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Cultivating Generous Hearts — Ideas for Church Leaders

Two hands hold a small cloth heart from opposite directions“The hidden financial problem in your church is not how people behave with money; it’s what they believe about money.”

That’s Chuck Bentley, CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, from his ebook, “Uncover and Resolve the Hidden Financial Issues in Your Congregation.” As one who has served in stewardship ministries for some 30 years, his point strongly resonates. Life change — financial or otherwise — isn’t just a matter of knowledge. It’s a matter of our attitudes and beliefs; it’s a matter of the heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

The heart operates much like a gyroscope, keeping us on course toward our convictions, for better or worse.

It isn’t either/or

In order to grow in our faith—in this case, to grow in generosity—we need knowledge. But knowledge alone is not enough to drive our behavior. In the battle between the head and heart, the heart usually wins.

Jesus was all about helping his listeners go beyond what they knew they were supposed to do and connect their head knowledge with their hearts. It wasn’t enough for them to know they shouldn’t murder or even to not have actually murdered anyone. What was in their hearts mattered, too.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.’” – Matthew 5:21-22

Clearly, both are important—the head and the heart.

My own journey

As a new believer in my 20s, as I tried to figure out how my faith should influence my finances, I needed knowledge. To grow in generosity, I needed the instruction Proverbs 3:9 provides: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” Or, as the New King James translation puts it, “…with the firstfruits of all your increase.” And I needed help understanding that we are to give to the Lord the first portion of any financial “increase” (income, financial gifts, inheritances).

I also needed the specifics, such as the tithe, or 10 percent, being the historical biblical starring point for generosity (Leviticus 27:30), not the intended stopping point (2 Corinthians 9:10).

But then I needed to see Jesus bringing in the heart. For example, when He was asked about Old Testament giving laws, He didn’t remove them; He expanded on them, encouraging people to continue tithing while at the same time imploring them not to neglect justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).

God’s Word strengthened my knowledge, and shaped my heart. That God so loved the world that he gave his only son, and that Jesus then died a gruesome death on a cross to pay for my sins, are realities I’ll never fully come to terms with. And they have transformed my giving from a weekly act of obedience into a weekly act of gratitude and worship.

My journey also has been shaped by developing a heart for the priorities that God cares about—helping the poor (Proverbs 19:17), looking after widows and orphans (James 1:27), bringing His word to people who haven’t seen or heard it (Matthew 28:16-20), and helping to provide for those who teach us God’s word (Galatians 6:6).

Given all that God has done for me, how could I not care about what He cares about? How could I not manage the resources He has graciously entrusted to me — His resources — in a way that regularly, generously, and increasingly shares those resources with our church and other Christ-centered organizations that are all about His priorities?

Life change isn’t linear

I used to think that life change was a step by step process. Develop a God-honoring attitude about money, then learn what to do with money, and then the right behaviors will surely follow.

However, I’ve come to see that life is much messier than that—that life change can take some time and that it is circular, not linear. Heart change can change behavior. But new behavior can also shape our heart. And new knowledge is a helpful part of the mix. Around and around it all goes, in no particular order, and with each factor influencing the others.

So, how can we help foster greater generosity? There are no easy answers. But one thing is certain. Knowledge alone is not enough. The heart has to be involved as well.

Matt Bell is the author of four Biblical money management books published by NavPress. He speaks at churches and conferences throughout the country and writes the MattAboutMoney blog.

This article should not be considered legal, tax, or financial advice. You may wish to consult a tax or financial advisor about your individual financial situation.

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