Continuing theÂ series of articles discovering what â€œMarks of a Generous Churchâ€ might be, Iâ€™m interviewing people called Mark about generosity and church.
A simple concept really.
My second Mark is 46 years old, has two teenage children and a lovely wife called Lindsay. Often mistaken for another 46 year old, the slightly more famous but equally charming singer, radio presenter, and TV presenter Aled Jones, Bishop Mark Tanner invites me into his new pad to talk generosity.
Itâ€™s a Friday evening and Mark looks exhausted. Iâ€™m not sure if itâ€™s from dodging paparazzi (presumably something heâ€™s done all his life. Incidentally, have you ever noticed that theyâ€™ve never actually been seen together in the same room?), or from his new and demanding role as the Bishop of Berwick.
After a brief catch up- Iâ€™ve known Mark for a couple of years, as I was at Cranmer hall when he was Warden- the interview begins.
And I have to say Mark Tanner is a lovely man. He has a calming presence, heâ€™s gentle and witty and is desperately passionate about Jesus. I canâ€™t imagine anyone having a bad word to say about him. Except this: the speed at which he speaks when heâ€™s excited about something, which is a lot of the time. Mark Tanner can talk for England.
So writing up an interview that took only 53 earth minutes to record has been very testing. He said so much, and it was so jam-packed with insights and sense and vision, that Iâ€™ve had to split his answers into â€œGenerosity Wisdomâ€ and â€œGeneric Wisdomâ€. The latter can be found here, in a separate blog Iâ€™ve compiled, which begins with how Mark ended up in ministry.
Bishop Mark, (he immediately asks me to drop the bishop)â€¦ Mark, when you were growing up what was your familyâ€™s approach to charitable giving? Â We didnâ€™t talk about money much at all. But we were taught to give 10% of our pocket money to church, so I remember I started off getting 10p a week and Iâ€™d save a penny and give it to church. And Iâ€™m really grateful for that early habit.
As a parent, how have you approached it? Weâ€™ve been more explicit and intentional, I think. Our own personal discipline is to set aside 10% of our money, and give 5% of that straight to the church and 5% we give away creatively to charity. Itâ€™s part of our family life, a conversation we have with the children about giving away that 5%. Thatâ€™s part of the reason we donâ€™t just give 10% to the church. Itâ€™s important we all think about how weâ€™re giving.
So why give 10%? Is that a Biblical thing? Or a benchmark? For me, itâ€™s based on the Bible but not in the sense of â€œYouâ€™re sinning if you donâ€™t give away 10%.â€ Because we live under Grace, not under law. But I find it a really helpful guideline. This discipline I learned as a child is something I just got used to. Even when I had very little, like when I was a youth worker, I still did it. I was paid next to nothing and itâ€™s very easy for people to say â€œHow can you give it away?â€ But the truth is, once you get used to it, you find you receive infinitely more back than you give.
My own theological understanding of tithing is still underdeveloped, so itâ€™s something Iâ€™m exploring, but in my job Iâ€™ve found that â€œtithingâ€ is quite an emotive topic. Often if I mention that word, people seem very sensitive about it, and quite negative. Whatâ€™s going on there? I donâ€™t talk about tithing, really. If I was preaching Iâ€™d talk about generosity being the key. But itâ€™s immensely helpful to have a pattern by which you give. I think there are guidelines in scripture that are a helpful way of thinking, but I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s thereâ€™s a command in the scriptures that says you MUST do it. I want to encourage people to ask themselves, â€œHow do I do this?â€ And to give generously.
Hereâ€™s an example: John Wesley worked out how much he needed to live on, and he gave away the rest. And he started off not really giving away very much, but by the end of his life he had money coming in from absolutely everywhere, and he still lived on the amount of money he needed. So, say in modern money he needed Â£20k to live on. Whether he was earning Â£21k or Â£250k he still kept just Â£20k for himself, and give the surplus away.
That sounds far more challenging than tithing! Because when people have a lot of money, if they give away 10%, they still actually have a huge amount left. Thatâ€™s absolutely right. I remember a friend telling me about a person who was earning hundreds of thousands of pounds. Apparently he asked, â€œSo how much money should I give to God?â€
And the response was, â€œWell there arenâ€™t rules. Quite a lot of people think in terms of giving 10% of what you have away.â€
He said, â€œI canâ€™t do that! That would be giving away Â£30,000 a year!â€
So his friend said, â€œWell how about we pray to God to reduce that amount of money.â€
And the man said that would be great.
So the friend said, â€œWell how much do you want to give away?â€
He said, â€œWell what about giving away Â£1,000?â€
He said, â€œWell thatâ€™s fine, Iâ€™ll pray that youâ€™re just earning Â£10,000 a year then!â€
I love that story because heâ€™s asking â€œDo you want to keep Â£9000 or do you want to keep Â£270,000? Itâ€™s all relative.â€
Is teaching about generosity important to begin at a young age in the church? I think itâ€™s vital we bring up our children engaging with the whole life of faith.
We live in a world that says â€œMoney is everything so Iâ€™m going to earn as much as I can and keep it to myself.â€ But, actually, we live with a God who says â€œIâ€™m giving you everything.â€
So for me, Iâ€™m not saying give away your money because the church wants it. Iâ€™m saying you have a God who says to you the more you give away the more Iâ€™ll give you. Itâ€™s actually about living in the freedom of that generosity. Like the rest of following Christ, itâ€™s quite challenging. So I think itâ€™s key to start early.
Does generosity make you happy? Yes, sometimes. Not always. Sometimes itâ€™s hard. And letâ€™s face it there are times when itâ€™s really tough to know how to be generous.
I was in London the other day and I was running late, so I bought myself some chips to eat on the way. And this gentlemen, you could smell the beer on his breath, said, â€œCan you give me a fiver so I can have some tea like youâ€™re having?â€
It broke my heart. Because I wanted to say â€œOf course.â€ The bag of chips was almost empty otherwise Iâ€™d have said â€œJust take the chips!â€ And I thought, if I give you a fiver youâ€™re not going to spend it on food youâ€™re going to spend it on alcohol, and I donâ€™t know quite how to respond there.
Generosity can be quite complicated then? Yes. Honestly I donâ€™t know what the generous response is in that situation. So like a coward I say â€œIâ€™m really sorry,â€ I lower my head and I carry on walking, and feeling terribly guilty about it.
Generosity is hard even when you want to be generous. Itâ€™s why I think itâ€™s so important to practice being generous when there are straightforward ways of doing so.
Generosity goes beyond money doesnâ€™t it? So are there other ways we can be generous in difficult situations like that? Absolutely. When I was a Youth Worker in Coventry city centre, there was one bloke whoâ€™d sit and play the guitar. He used to ask me for money every time I went past, and I was paid next to nothing so I genuinely didnâ€™t have money to give him.
But one day his guitar was dreadfully out of tune so I said, â€œI canâ€™t give you money but Iâ€™ll tune your guitar if you want me to.â€ And then I was worried heâ€™d think I was being rude! But he said, â€œGreat mate!â€ So I sat next to Iâ€™m and tuned it and gave it back, but then I stayed, and then we had half an hour sitting on the street just playing. That was really great. We exchanged names and heâ€™d say, â€œHi Markâ€ when I walked by and Iâ€™d say â€œHi Geoffâ€.
I remember 2 or 3 times I bought some chips for me and for him, so I could be a bit generous that way, but it started off by being generous by thinking: Iâ€™m not ashamed to be sitting with you in the street, tuning your guitar for you. Strangely giving money can be anti-generous because you can fob someone off with it.
Do you think we value money, time and skills equally in church? Itâ€™s absolutely vital that we do.
But in my darkest times of ministry Iâ€™ve felt massively taken for granted. You do something when youâ€™re tired and you feel no one notices. Itâ€™s so easy to feel youâ€™re not appreciated. Of course we need to be better, as a church, at appreciating and noticing and valuing. But I think thereâ€™s a challenge for me in that I take pleasure in being generous because Iâ€™m able to be generous.
Taking pleasure in giving? So is generosity more of a state of mind? I think it is. I remember once the youth group had been sticking chewing gum down the urinals in the gentâ€™s, so theyâ€™d flood every time. It was a Monday morning and we had no money for a plumber so I went and got a new u-bend, and set to and changed it. Nobody knew Iâ€™d done that. It was a fairly unpleasant stinky job to do but I remember every time Iâ€™d nip in and use it or see someone coming out of there I got this sense of â€œactually I made that possible and thatâ€™s really goodâ€.
And I mention it not because Iâ€™m proud of the fact I did it, but because whilst I was doing it I was thinking how am I going to look at this?
Am I going to think, â€œBlooming heck Iâ€™m the vicar here and I have to change urine soaked pipesâ€? Or am I going to think, â€œWhat a privilege to be able to give the church the continued use of this urinalâ€?
I remember I decided as I was kneeling on the floor, Iâ€™m going to think of this as a privilege and not as a chore. It was a real challenge.
I think we need to learn to take a wry sense of pleasure in the fact weâ€™re able to serve.
Where do you see generosity in churches? In the time people take to care for their buildings, to open up, lay things out, cake baking, grass mowing, the welcome, the smiles, the handshakes, the helping people in distress, the support and care people show. The generosity in imagination. Then thereâ€™s the financial side of course. Thereâ€™s generosity in so many ways. Generosity is everywhere in our churches. The Church of England couldnâ€™t survive without it.
Have you ever been surprised by generosity? When I was a youth worker I was literally on the bread line, and the car I had to run failed its MOT, and it needed about Â£400 of work. That was over 10% of my salary. I didnâ€™t know what to do. I didnâ€™t have Â£4 never mind Â£400! And an hour later an envelope came through the door with exactly the right amount of money. It just said â€œFor the youth workerâ€™s carâ€. God provided. Whoever was behind that generosityâ€¦well it was overwhelming. I have a suspicion about who it was. This person was very generous.
Was it important for them not to sign the note? Well Jesus said â€œDonâ€™t let your left hand see what your right hand is givingâ€. But For me thatâ€™s not about anonymity. Itâ€™s about genuinely practising generosity. If I took you out and bought you a meal, and was looking for gratitude from you, or I was trying to buy your time, thatâ€™s actually a purchase. Iâ€™ve bought something I want. Whereas generosity is about saying, â€œThis is in my custody and Iâ€™m giving it to you. Iâ€™m letting go of it.â€ So often the things we think are generosity arenâ€™t generosity.
Whatâ€™s easiest to generously give, time, talents or money? I think thatâ€™s different for all of us and at different time of our lives. We all need to allow ourselves to be challenged in the areas we find difficult. So for some, writing a cheque is nothing, but they absolutely wouldnâ€™t want to give up a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. I think we all have the challenge to interrogate ourselves and say â€œAm I practising generosity across the board?â€
What would you do if you won the lottery? Mark gets very animated at this point. Ah now Iâ€™ve thought about this a lot! In Doncaster I was part of a social club and theyâ€™d ask me this every week. I didnâ€™t play the lottery but they always asked, so I thought it through.
Iâ€™d set up a trust and Iâ€™d have 2 or 3 trustees with me and weâ€™d keep the capital and give away the interest. The rule would be that nobody could apply for this gift. And, theyâ€™d have to give away 10% of what we gave them. So imagine youâ€™re a charity. Iâ€™d send you a cheque for Â£10,000 because I thought what you were doing was good, and youâ€™d have to give Â£1,000 of that away. And youâ€™d have to write to me and tell me who youâ€™d given it to, so we could then consider them next time we were giving money away.
It would teach you it was a gift that came out of the blue, and you didnâ€™t ask for it, and, you had to apply generosity yourself. Weâ€™d build up this database of who weâ€™d give to. I think it would be such fun. All sorts of people and organisations would just get money out of the blue, and theyâ€™d be giving money away.
And the capital? I hope it would continue to earn interest.
No holiday? Ah thatâ€™s interesting. I confess Iâ€™d struggle not to buy myself a new motorbike and an E-type Jag but you canâ€™t have a bishop driving around in an E-type jag can you!?
Finally, do you have a favourite Bible passage on generosity? 2 Cor 12:9 Â â€œMy graceÂ is sufficient for you, for my powerÂ is made perfect in weakness.â€Â That sense of Paul being right up against it and God just saying â€œLook in me youâ€™ve got everything. My grace is utterly sufficient.â€ I come back to that time and time again. Godâ€™s generosity. It has to be the start and end for me.
The interview with the Bishop of Berwick, draws to a close and we hug and say our goodbyes. I leave feeling Iâ€™ve captured only a fraction of what this man has to offer us about faith and how to live like Jesus, but what I have captured is a start.
Generosity is complex, and challenging. Sometimes we donâ€™t even know how to be generous in certain situations, which is why itâ€™s important to practise generosity regularly in the obvious situations. Mark says this begins when weâ€™re young, and highlights the importance of teaching generosity to our children. Weâ€™ve got to get into the practice of it.
Generosity isnâ€™t necessarily about giving a specific amount or percentage away, but rather about being disciplined and thoughtful in a way that is right for each of us.
Generosity is a state of mind and sometimes the challenge is in not seeking gratitude or affirmation, but in taking pleasure in giving anonymously, quietly and out of service to others and to God (even if it means having to kneel on a toilet floor!).
And God. Mark says God gives us everything, and itâ€™s sufficient, so generosity has to start and end with God. Amen.