We asked six influential ministry leaders to tell us their stories of the toughest leadership decision they’d ever made—and how they went about making the decision. We were expecting stories of disagreements with elders, agonized debates of whether to build or not to build, or the emotional stress of firing a close friend. So we were surprised when the stories started to come in and they were so … personal. Turns out the toughest leadership decisions are often also the toughest private decisions—that God challenges leaders in some of the same areas at work and at home.
This week, Craig Groeschel tells us about his toughest decision—to give it all away.
“What if we gave it all away for free?”
Bobby Gruenewald’s words landed like a grenade in the middle of our discussion. It was early 2006, and we had just celebrated the 10th birthday of LifeChurch.tv. Several pastors from around the country had begun asking for copies of our messages and videos. With the requests increasing weekly, we knew we had to make a decision. The normal path was clear and well worn: package the products, market them, pick a price point, sell them. The problem was no one on our team felt passionate about taking on the project. That’s when Bobby spoke up.
I wish I’d said: “Praise God! Let’s do it!” But that would be the opposite of the truth. “Are you serious?!” I practically shouted back with a mixture of nervous laughter and a healthy dose of unbelief.
At the time, I happened to be in counseling dealing with one of my greatest fears: the fear of not having enough. For my whole life, I’d battled a poverty mindset. My selfish fears drove me to protect what I had, save more and give even less. I always tithed to God and gave a few careful percentage points of my income above the tithe. But it never failed to scare me.
Give it all away? How could we pay for that? What if we started giving it away and couldn’t afford to keep it up? Even though I’ve rarely admitted it out loud, in the back of my mind I knew I could possibly make royalties off what we sold. A few extra dollars could give our family some breathing room.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I reflected on my counselor’s sessions. We’d agreed I was putting my security in money and not in God. I’d never save enough to feel secure. The path to trusting God wouldn’t be through receiving but through giving.
One night’s unrest turned to two, then too many. Always a believer in seeking wise counsel, I called several older, wiser and more established pastors to ask advice. All three of my heroes advised against giving our resources away, stating several logical reasons: It could burden our church financially; we’d lose income we could use to do more ministry; it wouldn’t be sustainable; pastors and churches need to pay in order to value it; some ministries would be upset; and I’d lose personal income I could give away or save for my kids’ college.
Although I’ll always admire these mentors and respect the decisions they’ve made for their ministries, God’s direction became stronger than their advice. In one momentous meeting, four of our leaders sat with me around the table and made a decision. We were going to take the faith step to serve the larger Church. Our products wouldn’t be for sale. They would be free and for God’s glory.
Many say, “You can’t out-give God.” There may not be any statement more true. This one decision changed the culture of our entire church, starting with me. Rather than increasing our standard of living, we increased our standard of giving.
Now instead of just sermons, videos, kids teaching and student curriculum, we give away tens of millions of digital Bibles, tracking tools, coaching and anything else we can. And the more we give, the more God gives back—not just financially but in influence and in fulfillment.
I’m not against charging for resources. Many ministries have done tremendous good and helped churches around the world through the resources they offer. For me, and our church, this was more about faith. Through that step of obedience, God has radically transformed my heart and the trajectory of our church. If I had to make that decision again today? Well, it wouldn’t be tough at all.
Craig Groeschel is the pastor of LifeChurch.tv, and author of Weird (Zondervan). LifeChurch.tv is the creator of the YouVersion Bible app, which has been installed on more than 26 million mobile devices.
This article first appeared in the October/November 2011 issue of Neue magazine. Check back next week when Nancy Ortberg tells us about her decision to take two steps backward in leadership.