I believe The Belfrey is called by God to be a resource church. Some people call that a Minster Church. Others use different language. The phraseology isn’t crucial. The important thing is that we resource others. To be a resource church, certain values need to be in place. And the most important one is the value of generosity.
Here’s what Proverbs 11:24-25 says about generosity:
‘One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.’
I had a meeting with John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York earlier in the year where we talked about the vision of The Belfrey. We chatted about the kind of church we’ve been in the past and the kind of church we should be in the future. We particularly talked about us increasingly becoming a resource church for our region. I stressed that our motivation for that was not empire building, or wanting to dominate others; rather it was to see the kingdom of God come and transform the North of England. The Archbishop was very affirming. Telling me we were going in right direction. That we should press on.
So what does it mean to be generous?Generosity is about giving. Giving willingly. Winston Churchill knew this, which is why he famously said
That sounds great. And it is. After all, we all love generous people! But living generously is actually very difficult because it goes against human nature. We naturally hold on to things that are given us. So if you’re hungry and are given a packet of crisps, your instinct is to hold on to them and enjoy them for yourself. But Proverbs 11 says that there’s real benefit in giving them away. It says that you actually get more that way. It says that being generous has its benefits. Mmm. Interesting…
In the world of business, it’s helpful and important to be able to measure things.That’s true in the church too. We’re getting better at that at The Belfrey so, for instance I now know how many people were in church last Sunday, in comparison with last year – and it’s good to see that we’re around 10% up on last year’s numbers! This kind of measurement can be really helpful. However it’s very hard to measure generosity. For instance, is giving away £500 generous? It depends. It depends on your income and your circumstances. And because of that we can easily fool ourselves into thinking something is generous when it’s not, or it isn’t generous, when it is. You see, you can’t measure real generosity in pounds and pence. Instead it’s more helpful to talk of true generosity being costly. Being generous involves considerable cost to the giver.
This kind of costly giving to exemplified in Jesus Christ. He is the most generous person who’s ever lived. He willing gave everything he had for you: his time, energy and resources. And ultimately he gave his life. He died in your place. That was not easy for him. He struggled in the garden of Gethsamene before his betrayal, knowing that what lied ahead was going to be terrible. But he did it because that was the only way that humanity’s freedom and forgiveness could be won. So the death and resurection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate act of generosity in the history of the world! Our forefathers could see that, which is why they placed the life of Jesus as the pivotal point in our calendar, dating things BC and AD.
Followers of Jesus are called to be similarly generous as they model themselves on him, inspired by bible passages such as Proverbs 11.
Proverbs 11 tells us that ‘Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed’ – which means we get refreshed by giving to others. By giving away. It’s this principle of generosity. Give willingly. The Belfrey’s springtime weekend away is called Refresh and back in March this principle of generosity was wonderfully modelled to us by our speaker – Richard Jones. Richard gave of himself over the weekend. He made time for us and came and poured himself out to us. He also spent a lot of time going round and talking to people and listening. He gave generously. Similarly many volunteers served during that weekend – giving of themselves. They demonstrated generosity to us.
John Wimber helpfully taught just this to the church in the 1980s and early 1990s, when he told us that ‘gifts are for giving’. They’re not meant to be kept. Give away what God gives to you. That is the way of kingdom growth.
So, let me mention two important areas of life where there’s great benefit in being generous.
Giving time is sometimes called volunteering. At The Belfrey, the Lord is speaking to us very clearly about the importance of volunteering at present. And interestingly a number of people have been independently coming forward over the last few weeks, offering their time to serve. Fantastic!
At a staff level at the Belfrey, we willingly give 50% of Roger Simpon’s time to be the Archbishop’s Evangelist for the North. We give 10% of our Senior Staff’s time to other churches. As a church some of us have been giving significant time planning new ways of training new leaders. So by Sept 2013 we’re going to do our Parish Assistant/ intern scheme differently, making it a much more clearly designed year for training upcoming leaders. We’re also working with the local bishops, the Yorkshire Ministry Course and two other larger churches to develop a more missional way of training future clergy, so they can get a great start and receive top training in theology, mission, church planting and leadership. Giving time to these kind of things is costly, but worth it.
Giving treasure means means giving material things – like your stuff and your money. I have a friend called Iain who every month goes through his stuff and he gives away things he doesn’t need. He find it liberating.
At the Belfrey we give an annual sum of money to the Diocese of York, called Parish Share , which pays for me, Roger Simpson, Al Rycroft and other mission and ministry in the Diocese. We also give to a dozen or so mission partners across world. We give to local mission organisations serving our city and region, and we provide office space to three organisations: YOYO (working with schools and young people in York); Alpha North and Fusion. And we give in lots of other ways, including things like lots of lots of free refreshments to visitors and guests as a means of welcome people. Again, there is a cost to this, but it’s worth it.
In the future, being a resource church means being more intentionally generous. It’ll mean that we’ll do some things that to some will seem crazy. So in November last year we gave all our weekly giving from our two evening congregations to the mission agency YWAM, knowing that (unless God intervened) we were heading for a financial deficit for the year. What happened? Just before Christmas, a legacy came in and our accounts for 2011 show a small surplus. I believe God honoured our generosity. We saw Proverbs 11:24 come true.
In the future, being a resource church will mean investing our time and treasure into more Northern things. Things like church planting – planting new congregations in York, and maybe beyond York – into the North. For example, if the Bishop asked us to help plant a church in Middlesbrough, could we do that? We’d need to send a leader and a team. Maybe 15 or 20 people. It would be good to send them with some resources. Now we probably couldn’t do it at the moment. We’re not yet geared up for it. But why not pray and plan and be ready so we could.
To be generous like that will mean that we’ll have to give willingly and in such a way that we will not benefit from the giving. The time and treasure will not be for us. It will be for others. For the North. For the kingdom of God in the wider region.
My friend Ric leads a church that has recently planted two churches in the East end of London. Most Anglican churches in that part of the metropolis have just a handful of worshippers, but they have a vision to transform their area through renewing old places of worship. To get the infrastructure in place for those two plants involved giving them £100,000 each. What a massive act of generosity! From a church smaller in number and in income than The Belfrey. They gave away £200K, as well as two of their best leaders and some of their congregation. Why? Because they’d caught hold of the vision of resourcing others. And they knew that Proverbs 11 is right when it says that God will blesses generosity. And he already has. They’re already back up to number. And the finances, after a dip, have begun to pick up and are healthy. And they’re planning to plant again in the next 12 months, if they can!
The bible says that God will give back, if we’re generous. So we can give again. We see that clearly in 2 Cor 9:8-11:
‘God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work… You will be made rich in every way so that you cn be generous on every occasion…’
For some of us this attitude of generosity is normal. It’s what we do. For others it’s hard. It involves a whole new way of thinking. But we need this new generous thinking at The Belfrey if we’re going to be an effective resource church, so we can play our part in serving God’s transformation of the North.
Start and See
Those who’ve never stepped out and given generously of their time and treasure this will require a change in attitude. And that could be difficult and awkward – and feel like a raw nerve has been touched.
I know quite a few people who’d loved to give generously, but they feel they can’t. Because they are fearful. ‘What will happen? What if I don’t have enough money? Can I really give hundreds or thousands of pounds away? Will it be ok?’
The only way to know is to start and see.
You, me and The North
I believe The Lord wants to release much more time and treasure into the kingdom of God in York and the North in this coming season so that many can find new faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ. That’s why I spoke about this a few weeks ago at The Belfrey.
When I did that I told them that this release of generosity will involve each one of us. Starting now. We don’t have to wait until we have ‘more’ to be generous – we can start now with what we have. And God promises he will give us more so we can be generous again.
I left them with this question: Are you waiting to be generous? If so, don’t. Start now. Even if you’re young with little money or on a relatively low income, start with what you’ve got. Many of those in the bible who we’d say were generous were those who had very little. Think of the widow in Mark 12:42 who had just a few copper coins. Jesus marks her out as an especially generous person! You see, now is the time to be generous!!!
John Wesley, who saw a great release of generosity in the 18th Century as the evangelical revival grew in pace, encouraged generosity with these words:
So if we want to serve God’s transformation of the North, and if we want to be a resource church, we need to be a generous church. And a generous people. So be brave. And make a start today.