“Give more” is something that you’ve probably heard in church. But thousands of ads every day tell us to spend more. Pick up a personal finance book and it’ll probably tell you to save and invest more. It’s all pretty confusing. How should a disciple spend, save, give and invest? How do we apply Jesus’ teachings about money in a 21st-century consumer culture? That’s the $2.6 million question (the lifetime earnings of an Australian median income earner).
Despite being the wealthiest generation ever, we don’t seem to be doing well in other ways. Anxiety and depression are at all-time highs. Church giving levels are at record lows. Australia’s household debt is among the highest in the world. Devices, designed to drip-feed us dopamine, have us addicted. We’ve got medicines, machines and mobiles – which the “rich young ruler” Jesus speaks to in the gospels couldn’t have dreamt about – but we certainly don’t feel rich. Every day our culture has discipled us in how to be consumers, not followers of Christ. It’s even become part of our identity.
But fear not, all is not lost. We may not be able to change our culture in one fell swoop, but there are some steps we can take. In this article we’ll cover five ways to do that.
How to manage your money as a disciple in modern Australia:
1. Pay yourself like your pastor (from consumer to minimalist)
Most pastors get paid … wait for it … a fixed stipend. It’s a modest, living wage that allows them to focus on making disciples in their community. It’s the way a steward (as opposed to an owner) would get remunerated. The question is, should the rest of us (who aren’t in paid ministry) live in more material comfort than them? If God is our shareholder, shouldn’t he get the extra profits if our marketable skills earn us additional income?
Paying yourself like a pastor (or ministry intern) will mean setting a spending benchmark that is objectively modest and where your shareholder (God) gets first dibs on income above that. For those without dependents, minimum or median wage is a great benchmark to start with. It’ll still get you in the top 10 per cent of global income earners (and you’ll still be objectively wealthier than that rich young ruler bloke Jesus spoke to in Luke 18!).
This strategy is a safeguard the “future you” needs to protect you from lifestyle creep – the steady drift, over time, to become more sophisticated consumers, rather than more mature disciples. It’ll also help create something personal financial types would froth at the mouth over: margin. Margin to live, margin to give, margin to invest.
Oh, and if you splurge on yourself now and then, no biggie. Just make sure you love your neighbour as you love yourself by matching your splurge with donations to worthy causes.
2. Get some recurring giving going (from minimalist to giver)
We all know someone who has a minimalist lifestyle, but they aren’t necessarily generous. The stingy saver, squirrelling away for … (insert your blank) doesn’t really feel like what we’re called to be.
Getting paid like a pastor can help you move from consumer to a minimalist, but without giving, it’s not yet discipleship. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21) So, until we’re giving habitually, we haven’t yet broken the grip of greed on our heart.
If you’re new to this, you’re probably going to want to give to a cause that leaves you feeling good – something like Compassion child sponsorship. For just $50 a month, you can materially improve a kid’s life. You’ll also lock yourself into a giving loop – kind of like a Netflix/Spotify subscription but good for your soul.
Once you’ve got that going, a recurring transfer to your local church is a great follow up. When it comes to money, habits often drive our behaviour more than theology, so starting this habit is super important.
3. Spend missionally (from giver to missional spender)
Most people spend most of what they earn in their lifetime.
We can’t really stop spending on essentials, but we can change who we spend with.
If you’re getting lunch with a friend, do you go to a multinational chain or a cafe run by a Christian family?
We usually think of spending as a guilty pleasure, not as something that can bring positive impact. However, spending money with local Christian businesses can actually create a multiplier effect far greater than the amount spent – especially if the business is run missionally and they, and their suppliers, give 10 per cent to the Lord first.
So next time you’re looking for a service, check out your local Christian business directory (your Christian radio station should have one). Or when you’re eating out, think about spending with someone for whom it means something.
You could do more mission with your spending than you realise.
4. Get your super dollars creating positive impact (from secular investor to missional investor)
Imagine if you could fund a TV miniseries on the life of the disciples that reaches over 300 million people (like The Chosen) and gives you a good financial return.
Imagine if you could invest in your local church to convert part of their property for commercial use, generating rent for the church and stable financial return for your investment.
We’ve been led to believe that investing is a purely secular exercise. But these are all real-life examples of impact investments with both financial and spiritual outcomes. Investing impactfully is intentionally directing your investment dollars towards businesses that solve social or spiritual problems, while generating financial returns. Our super funds are awesome potential impact investment funds right under our noses. However, after Christian Super’s merger with Australian Ethical Super last year, we’re waiting for a new Australian fund to get behind this vision.
5. Be a savvy servant (from money avoider to savvy servant)
Jesus once told his disciples to “be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matt 10:16) But, all too often, not idolising money ends up looking more like money avoidance.
Sticking our heads in the sand won’t help us live well with these modern money dilemmas: Should I buy a home or rent? What about budgeting? How does the share market work? Should I leave my money in the bank? What’s the crypto craze about?
So, text a buddy and ask them to read a book with you or do a course together.
Wealth with Purpose and Christians Against Poverty both have good courses. If you want to roll the dice on an indie Christian practical guide, I hear The Barefoot Disciple: Five Money Habits for Modern Disciples has a few things to say about the topic!
That’s a wrap of five ways to manage your money as a modern disciple. May these tips help you find the narrow path that leads to life with your money.