I have known Mark Vincent for several years. He has presented seminars on Christian stewardship at our ministerial conferences in the United States and Europe. His challenging but highly effective approach is to show how a Christian can structure his or her resources around the concept of generosity and giving. Our congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio, engaged Vincent Oct. 30 to help them plan their course for the future. After the seminar, John Halford interviewed him. We thought you might find their conversation interesting.
Giving as a way of life
An interview with
Mark Vincent of Design for Ministry
John Halford: Your focus is not so much on making donations as organizing your whole life around using your possessions and resources in a generous way.
Mark Vincent: Yes, you have to make generosity a way of life. It isn’t just money—it is your time, your talents and everything about you. All these must be considered as potential for worship through generosity—to demonstrate your love for God and your neighbor.
You have to plan for that. You can’t have this great aspiration for generosity and then spend 103 percent of your income on yourself. You have to decide to organize your life around generosity. You need to spend less than you earn so that you can have peace of mind, and the time and the inclination to help someone in unfortunate circumstances.
JH: Is this as a philosophy rather than a program?
MV: Yes. God has been generous toward the world, and as a part of God’s family I am going to make my life a life of generosity, and I’ll make my decisions with that in mind. Everyone’s circumstances are different—so you can’t legislate a formula.
JH: But surely generosity is a responsibility and not just an option for a Christian?
MV: I prefer characteristic rather than responsibility. If I am a Christian, if I have embraced God’s gift of grace for me, and I know he is not holding my sins against me—when I realize what I have been given—then generosity is going to overflow.
JH: If we were to respond with generosity to everyone with a good cause, we would soon be in need ourselves. How do we draw the line?
MV: I have a formula. It is to think where your greatest joy intersects with the needs of the world. In that crossroad we need to find a sustainable capacity for generosity. It is where I should focus my gifts and my generosity. It is a natural extension of the way God has created me.
Choose a charity or charities where you feel empathy—where you want to make a difference. Then, if someone asks: “Would you like to give to this organization,” you can say: “Here’s where my interests are. Here’s where I am already giving. And here is where I can continue to grow in my giving.” And someone else is going to have another priority. Then you can have a peace about giving what you can, and you don’t have to feel guilty about what you say no to.
JH: Giving should not be a guilt trip then?
MV: No. If I get you to give out of guilt or fear, which is where a lot of fund-raising appeals are rooted, then the only way I am going to get you to give again is to make you feel guilty, or afraid or angry again.
JH: When talking or writing about giving, you use the word sustainable. Can you define it in the context of giving?
MV: Many of us can’t afford to give because we have spent all our money on consumer items. So when it comes time to give, we have nothing. We should organize our resources so that giving is not haphazard, but an anticipated and budgeted part of our expenses. God in Christ has given us himself, and because of that we have hope. Now he asks us to give ourselves so that others might know him too.
JH: It seems that the poor are more generous than those who are better off. What can we learn from this?
MV: The poor are more likely to give more often and also a higher percentage. They don’t have any pretense that they can survive on their own. They know the value of small amounts. They know that they must depend on God and each other. The rich feel they are in control of their circumstances.
It is important to gain control of your resources. But not so that you become self-sufficient. It is a serious spiritual mistake to ever feel you are self-sufficient. Jesus reminds us to be careful about the deceitfulness of riches, which can be as much a spiritual hazard as to be overwhelmed by the cares of this world. We all—rich and poor—owe our very existence to God’s grace and generosity.