I like giving stuff away for free. I like the reaction you get from some people. You know, the surprised look, the smile, the gratitude. It sure makes the giving feel worthwhile, and makes you feel like the world is a better place.
As they say: It is more blessed to give than to receive. Especially when people are grateful.
But what about when people are ungrateful? Well, that’s when giving doesn’t feel so good anymore. That’s when it feels more like pulling out your own teeth with pliers.
Now look, I know all about how we should give freely, and even lend and expect nothing in return. And I believe in living those attitudes. I really, honestly, do.
But it’s amazing how even just one ungrateful person can make you reconsider.
You know the kind I’m talking about: That one person who takes everything you have to offer, and never says thanks. That one person who constantly takes advantage of you, but swears black-and-blue that you’ve never helped them.
It’s the lack of gratitude that makes me rethink our Culture of Free. That’s my term for a practice we have in our Church organisations of giving things away for free. Now, when I say things, I don’t mean the important things – like prayer, and faith, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Goodness me, those things should always be free.
I’m referring to lesser things. Like books, or training events, or trips away.
We offer those things regularly in our Church organisations. And for the most part it works really well. But there are occasions when it doesn’t work so well at all. I’m not sure why exactly, but I notice that the Culture of Free can engender unwanted responses. Let me give you some examples:
Free means “Not Valuable” – I run a Centre for Biblical Studies where we, as part of our training events, give away resource packs that are worth hundreds of dollars each. These include a selection of Bibles, Concordances, Bible Dictionaries, Bible software, and a custom printed bag to carry it all. These packs provide users with the resource they need to read and study the Bible for personal devotion and ministry, and to prepare and lead Bible Studies for small groups. For the most part these packs have been an outstanding success. I recently discovered however that one student who has been attending our events for more than two years, and has collected numerous resource packs, simply leaves these packs in the back of the car, unused but fading under direct sunlight.
“Those packs are meant to be used, not just left there!” I blurted.
“It doesn’t matter” She replied, eyebrows folded incredulously, “They’re free after all.”
Free means “Not a Priority” – Earlier this year, I took on the role of Kaihautū (Dean) of a local ministry training institution. For the last 15 years, this institution has offered a full Degree that is essentially fee-free for the student after subsidies. Most students can’t believe their luck, and take the degree on board as the amazing blessing and opportunity that it truly is. But you do get that small handful of students who sign up for the degree, often with the best of intentions, but then fail to set aside the time required to study, complete assignments, and finish the degree. I approached one long-term student to ask why they were repeatedly enrolling in courses, but never completing any assignments.
“I like the idea of getting a free degree, but I can’t be bothered doing the work. Maybe if I paid for it I’d finish it, because I’d hate to waste my money!”
Free means “I’m entitled to more” – One thing I simply love about our Church organisations are the opportunities for travel and new learning experiences that they offer. This often includes flights, accommodation, as well as the payment of any registration fees that events may charge. Like everything else I’ve mentioned here, these opportunities are greatly appreciated by the majority of people who benefit from them. But you do get that tiny minority who just can’t help themselves – they honestly feel like you are not offering them enough.
You arrange for travel, door-to-door, at no cost to them. You ensure that they have good food, and warm comfortable lodgings. They’ve just gotten access to an amazing conference, or course, or retreat. And not only do they complain, they expect you to upgrade their experience by, you know, paying more.
For me, it does boil down to attitude. Those who are grateful for what they are given seem to do the best with the gifts they receive. They don’t just value what you’ve given, they value themselves by making the most of their opportunities. That’s why I say:
If you’re gonna have an attitude, make it gratitude.
Those who are ungrateful simply waste whatever you give them. It’s at that point that the giver needs to reconsider – it was Jesus who said, after all, not to cast your pearls before swine.
Harsh words, I know. But real words all the same. It pays for us to be wise in all that we do. So give as freely as God has given to you, but please don’t waste the blessing. Beware the dark-side of the Culture of Free.