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Congregations are not immune to the influence of our constantly changing world. This is true of values and norms, but also of economics. When we see increased economic uncertainty and heightened political instability, we often notice a change in stewardship patterns — but we can learn lessons from history that inspire us to reject fear and greed and practice generosity in new and surprising ways.

One lesson from the past comes from the life of Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919), known as the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S. Walker was a faithful member of Bethel AME Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, and according to a recent biography by Tyrone McKinley Freeman, Walker’s external environment did not deter her from wanting to be extraordinarily generous. Freeman calls Walker “a foremother of black philanthropy.”

While it is tempting to acquiesce to the fear that economic uncertainty provokes, if we think about Walker’s context, there is no better time than now to lean into God’s audacious call to be generous. And not all generosity is financial — for example, we can adopt a generous attitude in our perspectives so that someone else does not have to be wrong for us to be right.

According to Freeman, Walker (whose birth name was Sarah Breedlove) lived a gospel of giving that she articulated in three ways: 1) give as you can to be helpful to others, 2) spare no useful means that may be helpful to others and 3) give more as your means increase to help others. Not bad for a woman born on a cotton plantation in Delta, Louisiana, four years after the Emancipation Proclamation. She practiced uncommon generosity in very challenging times. As we proclaim the good news of the gospel, we can teach people to do the same.

Resources

Living into the kingdom of God by believing in its abundance

We can live out our beliefs as the early church did by stewarding resources to meet the needs of all.

By Mycal X. Brickhouse

The church has a complicated relationship with money

The author of a new book opens a discussion on stewardship, poverty and the holy uses of wealth.

Q&A with Miguel Escobar

Why pastors should understand economics

Economists live in a world of scarcity. Christians believe in God’s abundance. In this conversation, an economist and a pastor talk about the ways in which that tension plays out in ministry and life.

Q&A with Laura Ullrich and David Brown

‘Crisis and Care: Meditations on Faith and Philanthropy’

In this excerpt from an edited volume, Aimée Laramore describes the difficulties of the diverse economic problems facing congregations — and the opportunities that adapting to them could provide.

By Aimée Laramore


Before you go…

I recently heard Freeman give a keynote address at the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. Freeman told the audience that generosity is an expression of hope. He also described generosity as faith and resistance. You can clearly see these dynamics at work in the life of Madam C. J. Walker, who learned to give because she wanted the world to be a better place for other people like her. When congregations learn how to help people connect the dots between generosity and a changed world, I think we will see more cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7). As we follow a God who holds back no good thing from us, let’s teach people to live generously.

You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity


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In “Leading and Thriving in the Church,” Prince Rivers sits down with some of the most innovative people he knows — scholars, executives, authors — and explores what it means to lead faithfully, effectively and sustainably in today’s church.

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