Potlatch Giving

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A potlatch was one of the most significant ceremonial events practiced by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast in North America. Potlaches helped unite villages and were held for important occasions such as, births, weddings, funerals, house building, and the raising of a totem pole. The festivity was marked by music, dance, theatrics, and spiritual ceremonies. The word potlatch means “give away.” The host’s purpose was to establish his status in society and during the celebration the host gave away much of his wealth. In this culture the status of a family was raised not only by his resources but also by how much of his resources he distributes. The host demonstrated his wealth and prominences by giving his resources away.

Sounds pretty generous, doesn’t it! But what about the motivation? The more lavish the potlatch, the more prestigious the host became. Prestige was the motivating factor.

How generous are we in giving our resources for the purposes of Christ? What is our motivation for giving? Do we give so that others will notice? In his book Cultivating Fruitfulness, Robert Schnase describes extravagant generosity as “the practices of sharing and giving that exceed all expectations and extend to unexpected measures.” He goes on to share that fruitful congregations thrive because of “extraordinary sharing, willing sacrifice, and joyous giving out of love for God and neighbor.” As Christians, our motivation for giving should be to obey and please God.

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2 Corinthians 9:6

Early Christians practiced extravagant generosity by selling their possessions and giving to the widows, orphans, sick, and poor. How would “sowing generously” affect us today? How would our communities look if we practiced this kind of giving? If all Christians practiced extravagant generosity, could we eliminate hunger and homeless? How much mission work could be accomplished?

If members of historically Christian churches in the United States had raised their giving to the Old Testament’s minimum standard of giving (10% of income) in 2000, an additional $139,000,000,000 a year would become available assist in Christian based mission work (Generous Giving, Inc. Statistics, 2004).

Christians could change the world by practicing generous giving and by heeding the advice in 1 Timothy 6:18-19,

Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life. (The Message)


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