living is always shifting and our kids are constantly growing... that means the plan is constantly in flux… but it’s a plan. And we pray that God uses it to help us act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God… and help others do the same.
We left encouraged.
If you’re still reading, then I’m guessing that you may want to grow in this area of your life.
I’m encouraged that the conversation about generosity is less about specific dollars and more about God’s heart for us and all people. I’m encouraged that the conversation about generosity focuses on aligning how we use and manage our stuff - our time, relationships, skills, and money to God’s heart and what God wants to see in the world. Because in the end, it’s all God’s. We can’t take any of it with us because it isn’t ours to begin with. So, I’m excited to see how God will use the seemingly little that we have (in comparison to others in the world) to not only remind me that:
Some personal reflection questions
What might you hear God say concerning how you can use your time, skills, relationships, and finances?
What will you do about it?
Meet Pastor Tim
Tim Bayer has served as Our Savior's Lead Pastor since September 2019. He also serves as an Adjunct Instructor at Concordia University - Irvine, a National Leadership Facilitator and Resource, and a Community Mental Health First Aid Instructor.