Review: A Disruptive Generosity

A Disruptive Generosity

A Disruptive GenerosityMac Pier. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017.

Summary: Thirty-one stories of entrepreneurial business leaders whose strategic stewardship of their lives and their money have resulted in transformed lives and cities across the globe.

Mac Pier is a catalyst and a storyteller and he leverages these skills to host gatherings of Christian leaders in the business world to consider how they might impact their cities and their world. Then he tells the stories of these leaders to encourage others with these aspirations about the difference they can make with their skills and their resources. He serves as founder and CEO of the New York City Leadership Center and has launched the Movement Day conferences. The Movement Day website claims, “Since Movement Day’s inception, over 18,000 ministry, church, business, seminary, university and foundation leaders have come to be challenged, inspired, and catalyzed in the advancement of gospel movement.”

I reviewed an earlier collection of stories of fifteen leaders by Pier under the title Consequential Leadership back in 2014. He outlines four premises that form the basis of his work in that book:

1. Cities shape culture.
2. Gospel movements change cities.
3. Catalytic leaders launch movements.
4. Mentors and catalytic events shape leaders.

This new book is about catalytic leaders with financial resources who use those resources strategically to launch movements. I think an alternate title of this book could have been The Joy of Generosity because one of the undercurrents running through all the stories in this book is the deep sense of excitement and satisfaction experienced by people as they discovered strategic ways to invest the resources that came from business success to bring healing and renewal to their cities and in other needy situations around the world.

The book consists of thirty-one stories of generous people. It is suggested in the Introduction that you read one of these each day. Each story is connected to a verse in Isaiah focusing on God’s vision for the world. The stories are not simply about generous people but about movements in which such people come together, captured by a vision of the opportunity they have for kingdom influence. The stories also underscore relational networks. Pier talks about the book as a kind of relational tree connected by Lausanne Conferences and Movement Days. Each story concludes with succinct “Points for Reflection” and a prayer related to the person or persons he has just profiled (some chapters profile a couple people who come together in a joint venture).

In his chapter titled “Fruitful” Pier tells the stories of two men who served as part of the initial core group that launched the New York City Leadership Center, Lew Bakes and Tony Lembke:

“Lew suggested we follow Christ’s disciple model and find twelve investors who would each commit one hundred thousand dollars a year for three years to launch the NYCLC. He was the first one in.

Lew’s model inspired other leaders to join the team. Within our first year, we had raised nearly $1 million.

.  .  .

Tony Lembke was another member of the initial core group that launched the NYC Leadership Center in 2008. He attends The Presbyterian Church at New Providence in New Jersey, led by Jeff Ebert. Jeff invited Tony to a luncheon we had at the Hilton Hotel at 53rd and 6th Avenue, and within a few weeks Tony followed up with me. He wanted to join the core group of investors to launch the NYCLC. Tony felt a strong call to get involved when he heard that the goal was to create a ‘tipping point’ of Christian grace to the world’s most influential city and to bring leadership resources to pastors and Christian leaders in the NYC metro area.”

The book is a bracing journey that takes us from New York to Cape Town, to India, South Korea, Singapore, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, and the great cities of America–Dallas, Charlotte, Palm Beach, Phoenix and many others including Columbus, Ohio where I live. From Lydia in the book in Acts, the Clapham Sect that surrounded William Wilberforce to the present day, “gospel patrons” have played a decisive role in accelerating the ministry of the gospel throughout the world. Through generous giving, these gospel patrons disrupt both the status quo of our society’s consumption ethic, and the status quo of an alienated, suffering world.

With the recently passed massive tax deductions that benefit the wealthy and corporate world the most, it seems that for believing people who believe wealth is entrusted to us for the glory of God and the good of the world, we’ve been given a disruptive opportunity. We can take money once given to government, and instead of spending it on ourselves, use it shrewdly and well to advance the only kingdom that endures for eternity. That, it seems to me, is a good kind of disruptiveness!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Review: Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear: Christian Practice of Everyday Life

Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear: Christian Practice of Everyday Life
Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear: Christian Practice of Everyday Life by Scott Bader-Saye
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Be afraid, be very afraid.”

Scott Bader-Saye would observe that this is perhaps a warning we may take too seriously, and this absorption with fear has profound consequences for the ways we live our lives, and for those who are Christ-followers, for how we pursue, or rather fail to pursue the life of the kingdom.

The book begins by looking at how fear sells, particularly in the media. Much of the draw that new media uses to attract continued viewership is to play on our fears–of getting cancer, of child abductions, of gun violence, of terrorism and more. He notes research that indicates that the more we absorb of this media, the more dangerous we perceive the world and the more anxious we are. The church plays on this as well–fear is good as a rallying place (and also to raise money!).

All this has a profound impact on our moral lives. Fear leads to insecurity and all the things we do when safety becomes our ultimate concern. We engage in unwarranted suspicion of others, we personally, and sometimes nationally act pre-emptively against perceived danger, and we accumulate everything from money to bottled water against perceived dangers.

The author is not urging “fearlessness” however. Appropriate fear is good, particularly an appropriate fear of God that recognizes the greatness of his holy love. The issue, rather, is one of putting fear in its place by maintaining a proper perspective on the imminence of the things we are encouraged to fear, as well as being grounded in the security of God’s providence. While God doesn’t protect against all evil, He is able to work through it in our lives and circumstances as we continue to trust in Him, as the example of the cross demonstrates.

One of his most beautiful chapters is the one on “Community and Courage” in which he chronicles the response of the Taize Community to the tragic murder of Brother Roger, one of the community’s founders during a worship celebration. Their decision to continue to be a community of welcome meant no additional security measures, no metal detectors. This would mean to live in fear and suspicion rather than generous hospitality as a community.

The book concludes with three chapters that unpack what it means to live out of security in the providence of God rather than fear. This means hospitality that welcomes the stranger. It means peacemaking that risks misunderstanding and being caught in the midst of deadly conflict to bring reconciliation. It means generosity that trusts God’s provision and gives rather than hoards.

There is also an appendix which has a profound exploration of the use of fear in the political arena, particularly because of the breakdown of any positive metanarrative to unite us. It helped me understand much of what drives the political narrative in my country and to see how contrary these appeals are to the narrative of Christian faith, no matter which party they come from. It suggests to me how vital the role of the Christian community is, not in adding political heft to the arguments on one side or another, but providing a “third way” that transcends the politics of fear that polarize us.

This is an older (2007) book that I hope enjoys continued circulation. Each chapter has searching questions that make it useful for church leadership boards and small groups. I’ll leave you with one of these that challenged me:

Try this test. First think about how much you fear losing your house, your car, your savings account, or your job. Then, think about how much you fear being unloving, inhospitable, selfish, or impatient. Which do you fear more? Why?

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When Shrewd is Good

To be called “shrewd” is often a back-handed compliment. Images of used car dealers in plaid jackets or oily snake oil salesmen run through my mind. One definition I came across said “given to wily and artful ways or dealing.” One often gets the idea that shrewdness involves something a bit shady, but clever.

© Nennanenna | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Nennanenna | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

This past Sunday, Rich preached on the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16:1-15. He finds out that he’s going to lose his job because he wasted the master’s possessions. So, to have some place to go after he gets fired, he calls the master’s debtors in and reduces their debts from 20 to 50 percent. When the master finds out, he commends him as a shrewd operator. Jesus in turn says worldly guys like this are shrewder than the people of light when it comes to using money (verse 8).

So is Jesus saying its OK to cut corners to make a little extra? No, the point is that this guy in his own way used money to make friends. Rich talked about the idea that for Christians, are we as good at faithfully using money for the blessing of others as the shrewd manager was in using money to make friends. The truth is we can only use money to serve God or be mastered by money where it becomes our god (verse 13).

So often, we avoid talking about money in church because such talk is either a prelude to a guilt trip or to an appeal to put more in the offering plate. In the midst of all that, it seems we miss the incredible opportunity for joy in the use of whatever money we have.

Rich talked about the creative people who figure out not only how to pay their bills but delight in finding ways to use their money to care for others. What is interesting to me is that these are the happiest people I know. They don’t always have a pile of money. But they love having an extra person at the table, or surprising someone with a gift they really need. They always seem to have enough to give. This is when shrewd is good.

I’ve known some people who have real gifts, or just plain opportunity to make a pile of money. They are entrepreneurs. One of the coolest things I’ve seen are some people I’ve known like this who get really excited by figuring out ways to use this money, or even multiply this money through the investment of others in advancing the kingdom of Jesus. This is when shrewd is good.

One friend has created a business with the help of investors that employs ex-prisoners in janitorial jobs in office buildings, giving them skills, a work record, and, if they are receptive, the gospel. Others have invested in micro-lending that enables people to expand businesses, and is a key to helping women escape the threats of violence and trafficking. Another believing friend uses investment skills and Christian principles to help wealthy clients develop family “mission statements” about the use of their wealth and plans for how wealth will be intelligently passed along from one generation to the next without spoiling the children rotten. This is when shrewd is good.

Rich asked us several questions at the end including the challenge to ask someone else to tell us, “how concerned with money do you think I am?” One that I might add is “how do you think about money?” Are you thinking about how much of it you have and how you can get more, or are you thinking about ways that you can use what you have so that someone else can experience the goodness of God’s kingdom? I’m not sure we can get away from thinking about money in this life. It seems to me that the real question is whether we are thinking of money as on trust to us from God and looking for ways to use it for the good of people and the glory of God. This is when shrewd is good.