Giving Up: How Giving to God Renews Hearts, Changes Minds, and Empowers Ministry by David Roseberry, College Station: New Vantage, 2017. 190 pages.
Giving Up: How Giving to God Renews Hearts, Changes Minds, and Empowers Ministry was written to address the contemporary Christian Church, based on the Biblical teaching throughout the Gospels that: “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
The author, the Rev. David Roseberry, is the founding pastor of Christ Church Plano in Texas, a congregation in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Roseberry up front states that:
“this is not a book about how to get your church members to donate more money. Neither is it a book boosting weekly contributions. Those things will happen, undoubtedly, as a result of a strong culture of generosity…”
Throughout the introduction, Roseberry reveals his spiritual and personal motivations for writing this book by sharing a story concerning the private Christian school where he sent his children to study. The school’s motto was “Esse quam videri” which in Latin means “To be, rather than to seem.” Inspired, by this essential goal of authenticity, he wishes to redirect this intention toward the church, hoping that more people who profess Christianity would demonstrate genuine faith in Jesus Christ.
That is the purpose of Giving Up, as Roseberry writes:
That is the goal of this book. To help churches and believers be who they are in Christ and not just to seem to be, and it begins with generosity…Ultimately, the church’s real power, its best chance to effect change in the world, comes from giving up: offering up to God with glad hearts what he has given us. Giving up is the church’s “Manhattan Project.” Generosity in the hearts of God’s people is the church’s weapon of mass salvation.
The author argued that there is great power in “giving up” control of one’s life, especially finances, to God. By opening our hearts and giving freely, the Church can have immense influence as it is then obeying the perfect will of God.
In the first few chapters, Roseberry poses the question of “Giving in or Giving up?” He suggests that we as the Church live in an increasingly self-centered, secular age and that this is more than a cultural phenomenon. In fact, he argues that because this has an adverse effect our hearts and souls, the Church must resist the momentum of the present-day culture to recover its Kingdom mission.
“Giving Up,” Roseberry writes, is the principal way that the first Christians distinguished themselves from the common culture. Therefore, the Church cannot achieve its mission by “giving in” to the forces of culture. Therefore, he says that the Church instead of surrounding to society’s secular values should instead focus on surrendering its will to God.
Furthermore, he argues that this counter-cultural message of generosity has never left the Church irrelevant, but rather garnered attention and a lot followers as a result. Roseberry references history, in pointing out that the early Church demonstrated an incredibly self-sacrificial way toward fellow pagan neighbors, contributing to gradually winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the people in the Roman Empire.
Regarding this historical period, he writes that:
In the days of the first church, their number one distinction was exceeding generosity and giving…there were many virtues and values in the early church that set it apart from the Roman Empire. But the single most pervasive attitude that was shared, accepted, taught, practiced, and encouraged might have been the one that is kept out of sight today: generosity. This quality appears to have been everywhere in the early church, it was like an atmospheric condition of the first Christians, it pervaded everything they did.
A case study is then explored in the subsequent chapter, focused on the “Miracle in Macedonia.” Of course, the present-day Greek land of Macedonia was where the first Christian Church in Europe was established outside of the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity:
The church arose in a Jewish context, after all, its Lord was born into a Jewish home…He came as the Messiah promised by repeated prophecy throughout the history of the Jewish people. All of Jesus’ original disciples were Jews. His earliest apostles were Jews. As far as we can determine from the biblical record, every single person who heard Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, when the church was born, was Jewish; they were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles – a Jewish holiday!
Here, however, although Roseberry makes an important point that often Christians are unaware of, he has erred in writing that the Feast of Tabernacles inspired the Pentecost. In fact, while the Feast of Tabernacles, the concluding feast of the Hebrew High Holidays in the fall, inspired the Feast of Lights, also known as Hanukah as well as in part the celebration of the American Thanksgiving. It was actually the Feast of Weeks also known as Shavuot, the holiday fifty days following the Passover in the Spring, for which the Jews were gathered in Jerusalem when the Pentecost occurred.
Regardless, Roseberry’s broader point is that the Jews who became followers of Jesus, later known as Christians, were indeed generous in that they spread the Gospel to gentiles as well. This was done by Paul, a former Pharisee and persecutor of Jesus’ disciples, who was commissioned by God to preach the gospel among the Gentiles, after his conversion on the road to Damascus.
Paul’s first mission was to Europe, establishing the church in Macedonia. There the apostle:
Would devote significant time in his missionary journeys to taking up this collection – gathered primarily from Gentiles – that would directly benefit the Jewish Christians of Judea…The virtue of generosity forged a bond between two groups – Jews and Gentiles – that were previously considered inherently incompatible. In the process, the earliest Christians realized that what united them was far greater than what divided.
Furthermore, in this case study we see that the spiritual generosity of the Jews sharing the gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles in Macedonia was ultimately repaid in the material generosity of the Gentiles’ support to the Jews in Judea, in their time of crisis. Therefore:
The body of Christ is at its best and most powerful when it is at its most giving. Paul knew that, and he took the message everywhere. We need to hear the same message today, with new ears, refreshed hearts, heightened faith, and a deep urgency. A hurting world depends on us.
Later on though in chapters on “Generosity as Evangelism” and “Helping the Church Give Up,” the Revered cites a number of alarming studies relevant to the present-day state of the Christian Church.
A Pew Research study of people who, though religious at one time now identify themselves with no organized religious group, revealed the following reasons for leaving:
- Religion focuses on power and politics,
- Organized religious groups are more divisive than uniting,
- Too many Christians doing un-Christian things
- Religion is not a religion anymore; it’s a business, all about money.
The Barna Group, in cooperation with Cornerstone Knowledge Network, conducted a nation-wide survey of millennials, a demographic currently abandoning the church in record numbers. Factors for this massive departure from the church, as uncovered by the research, included the following:
- The church prioritizes relevancy over authenticity,
- The church’s messaging is unclear,
- The church values activity over piety,
- The church does not personify the teachings of Christ,
- The church does not do enough to build caring, mentoring communities
Roseberry commented on these studies:
For decades in the United States, religious giving has reliably been the largest single segment of the charitable donation ecosystem… According to the annual report from the Giving USA Foundation …after adjustment for inflation, giving to religious organizations grew at less than 1 percent, year over year: the smallest increase among all categories of giving. While religious giving remains the largest single sector – for now, it is rapidly losing ground!”
In the concluding chapter, Roseberry seeks to encourage revival in the church and offers “Ten Big Ideas for the Generous Church.” Here are summaries of the ten points
- “Name It” – The first step toward connecting the transformational power of generosity is to start talking about it. Pray about it. Discuss it. Preach about it. Teach about it. Use the word routinely.
- “Generously Preach Generosity” — Getting things out in the open has to start from the pulpit. People truly need and for the most part, will be interested to know biblical wisdom on money, stewardship, and generosity. To not preach on generosity in concrete and confident ways is to deprive those you serve.
- Tell It Slant” – It is a tender topic, and some preachers have abused their right to speak…add healthy doses of humor on how you make the points. Humor is a great equalizer in any human situation: it allows us to say more things clearly and plainly without a lot of defensive push back…because truth is sometimes heard when it comes to us at an angle through a side door.
- “Testify” – Giving up can’t be a top-down process that the leader sustains. There may need to be a nudge from the pulpit, but there must be a way for those who are engaged in giving to share their hearts. This can take the form of testimonials on a Sunday morning, and those can be powerful.
- “Consider the Giver” – Creating a culture of generosity is also about creating a giving portal to the community through the church.
- “Sing about the Heroes” – Heroes define and encode our most important aspirations. If you want to really understand what motivates a community, a culture, a nations – or a church, you should get to know its heroes
- “Go for the Ordinary” – Building a culture of generosity means that the emphasis in the church is consistent and clear. Focusing on the virtues and value of generosity is not phenomenal that is, it is not extraordinary, but ordinary. The virtue should not be special; it is routine.
- “Be Humble and Wise” – A culture of generosity is not just about giving money for the pews, as has been said. The church needs to lead and model the generosity it touts.
- “Dream Big” – We should also trust that God the Holy Spirit will move in the hearts and imaginations…as when we become too institutional set in our thinking, we can begin to push everything into a logical process.
- “Build the Infrastructure” – One way the church can do this is by establishing, maintaining, and publicizing legacy funds: arrangements where generous givers can pool their resources and leverage them for greater impact.
All in all, Giving Up is a recommended book especially as it is written for Christians, concerned with the state of Christianity. Roseberry’s personal account drawing on Church history is both inspirational and motivational as it sends the message that the virtue of generosity and focus on others is the only antidote to the vice of greed and selfishness that seems so inescapable. For Christians, who follow the teachings of Christ, this message is an invitation into a radically generous way of living in the world.
The Reverend Roseberry therefore suggests ultimately that “giving up” is about forming a renewed culture of generosity in the Church, not necessarily increasing budgets or extending programs. He believes that establishing this culture involves all aspects of the church, from preaching to leadership training to lay testimonies to community involvement. The author concludes that:
Giving is the new evangelism; it proves the gospel is real. Giving is the new discipleship; it puts the gospel into motion. As we give up to the Lord, we become more and more like him as he gave up his own life to God. As we practice the way of giving our lives up, we also become more and more like the One who gave up his life for us!