Enslaved to our surplus: Can we find freedom in a pandemic?

God often uses crises to awaken the hearts of church leaders to the essentials of life and ministry. This COVID-19 crisis has stripped ministries of facilities, physical connection, and – for many – finances. And it’s forced us to move beyond our preferences and programs to our mission and motives. 

By Patrick Johnson

If you think about it, God has given us an opportunity – to free our thinking and discover new pathways to advancement in many areas. Perhaps most important is the opportunity this moment provides to help churches become more aligned with Jesus regarding our possessions and generosity.

Leaders are being forced to wrestle with the unhealthy pre-pandemic mindset of growing congregational giving as a necessary but laborious task to fund the church’s vision.  Now, they face the uninspiring urgency of growing giving to simply keep the church afloat – and to do it primarily online without a physical Sunday gathering. That’s a lot of pressure to put on leaders in the midst of uncertainty and instability.  

Despite feeling all this pressure, it seems certain that the focus on growing giving is the wrong focus. It will likely prove unproductive and unsustainable. 

What is our goal?

Attempting to grow giving is not enough. Perhaps the opportunity here is to return to our original calling as leaders – to be multiplicative, intentional, disciple-makers.

According to the teachings of Jesus, the affluence that many of us depend on to keep our churches going may be one of the biggest challenges to being disciple-makers in our churches, with our people.  

The affluence that many of us depend on to keep our churches going may be one of the biggest challenges to being disciple-makers …

Listen to these words from the Master: “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23). In the most affluent country in world history, do we really believe this is true?  

  • Our affluence has trapped many churches through church debt, the pressure of monthly overhead, and keeping the organization running. 
  • Our affluence has trapped Christians designed to grow into the likeness of Jesus through self-improvement, self-help, and individualism.     

After surveying more than 20,000 Christian givers and working with thousands of U.S. churches over the last 16 years, I’ve come to believe that a large percentage of Christians and churches in America are enslaved to our surplus.

It’s frightening to see language that might describe us in Revelation. Our wealth can blind us to our own spiritual needs (Revelation 3:14-22). 

While this pandemic drags on, our hearts long to get back to normal. But if our churches and our people are enslaved to our surplus, can we truly be thriving as Christians and churches? Do we really want to go back things as they were?   

What if the pandemic represents an opportunity to break free from “growing giving to keep the church going” to “unleashing disciples who follow Jesus away from enslavement to surplus?” 

Does the pandemic offer an opportunity to unleash disciples who follow Jesus away from enslavement to surplus?

What if – as a result of this moment in time we’ve been given to refocus – a movement of true Christian stewardship and generosity arose in the West that actually embraced Jesus’ view of our possessions and our generosity?    

Whole-life generosity

It’s undeniable. We are in the middle of a great transition in the West. Perhaps God is leading us into a new era of true disciple-making, during which disciples and churches break free from the enslavement of surplus. What if generosity became a natural fruit of fully devoted followers of Christ and churches became communities of flourishing generosity that flowed out of love for our local and global neighbors?

This would be what we call whole-life generosity. Here are some of its defining characteristics:

  • Generosity overflows from a clear view of our generous God  (2 Corinthians 9:8).
  • We see Jesus as the model and motivation for generosity – through his life, ministry, death, and resurrection (2 Corinthians 8:9).
  • In response to God’s loving provision, disciples of Jesus sense a calling to live simply so that others around us can simply live  (Matthew 6: 34).
  • We recognize that we are immersed in a world system that runs counter to Jesus’ ways — one that seeks to produce fear, anxiety over scarcity, identity based on consumption and the normalization of individualism and self-focus.  (I John 2: 16)
  • We are aware that money and possessions are not neutral. They can become our masters (Matthew 6:24).
  • We know that Jesus intended that churches – as the body of Christ – would function as social mechanisms. They are places where life-giving activities are nurtured by means of generous sharing of our possessions with our brothers and sisters in our local community (Acts 2 and 4).
  • We live with a posture and practice of biblical reciprocity among our brothers and sisters in the global Church. The early church was marked by relational generosity and also reciprocity. Those who had much gave so that those who had the least were not lacking. There was an expectation that those who had much would in turn receive the same treatment should they ever find themselves in need. Our affluence in the West should provide for the global needs of others  (2 Corinthians 8: 13-15).

Do we really want to go back to Western, individualistic, nominalism? Or could we re-imagine a new way forward that is both ancient and authentic? This whole-life generosity is bound to bring us closer to our role model – the radically generous Rabbi from Nazareth.

Want to go deeper in Whole-Life Generosity?  Download the e-book Generosity Reset at

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