By Kelsey McFaul
Kendra VanderMeulen on learning God’s heart for high-capacity givers
In the early 1990s, Kendra VanderMeulen existed in the center of the telecommunications boom. She worked stints at Bell Laboratories and a venture startup inside AT&T commercializing speech and voice response programming. In 1994, she moved to Seattle to lead the wireless internet initiative at what became AT&T Wireless.
She was also a new Christian.
“At the beginning I think my basic attitude toward the Lord was I’m really intrigued by what this whole world is teaching me, but I really don’t want You to change anything in my life. I have a pretty good thing going on here—marriage, two babies, a career that’s making a lot of money. Don’t rock the boat.”
In those early years, Kendra heard her first sermon on tithing, the practice of giving 10 percent of one’s yearly earnings to God and the support of the church.
But for Kendra and her husband, 10 percent of their booming tech incomes seemed an incomprehensible surplus of what their small church needed. What, they honestly wondered, would their church do with all that money?
“The assumption, in preaching, is that everyone is struggling, and so we hear a lot about budgeting and living within your means. But there’s nothing in most churches that really speaks to people of high net worth. What does it mean to deal with abundance? And why does God provide people with abundance?”
The Bible provides us with answers to these questions and models that go beyond the idea of a simple tithe. The Old Testament teaches that God is the true owner of our resources, and our first fruits should return back to him.
On wealth, God both warns and encourages. Deuteronomy 8 cautions the Jews that with much provision comes the temptation to forget God, but in the New Testament, Paul writes that “God is able to bless you abundantly” (2 Cor. 9:8). This abundance necessitates generosity according to Paul, who affirms in the previous verse that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
As their faith and careers progressed, Kendra and her husband disconnected their giving from a percentage of their net, then their gross, income.
“We thought we’re really bold. We’re writing checks that have nothing to do with the percent of our income. But we had never really said to our financial advisors, ‘How much could we give away?’”
Kendra was embarking on the journey of stewardship, beginning to see the entirety of her resources as God’s, not just the percentage she was giving away.
“So we started to struggle with that question, and when we asked our advisors, they said, ‘Well, you could triple that number.’ So we did. And that was 2008. The market fell, and then we had the challenge of continuing to give at that level when our net worth was cut by over a third.”
Shifting the question from ‘How much do I need?’ to ‘How much can I give away?’ in the midst of a financial crisis gave Kendra perspective on the battle of giving generously. The former question is rooted in fear and locates trust in bank accounts rather than in God, a message that is often reinforced by preaching on saving, budgeting, and the like.
As Kendra herself experienced, there was real need for leadership around talking about generosity with Christians and providing donors with resources to make their kingdom-oriented giving effective.
Cue Kendra’s role at the National Christian Foundation, where she joined as President of its Northwest affiliate in 2007. At NCF, Kendra helps meet the very need for conversations about generous giving among high net worth Christians that she identified were lacking.
‘The mission of NCF is to mobilize resources by inspiring Biblical generosity. The blend between teaching generosity in a winsome and encouraging way, with the tools to help givers unlock the value of all God has entrusted to them, is an amazing platform for loving and supporting those who have been entrusted with much. It’s a blessing to be available to God in this work.”
In her own life, Kendra identifies Journey of Generosity retreats and the discipline of silence and solitude as spaces that challenged her perspective on generosity. An NCF partner, Generous Giving facilitates retreats raising the question of generosity in a safe and encouraging way to small groups of high-capacity donors.
Just as impactful is intentional spiritual practice.
“In my busyness of being in industry and being a mom, silence and solitude had always just been a dream. But in the last decade of my life, my relationship with a spiritual director and my own journey with silence and solitude have been very formative.”
Like many steward leaders, Kendra’s learned that stewarding her relationships with others well requires that she first maintain healthy relationships with her self and God.
She’s also noticed that failing to spend time in silence and solitude directly correlates to an increase in fear and the desire to be protective of money and resources. But that doesn’t mean that she’s got it all figured out.
“I’d spent two years submitting my life to this process. Then I started the role at NCF, and immediately I reverted to my old ways. I had my five-year plan, I said I’ve got to raise this much money, and this is the way this is going to happen. God just chuckled. It became immediately clear that was not His plan.”
Kendra’s transition from the public to private sector and the direct kingdom impact on her work radically transformed her definition and measurement of success.
“Any meeting I go into, I try to walk in without an agenda, truly without an agenda and wait to see what God is going to do, and only pull out my tools when it’s clear that’s what’s meant to happen.”
And the fruit of that kind of steward’s surrender?
“It’s a win when somebody clearly has been blessed and had their eyes opened to opportunities they never knew were possible, and they’ve been encouraged that they could do something for God that they never thought they could do. That’s a win.”