We continue series with Northern Seminary DMin grads who summarize their chapter from Wise Church.
This post is by Brandon Evans.
For my contribution to Wise Church, I was assigned the topic of wisdom on money/economics. It wasn’t long into my research that I realized the Bible has so much to say on the subject that packing it all into one measly chapter would be like trying to shove the ocean into a Dixie cup. So I asked myself, where should I place my focus? On wisdom for personal financial stewardship, like countless others have written on? Or maybe wisdom on a larger economic issue, of which I am grossly unqualified to address? I found myself in a sort of Goldilocks situation—there had to be another option that was just right.
So I began to think in microeconomic terms. It may seem odd to frame it this way, but our local churches are microeconomies—systems of production, management, and consumption of resources. This doesn’t mean churches are mere businesses, but that, just as the local church is a body of interconnected members, it is an economy of interconnected stewards who give and receive. Local churches, just like individual Christians, are to embody God’s economic wisdom.
I write as a pastor for pastors, and I believe that we have to consider how our local church economies are displaying God’s wisdom because this shapes both the individuals in our congregations and our witness to the world. So in my chapter, titled “Wise Church Economies,” I employed a biblical-theological method, synthesizing the major economic themes from Genesis to Revelation and distilling the vast biblical witness into three prominent cultural characteristics of a wise church economy: 1) a culture that aims for the wealth target, 2) a culture of economic empowerment, and 3) a culture of economic integrity.
A Culture that Aims for the Wealth Target
Wisdom in general can be defined as “life within limits” and that is true of material possessions as well. The Bible presents another sort of Goldilocks situation when it comes to money—both riches and poverty pose spiritual dangers. But there is a wealth target that is just right. The words of Agur hit the bullseye:
8 ...give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God. (Pr 30:8–9 NIV)
The wealth target could be defined as a “thankful appreciation of enough.” God is the provider of all material blessing, and he often works to provide through our diligent labor and sound money management to provide for us. The pursuit of wealth is not inherently wicked. Money can in fact buy happiness—but only to a point (and scientific research shows that this point is lower than we may think). Hitting the wealth target means we work for our provision and are generous with our excess. Give us neither poverty nor riches, Lord.
This principle is true on the individual level, but also on the ecclesial level. A wise church displays the thankful appreciation of enough. As pastors and leaders, we are to aim our local church’s microeconomy towards this wealth target. We can’t undershoot the target by shying away from inviting generosity or squandering the resources we have been given. We also can’t overshoot the target by idolizing productivity and expansion or hoarding money or spending lavishly. Money can buy a happy ministry—but only to a point (and that point is probably lower than we think). Give our churches neither poverty nor riches, Lord.
A Culture of Economic Empowerment
Empowerment of the poor is arguably the central economic concept in the Bible (the theme explicitly appears in every section of Scripture). The Torah, in particular, is vastly more concerned with economic equity than other Ancient Near Eastern law codes were. The ideal in the Torah is that people would work hard but not be overworked, be given a fair wage, and be charged fairly for goods and services. And those who could not provide for themselves were to be provided for in ways that maintained their dignity. Practices like the Sabbath, Sabbatical Year, gleaning, and interest-free loans, which had no ANE parallels, empowered the poor to rest, be provided for, and achieve economic stability. The rest of Scripture reinforces these Torah ideals.
God’s heart for the poor has not changed. Poverty has less to do with standard of living and more to do with powerlessness, so God calls us to empower the poor in our midst. Although our local churches are not national economies like Israel, we can still embody God’s wisdom of economic empowerment. This means that we are not to coerce the poor to contribute to our churches in exploitative ways. This also means allocating church resources for the poor and vulnerable in creative ways—which could include supporting economically disadvantaged churches, providing resources to the poor in our congregations, and more. Wise churches empower the poor.
A Culture of Economic Integrity
Lastly, wise church economies maintain economic integrity. We are influenced by our local, national, and even global economies, yet our churches are to remain distinct from these systems. This requires us as pastors and leaders to affirm what is good and reject what is evil within our larger economic context. Wise churches display God’s economic wisdom. As pastors, we are not called to be experts on macroeconomic policies and practices, and it’s fair to say that there are merits and problems within any economic system, whether capitalism or socialism (or other). Yet wise churches can discern what is good and what is evil within any economic system.
Revelation, the great apocalyptic call for unswerving faithfulness, provides an example of prophetic witness in the midst of economic evils. The Roman economy in the first century had a number of parallels to our 21st century Western one. Rome was prosperous, wealth was concentrated at the top of the socio-economic pyramid, and corruption was prevalent. So John the Revelator urges Christians to “come out of [Rome]” (18:4) by resisting what Cynthia Long Westfall identifies as “imperial power, systemic injustice, economic collaboration, compromise with the lifestyle of luxury, and the underlying idolatry.” John’s message is as pertinent today as it was in the first century.
The bottom line is that our local churches are to exhibit counter-cultural economic practices within our communities and maintain economic integrity within our larger context. This kind of wise church economy is what we, as pastors and leaders, are called to nurture.