In 2014, LaSalle Street Church in Chicago received a $1.6 million windfall on a $1,000 real estate investment made decades earlier. The money couldn’t have come at a better time: the church faced an operating deficit of $50,000 and carried more than a million dollars of debt on its community center building. Naturally, the church recognized the gift as divine intervention and prudently set about shoring up its financial footing.
Except it didn’t.
LaSalle Street Church took the first ten percent of the windfall and distributed it to church members in the form of $500 checks for each of the congregants, with the instruction to use the money to do God’s work in the world.
What led the church to give away more money than it had ever held in its possession? Were they crazy? As a member of this church, I can assure you it was a decision fraught with hand-wringing and sleepless nights for church leaders. Yet the church held fast to the belief that generosity is the way to freedom.
Generosity offers an antidote to the fear that grips us when it comes to money, but it can be hard medicine to swallow. Rather than valuing the freedom and fulfillment that generosity provides, we find ourselves searching for safety and security in healthy bank balances and retirement accounts. If faced with a mountain of debt and pressing financial needs like LaSalle was at the time of the $1.6 million windfall, most of us would have used the money to release ourselves from debt’s chokehold. But that wouldn’t have freed the church. Instead, it would have demonstrated how captive LaSalle was to the illusion of security that a clean balance sheet provides.
The windfall was a gift, a gift freely given that needed to be treated with the same lightness of hand. The church couldn’t cling tightly to it. And in responding to the gift that way, the church modeled freedom to its people.
One couple comes to mind. They were a casualty of the housing market crash and had been diligently following a debt reduction plan when they each received their $500 checks. They could have used the money to pay down debt, and frankly, no one in church leadership would have blinked, knowing that some people were best off using the money for themselves to free them up for God’s work. But this couple gave away every penny to a nonprofit run by a family friend.
In Love Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World, LaSalle’s Senior Pastor Laura Truax and I tell the story of our church and its people as we discovered that giving led us on a path to less fear and more freedom. And while this is the story of one church, it can be everyone’s story, because generosity isn’t necessarily about faith, it’s about humanity. We can all love and let go.
“Love Let Go” hits the shelves next month, on March 28th.