No. 9 : meaning-making and neuroscience


Jesus seemed to be interested in lives well-lived.  He spoke often about serving the poor and marginalized.  He preached about caring for those suffering and in grief. He wondered out loud about the lilies of the field and if a simple life might not be a good one.  Jesus mentioned sharing what we have – even the widow’s mite – the last coin.  Jesus seemed to want humans to thrive and to find peace.  It is interesting that Jesus spent so little time talking about worship and yet that seems to be what we do together the most.  I often wonder what Jesus would say about our liturgies.  Don’t you?


One thing we know about the human brain these days is that it has centers located all over its grey-matter which light up depending on what is being considered or experienced.  We used to be able to see areas light up but now we see pin-points light up with very specific thoughts.


What neuroscience tells us today is that when we give a gift away, the area of the brain that lights up is not the “generosity” center but the “lottery win” center.  In other words, when we give away a gift such as a pledge card or a check for a mission or ministry; what is lighting up in our brain when we “give” is, surprisingly, the area which is usually reserved for “receive experiencing.”  In other words, when we receive a surprise gift or a surprise lottery win, or someone does a nice thing for us as a surprise –  the exact-pinpoint-area of the brain which lights up is the same point which lights up when we give a gift away.


We are biologically designed to survive as a species.  One of the ways we are designed to survive is that we are hard-wired to give to others simply because this give-and-take inspires community which enables survival.


I am passionate about asking people to give their money away.  The money I raise for the organizations which pay my salary is a side-benefit.  But my passion and my joy is helping people to give their money away to that about which they are passionate (meaning-making). (See  for more on this.)


October is a difficult time of year for church fundraisers and stewardship leaders.  It is after the launch of a campaign, but not yet at that sweet-spot prior to the ending celebration.  Morale can plummet. Clergy can worry.  Stewardship chairs can despair. But remember that by asking for each gift (and at this point, clergy need to start making personal calls to ask for pledges!) you are encouraging joy in people who have been biologically designed to give.


I walk my dog for his delight, the side-benefit is his health.  I eat shrimp and asparagus in a butter sauce for my joy, the side-benefit is my nutrition.  I walk in the mornings so that I can connect with my God, but the side-benefit is the exercise. Raise money by asking, directly, in person that someone give their money to God through your church (not by email or letter…in person) and then know that the joy will be their giving and the side-benefit will be the funding of your mission and ministries.