Living with Less
Leading believers to embrace a simpler life.

Chad Hall is experiencing the simpler life. Intentionally. And he's wondering what effect his quest for less has on those he leads. And he has three questions we can ask.

Everywhere I go these days, big is in. My combo meal is super-sized, my SUV is third row, and the TV of my dreams is 62-inch plasma. We Americans are big eaters, big spenders, and big wasters. Even our churches are into big, enlarging auditoriums, renting big malls and even bigger coliseums in order to accommodate big crowds and enable big growth. Like the population at large, we Christians seem to have a growing acceptance of the bigger is better credo.

But all this growth might be creating some big problems.

Our society and systems seem incapable of handling the never-ceasing expansion of want and need. Our souls are groaning and the planet is buckling beneath the collateral damage of growth. Landfills are full, the air is thick, and we cannot drink from many of our streams.

In light of our growing problems, maybe the church should give small a chance. I propose that ministry leaders are just the ones to help Christ followers exchange big for small. After all, leaders are supposed to help usher others toward something better (not just something bigger), so maybe we should start ushering folks toward living lives that are less hectic, less cluttered, less selfish, less toxic. And maybe instead of a big ad campaign advertising "LESS!" we should start living with less ourselves. Instead of just preaching it from the pulpit, maybe some personal choices would help slow down the growth, bring some sanity to our lives and make the world more livable.

Give less a chance

Our family recently decided to sell our riding mower because its impact on the environment was not offset by its necessity. Shortly after, my wife quipped, "I think we're becoming tree-huggers."

How had it come to this? After all, I have a strong dislike of Birkenstocks, I think Michael Moore is a narcissist, and I appreciate creature comforts every bit as much as the next guy. So why is my family choosing to push-mow the lawn, ditch the extra television, and experiment with line-drying our clothes? I'm not sure how it all began or where it's going, but we've adopted a series of small questions that are redirecting our souls and may be benefiting the world around us.

Three small questions

Not to cast blame, but my journey toward less started with Randy Frazee. Prior to a conference in 2003, Randy and I had a dinner conversation during which he shared with me the somewhat radical lifestyle changes his family had made in order to make room for real relationships.

October 09, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 23 comments

Shauna Sowga

November 26, 2007  12:01am

I think Bill should find another church, if that is what the clergy are up to.

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IG

November 01, 2007  9:26am

Hi Chad, I like what you have to say but I have a question. How do some of us who are living the simple life try to stay content when we watch our pastors and other staff of the church keep getting bigger and better toys? I try not to let the envy thing get a hold of me but sometimes it's hard. We drive around old vehicles. We live in a mobile home and have for 15 years. I bring in a supplemental income just to make ends meet. All of this while we watch our pastors buy $300,000 houses and drive around new SUV'S. I don't like my focus to be on that and that when I put money in the offering plate it should be given joyfully...but to be honest knowing that some of that goes to pay for those houses while I live in a "trailer" kind of makes me a little less than joyful when I tithe and lately I've been putting missions on the envelope.

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Bill

October 24, 2007  8:29am

You say that: "Landfills are full, the air is thick, and we cannot drink from many of our streams." Nope. Nope. Nope. Landfills are not full, indeed in many places wholesale landfill fees are falling because of oversupply. Air quality, in the America that you live in has been getting dramatically better, emissions falling 30% between 1995 and 2005. As to not being able to drink from streams, the biggest new threat from streams is coliform bacteria from wildlife which have exploded with the revival of their habitat. Any honest evaluation of the American environment must acknowledge dramatic improvement. While your overall thesis is laudable, we simplify not because of the environmental impact, but because we want to be more like Christ. Quick question: If I could offer you the material abundance of a millionaire without any environmental impact, would that make it right? Tying behavior done for Christ to dubious claims about the environment damages your credibility and your witness.

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Peter Green

October 16, 2007  4:08pm

As a child in the '50s, I knew older Christians who defined "worldliness" in terms of drinking alcohol, wearing fashionable clothes and (for women) wearing make-up. This short-sighted view contributed to making Christianity seem bleakly judgmental. Chad, your article is, in summary, about a realistic rejection of worldliness. We all let the world squeeze us into its mould (Rom 12:3), and it is vital for Christians to resist this pressure. An amazed journalist, wrote some years ago about a famous Australian artist, Pro Hart, a Pentecostal Christian. She remarked on his small environmental footprint, despite his lack of interest in environmental concerns. She came to understand that his lifestyle was a consequence of his aim to live in accordance with his faith, even if it was unfashionable. It was a great tribute, and an endorsement by a secular observer of what Christianity can do if someone truly puts it into practice, even without seeing how one person's life fits into the bigger picture.

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Aaron

October 16, 2007  3:39pm

I really liked this article. This is where God is challenging me right now. We have begun to see ways in which we can simplify and make room for the life that Christ lives through us in our family. I agree with everyone saying that just because you live with less doesn't automatically mean that you are following Christ. It's about who owns your heart, Christ or anything else. The one thing that I do notice though is how Jesus tells people multiple times to sell what they've got and give it to the poor. Where does that leave us? As we continue to talk through this apparently hot button issue (why do we get so heated about this?) we have to continue to have a spirit of humility. I think the author did a good joob of raising awareness of what he and his family are doing in response to a change that God has called them to make. It gets really dangerous when you start accusing him of things that aren't necessarily true or are simply childish ("your slip is showing" implying that because he's chosen to obey Christ in this area of his life, he is less of a man, seriously). God's word does talk about creation groaning and waiting for redemption. That fact is tough to debate. And I think we need to be careful of taking such strong sides as if our side is the only way or as if Al Gore is not capable of making some really good points (maybe the truth is just a little too inconvenient for us and that's why we don't like it). Anyway, I really enjoy the discussion over the topic. I just bring these points for further discussion and healthy banter. Keep working out your salvation with fear and trembling...

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Chad Hall

October 11, 2007  7:00pm

FROM THE AUTHOR #2... Another round of insightful and interesting comments that I thought I'd respond to... - Dana and Dave... best does beat less, of course. I can just imagine "less" becoming the new "more" and everybody striving to have unhealthful small amounts of relationships and possessions and the like. Then we'd all be off the other end of the proverbial spectrum. Discernment seems to be the key. - Kerry... not sure exactly what to make of your comment, but I think you may be inferring that I hold some left-leaning ("Al Gore") position that I let slip into the article. Maybe not, maybe you just meant my language was overblown. I'll accept the indictment of my language and work to improve. I'll strongly refute any notion that I share any Gore-ish perspective. This may be a topic for another article, but I have sincere doubts about Gore's opinions about global warming. I'll let you read the red between those lines. :) - Kevin... I think your terminology about the home being an extension of the kingdom is far clearer and more precise than I put it. And really, you have nailed what, for me, is the heart of this issue. Thanks for saying what you said and saying it so well. - Mike Thompson... I hope to see you at SPE in November with Dallas Willard in Hickory. Will you be there??

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DaveAlan

October 10, 2007  9:04pm

Dana's comments are right on. Sometimes it's not less, it's what's best. Stewardship is "what is the best investment of my resources for the sake of the kingdom?" Will that attitude not also cover death to self? Sometimes it will mean sacrifice; sometimes, like Dana's parents, it means enlargement for the purpose of the Kingdom.

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Mike

October 10, 2007  9:03pm

Much of what Chad offers is good–for Chad. We need to be somewhat careful in every "lifestyle" decision we make. The other edge of this double edge sword is the pride that crops up from those that are doing it "better." And when is enough? A 32" TV (but you are watching the same shows?) No soccer for your kids (but they are bored, not interacting with kids outside their church?) If I want to get to know my neighbors I have our kids play soccer, lacrosse and basketball with them–now we have something to talk about. Or I watch some (only some) of the shows they watch and then we have a starting point. Finally, there isn't only the "culture" of big out there–certainly it does bow down to the idols of materialism and importance through accumulating and activity. But certainly growing now is the culture of "less." In its most hardcore form it places personhood on the earth and anthropomorphizes animals. Let's be critical in our thinking about the pluses and minuses about both and most importantly let's be "Christianly" in our thinking about both.

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Chad Hall

October 10, 2007  8:14pm

FROM THE AUTHOR... Thanks for the many thoughtful comments to the article. Here are some of my additional thoughts and responses... -Paul, as far as "time is money," I think that is often the case and sometimes is not the case. What's been really challenging for me is to peel back my layers of assumptions about what "convenience" really is and what the price is. When I find the need to squeeze a day for more time, it's sometimes the case that I need to drop some stuff from the schedule and just stop trying to put so much into a day. I repeat: it's a challenge! Man, oh man is it a challenge for me. -David, my only thoughts on how a pastor can take practical steps in helping a congregation consider these issues are twofold. First, I really don't discount the power of the pulpit. I think a pastor's role is to shepherd the flock via the preaching ministry - especially if it's first lived out by the pastor. Second, I think a more potent approach is to bring up the topic in those pastoral conversations when counseling and coaching parishioners. I think the issues of simplicity, significance and stewardship weave into most of the stressors we face in life - so a pastor can help parishioners take a systemic view of their life and recognize how clutter and confusion lead to all sorts of unhealthy chaos. -Melody... Well said! I think I'll take your advice and turn off the tube, grab a book and invite God into the freed-up space. Speaking of books... -Jim... I reckon you've somehow listened in on the conversations between me and my wife over the past month. She has accurately pointed out for me that my cases and shelves of books is not good for my soul. And you NAIL what the real issue is for me: pride. I'll be visiting the local library to make a donation this weekend. Thanks for sharing the insight.

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Dan Whitmer

October 10, 2007  7:34pm

Great topic - great message needed. Our family of five lives in a 1500 sq. ft. house. We have no garage. We live on one income (tough for sure) and find room for generosity. And last year we got rid of the TV. Try it, I dare anyone reading this. Or at least just cancel the cable. Anyway, most Christians around us think we are crazy. They act like we are missing out on something. I guess I know a secret that they don't. As for pastors and their churches who are into big... most will not be willing to change - too much power wrapped up in that position and the influence, it's addictive. Small means giving power away... it hurts, it costs personally. It will never be the "in" trend.

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