When I was in fifth grade, we lived in a small town in Florida where my dad was the pastor of the First Baptist Church.
The parsonage was located in a typical small-town, middle-class neighborhood. Not upper middle class. Just middle class.
One afternoon, my dad asked me to ride with him to take our housekeeper home. Yes, we had a housekeeper. Back then we referred to her as our maid. And she was fine with that.
Actually, she was proud of that. She was the preacher’s maid. And she made sure all her maid friends knew about it.
Normally, she drove. But on this particular afternoon, her car was in the shop, so we drove her home.
Turns out, I had never been to that particular part of our small town. The houses were small, the yards were mostly dirt and there was junk everywhere. I still remember feeling uncomfortable.
When we got to her house, she invited us in. I remember thinking, I don’t want to go in there. For whatever reason, we didn’t.
When we got back home, our house looked large by comparison. Our yard looked manicured by comparison. Even our car felt fine in comparison to what I saw in our maid’s neighborhood.
It was while we were living in that same house that a friend from church came over to play. His name was Bruce. I can still remember Bruce standing in our kitchen, looking around and saying, “Andy Stanley, your house is so big. Are you rich?”
I was so uncomfortable. Rich? We weren’t rich. And our house wasn’t big. Our house was normal size. But when we took Bruce home that evening, I understood.
By comparison, our house was big. By comparison, I’m sure it looked to Bruce as if we were rich. Heck, by comparison, we were rich.
And therein lies the problem, doesn’t it?
Rich is the other guy.
Rich is that other family.
Rich isn’t just having extra.
Rich is having as much extra as the person who has more extra than you.
Rich is having more than you currently have.
If that’s the case, you can be rich and not know it. You can be rich and not feel it. You can be rich and not act like it.
And that is a problem. In fact, that’s why we need to take a look at it.
This is not a new message. For the past seven years, I’ve stood in front of our Atlanta-area churches every fall and told ’em they were a bunch of haves who act like have-nots and that God and I aren’t happy about it!
OK, that’s not exactly how I phrased it. But when it comes to this particular topic, I’ve been known to be uncomfortably bold.
This journey began for our churches with a message series I preached in 2007 titled “How to Be Rich.”
Two things prompted the series.
First, our culture’s incessant messaging around how to get rich when, in fact, most of us got rich a long time ago and nobody told us.
Second, Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding how rich Christians are to behave. After studying the passage, I was left with the realization that a lot of rich Christians are not very good at being rich.
Then it dawned on me. Well, of course they’re not. Nobody has taught them how! So for four weekends, I navigated our congregation through the terms and conditions of Paul’s instructions to rich people.
The series resulted in a lot of healthy conversations. So I followed up the next year with a message on the same topic, combined with a month-long generosity campaign aimed at our local communities. I told our congregants that we were going to practice being rich so we would be good at it should we ever be so fortunate.
The generosity campaign included a hefty donation goal that was due by the end of the week. Most of it came in that day. In addition to financial support for local and international charities, we asked everybody to donate two or three hours over the course of the month to volunteer at the charities receiving the funds we collected.
And by the way, none of these charities asked us for money. That’s what makes a Be Rich campaign so much fun.
Behind the scenes, a team of staff and volunteers went into our local communities to find charities that were making a measurable difference, but who could use a little wind in their sails.
So imagine their surprise when a handful of staff showed up at their doors a few weeks later with checks.
In most cases, big checks.
Checks they were not expecting.
And imagine a few weeks later when we opened our services with a video of the staff and volunteers at these world-class charities receiving their surprise donations. Not a dry eye in the place.
Suddenly and simultaneously, everybody in the house experienced the truth of Jesus’ words that it is, in fact, more blessed to give than to receive.
In the fall of 2012, I challenged our churches to give $1.5 million toward our Be Rich giving initiative. They gave $5.2 million.
In a week.
And we in turn gave 100 percent of it away.
No shipping and handling costs. No overhead or operating expenses. No expensive vacations for the pastor and his family.
We gave it all away.
In addition, our congregants provided 34,000 volunteer hours to local charities that are volunteer dependent. And if that wasn’t enough, we collected 20,332 shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse—the largest collection they’ve ever received from a local church.
Pretty good for rich rehearsal.
Am I bragging? Heck, yeah. I’m so proud of our churches I get misty-eyed just thinking about the difference they made and continue to make.
Two months ago, my daughter Allie and I visited our international partner in San Salvador, La Casa De Mi Padre (My Father’s House), a group home for children who can’t live with their families for a variety of heartbreaking reasons. Gary Powell, executive director, picked us up at the airport and asked, “How do you like my truck?”
Before I could answer, he smiled and said, “It’s a Be Rich truck. Thank you.”
While we were there, we spent time with a local construction crew building a large retaining wall on the edge of their property. As we were leaving, he leaned over and said, “That’s a Be Rich wall. Tell your folks ‘Thanks.’”
While visiting the children’s home, Gary introduced me to their newest employee, a licensed marriage and family counselor, a position they desperately needed as they seek to reconnect children with their families. As we left her office, he smiled and said, “Thanks to Be Rich. Thank you.”
Now I realize you and your church are already doing amazing things in your community and around the world. I assume you have your own stories you could tell.
My purpose in writing this is not to replace or improve anything you are currently doing. My goal is to create a tool that will force conversation and reflection around the topic of what to do with what we have.
On this point, Jesus could not have been clearer. It’s not what you have that matters. It’s what you do with what you have that will count for you or against you in the kingdom of heaven.
*For more on this topic, check out Andy’s newly released book, How to Be Rich.