I recently heard on a podcast a premise for a company that I wish was Christian because it sounded to me like they were behaving in ways I would love to claim as “ours.” The company, like all companies, seeks to make a profit, create jobs, and offer useful goods to the world. What stuck out to me was one of its founding principles which is to be maximally sustainably generous in all circumstances.
How does this get played out?
In their company it means that if someone flies out to meet with them, and stays in a hotel but ultimately they are not going to work together, the company covers the costs of the person involved so that they aren’t at a loss for having brainstormed with them. This is healthy, if expensive. It means that others learn to trust and appreciate the company and it also means the company takes great care not to waste (including others’ and their own) time. It means paying people reasonably high wages, and hiring less people if that’s what it takes to do so. It means giving people as much time off as they need to recharge and live vibrant lives, volunteering in the community or pursuing passion projects of various sorts. It sounds great from the worker perspective and it seems to work for the company.
How can this play out in our organizations?
One might guess that leaders would be wary of this, what if people take advantage? How do we know something is sustainable? And other such questions must surely arise. I cannot help, as a church worker, but wonder how we do at this sort of living as the people of God. Holy Spirit filled people who follow a generative and creative God, a God of abundance and promise, might be expected to be particularly generous in their ways. The church itself relies on generosity of time and finances of the people who call the church home. Will God honour our stepping out in faith this way?
The principle includes the word sustainable because no one wants to go broke. Sustainability changes from circumstance to circumstance and I would hope that we followers of Jesus might be able to take a large and generous view of this. Can we pay people fair or liveable wages? Can we employ less people but empower them to do more? Can our organizations help others better by being more generous with our time and our assets? Like at the church I serve we attempt to use our building as a gift to the community by renting out lots of spaces for all sorts of uses at very affordable rates, not because our building is cheap or easy to run but because we want to be generous with what God has given us to steward and we believe this is an obvious way for us to serve the neighbourhood. We can also advocate for others and remind folks of their inherent dignity and remind employers of their responsibilities, this is an old prophetic role of the community of faith, it is one we can embrace again. There are many options here and our failures in the past must not hold us back from trying to be who we are called to be in the present.
What about in our lives?
Do we live generously? This might make finances jump to mind, and certainly that is part of it. Do we shop where people are paid well or where we would be upset if our loved ones worked there? Do we spend a little more and purchase goods made sustainably and/or created and transported by people receiving fair wages through the production line?
Our time is something we can be generous with. It is said over and over again that our most precious resources are our time and attention. Can we give attention to someone most people ignore? Can we volunteer our time to causes we care deeply about or that somehow make our community better places to live? Please understand this is not a call to give more money and time to congregations (though you can if that is your thing) but a call to pay attention to how we are spending our resources and ask ourselves if we are being maximally-sustainably generous. Communities need kids sports, art fairs, food banks and any number of other volunteer based projects on an ongoing basis, we can help.
How do we make it happen?
This is the critical question. I have found that when it comes to time the more I pray, sit with a bible in my hands, journal, and meditate the more time I feel I have. It is strange because these activities take time, precious hard to find time for a pastor and parent of three little kids, and yet when I bother with the fight, when I set aside time to sit quietly, it (almost magically) creates more time in my day. Morning rituals and practices, as counter-intuitive as this is, create more space in my day.
Individuals with time will make better more intentional decisions. They will carry this into group settings like churches and boards. Elder groups, boards etc, can work this in as well, spending quiet time together, spending time reflecting on the questions before them, thinking over topic before the meetings. Inviting God into the conversation and asking the Divine for guidance. Simple stuff that just takes a bit of time.
So, if being maximally-sustainably generous sounds good to you, like it might be a goal or something you would be happy to have written on a tombstone, then I suggest it starts by sitting and connecting with God, however that works for you.
One thought on “Sustainable Generosity”
well-reasoned….right on the money (so to speak)