5 Ways to Fight Greed in Your Church

by mark-macdonald  |  October 2, 2012 defines the word greed as, “excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.”  I am not sure if I prefer that definition or the one that my children gave when they were younger – “Mine!”  Either way, it is clear that greed is a selfish desire for material possessions.

From the moment we come out of the womb, we all wrestle with the desire to obtain and hoard possessions.  As adults, we simply become more refined in our cravings; we trade in hot wheels for SUV’s; we give up our Legos to pursue luxuries that are more expensive.

God always knew this would be a struggle for us.  That’s why He concluded the Ten Commandments by saying, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).  God included homes, people, possessions and “anything” else that we may covet  in this command.  Apparently, that means that our hearts have a problem with desire.  We all wrestle with greed.

In the New Testament, Paul reminds us of this same struggle.  In Ephesians 4, we are told that apart from being controlled by God’s Spirit, we struggle with a “continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19).  Greed is a large part of our old nature and our old self.

As we continue through church history, many prominent church leaders expressed this same idea.  At one point, Martin Luther reviewed the 10 Commandments and their relationship to the New Testament.  His conclusion was that the core of all of our problems relates to idolatry.  We create idols that keep us away from God and keep us from imitating the generosity of God.  In fact, Luther surmised that if we could keep the first two commandments (“You must not have any other god but me” and “You must not make for yourself an idol”), we would not need the other eight.  He realized that one of our greatest spiritual battles is against the pull of material possessions.

John Wesley was also famous for his stance against greed.  Although he had a healthy income by the end of his life, he died with nothing more than the coins in his pocket.  He knew the generosity of God and the dangers of greed.  At one point, Wesley said;

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

In other words, Wesley preached that generosity should be a foundational practice in our lives to avoid the entrapments of greed.

As you think about your own life, you can probably identify several points where this struggle with greed surfaces.  Maybe it’s in a longing for possessions.  Maybe it’s in a desire for self-esteem and respect.  Maybe it is tied up in a desire to always be the dominate voice in your relationships.  Regardless of the specifics, you know what it is.  You know which longings captivate your heart.

But, what about your church community?  How is greed influencing the direction and character of your church?  It’s a lot harder to identify where greed is rearing its head in your spiritual community.  Greed is often cloaked in positive projects and positions of service.  Church greed can be covered by good activities.  That is one of the reasons greed is so dangerous; it hides in the shadows of the church. 

So, how can you identify it and start to weed the greedy motives out of your church community?

  1. Be intentional about teaching on the dangers of greed.  Typically, the only time we think about this issue is around Christmas or during sermons on giving.  Instead of mentioning this danger in passing, be intentional about teaching people how to recognize and respond to personal greed.

  2. Encourage transparency among your group leaders.  One of the greatest ways to combat issues that lurk in the shadows is to bring them into the light and discuss them honestly.

  3. Demonstrate that Biblical generosity is the antidote to greed.  Encourage the church to take an in-depth look at the generosity of God.  Show them that generosity is a central aspect of the Gospel.  Then, call them to imitate God’s generosity in their daily lives because generosity is the antidote to greedy thinking and living.

  4. Take your church through the “How Generous Are We?Assessment.  Use this assessment to find out what motivates your church to give and what keeps some people from living a generous lifestyle.

  5. Build generosity (the antidote to greed) into your process for making disciples.  If you have a membership class or class designed for new believers, make generosity a major part of those teachings.  Additionally, if you have a process for life-on-life discipleship, incorporate this message in those meetings.  After all, materialism and greed are two of the greatest barriers to spiritual growth in our culture.  So, fight help people mature in the faith by teaching them the vital connection between generosity and discipleship.

What about you?  Have you found other ways to fight greed in your church community?  Comment below to share your stories and thoughts.

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