Simple, Self-Supporting, Sustainable; these are three concepts that are great for farming and also pretty darned good for Churches, too.
Those who’ve been reading my rants for a while know that I’ve been calling for a lifestyle paradigm shift that will allow us to prosper in tough times, as well as in good ones. The abridged version is; dump debt, simplify your life, live on less than you earn, give 10%, save 10%, live on the other 80% (my next book, ‘No More Paycheck to Paycheck’ is even going to raise those stakes, so get ready), store up at least a year’s supply of staples and cash, and enjoy a life of real freedom.
Now, I want to play a ‘what if’ game and adapt those same principles to Churches. Since it’s just a game, you don’t have to be afraid, you can let your mind and spirit roam free with these ideas. When the game is over, you can return to your boring, old, traditional reality if you like.
Imagine you’re part of a congregation or fellowship or a small group that was totally debt free. What if you had very little overhead because you didn’t have a big campus to maintain or facilities to keep going? What if everyone was tithing his/her income? How much service could you perform for your community? How much money could you give to missionaries? How many hungry people could you feed? How many Bibles could you distribute?
My guess is, you can’t really even imagine it, because it’s as far from your experience as Jupiter is from the sun. It’s been done, though. Look at this passage of Scripture from Acts, Chapter 2;
Acts 2:42 they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
I can see eyes rolling, already. Someone is saying, “That was then. Things were different then. Get real.”
Relax. We’re just playing a game, remember?
I’m going to use the small group Bible Study Brittan and I are a part of and use it as an example of what is possible.
The group consists of 4 to 5 family units and regular guests. We have singles, empty nesters and families with children still at home, so we represent a bit of a cross section of American suburban life.
Within our group we have the following skillsets; farming and gardening, food preservation and cooking, carpentry, woodworking, sewing and quilting, decorating, heating and air, rudimentary plumbing, electrical and auto mechanics, teaching, music, writing, financial management and preaching (depending on who you ask). There may be more, but these skills come to mind easily.
We are ordinary people in an ordinary suburban/semi-rural community on the edge of a large metropolitan region. We are the perfect guinea pigs for my game.
The median household income in our county is just a shade under $50k. The average household income is more like, $60,000. We have some in our group who earn less, some who earn more, but let’s use the median number as our base. We will create our opportunity assuming we have 4 tithing units, earning $50,000 per year. On a combined income of $200,000, we could expect a tithe of $20,000 per year.
The typical American Family spends 10% of their income on food. In our combined case, that would be another $20k. By pooling our resources, i.e. ‘having all things in common’ we could raise 100% of our own food for half that amount and have enough left over to sell to raise some money and even hire someone part time to help with the work. Over time, by saving seeds, breeding our own animals, etc. those annual costs could be reduced even more (for those who are wondering, yes, our group is fortunate enough to have several acres of land at our disposal).
Now, by combining our skill base, we could reduce our collective car repair and household maintenance expenses by at least half, freeing up even more money.
Let’s keep going, since we’ve almost lost our minds completely. Let’s imagine each family gets themselves debt free; no house payments, no loans, and no car payments. How much would your family life improve if you had no debt and your food and maintenance costs were cut in half? Would you be able to sleep better? Would you be more relaxed? Would you be able to save more? Would you be able to give more?
The book of Proverbs says, ‘two is better than one. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Can you see the value of having all things in common?
Here’s some of the cool part of my game. In this picture, no one has to give up their job, their house, their cable or weekly hair apt. It should be a no brainer.
We need to move along; I’m starting to bore people. Let’s go back to that $20k tithe money. How much good for God could we do with that? I mean, that’s ‘wow’ money. We could feed multiple people, provide livestock and clean water in developing countries, stock missionary doctors with supplies and evangelists with gospel materials. We could provide clothes and shelter for numerous people. The opportunities are mind boggling. If, though, we were trying to be a traditional congregation with a building, Pastor, etc. 100% of that $20k would be tied up in overhead.
Our Life Group alone has the skill set to work in soup kitchens, assist single parents and battered women with home repair and basic car maintenance. We could hold worship services for the elderly in nursing homes, or open air evangelistic campaigns. We could tutor students with learning issues or make quilts to keep a homeless man warm on a cold GA January night.
We could provide a healthy, tasty, fun tailgate party for a local High School football game, or give free tickets to a musical being performed by a local theater company. I can do this all day.
Now, multiply our group by 20. Imagine 20 groups of 10 people in one community doing and living like I just described. How many needs could we meet? How many people could be brought to Christ? How many mission trips could be taken? My head is about to explode just thinking of the possibilities. No wonder Acts 2 says, ‘They enjoyed favor with all the people and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’
Ok, you can step out of the game and back into reality now. So tell me why it can’t be done? Sure, there are some who won’t want to get that close to other people. I mean, sharing gardening duty or plucking a chicken or repairing an old person’s toilet, or handing soup to a homeless drunkard is a step than many won’t be willing to make, but that doesn’t mean WE can’t (whoever WE might be).
Michael Pollan, of Food, inc. and The Omnivore’s Dilemma fame once said, “Sure, not everyone can afford to eat organic, but those of us who can, should.” That same principle seems to apply to my game.
Yes, I created a world of hypotheticals and best case scenarios. I wanted us to look at possibilities. Those early Christians changed the world. Their legacy lives on to this very day. They were also persecuted, martyred, got caught up in fights, dealt with false teaching, screwed up on a regular basis and made some bad decisions from time to time. Each obstacle, stumble and barrier was met with prayer and persistence and the Kingdom spread like hot butter on warm toast.
Would you consider playing a game like this? I have to admit, I think it would be a hoot. And I don’t like games!