This series comes after reading banking on God by Dan at Cerulean Sanctum argues that the church sits unprepared for financial crises like a recession in the United States. Dan’s thoughts need to be taken a step further: the American church has bought far too much into the American ideal of individualism and hedonism (perhaps we should think about the amount of resources we consume and then figure out what percent of the worlds population we are as Jake has done here). Before anything else can be remedied, these two ideals must be crushed beneath the feet of the church. Hopefully, reading the ten economic choices will help Christians in the betterment of the kingdom to the glory of our Triune God-ever mysterious and every present-and you will see the need for serious change in the economic mindset of the church. The post was getting too long so I have decided to break it up into three parts.
To be clear from the beginning, all of these ideas are, for the most part, purposefully anti-American. The ideas are communistic in nature, but their communistic nature should not suggest the ideas are not economical. Many economists admit that the family structure already caters to a largely communist structure where people take what they need and contribute what they can. These ideas are ways to show how the communist structure fits within a Christian worldview.
Below are the first four decisions I believe American Christians must make.
One: The Practice of Communal Living
Christians should consider communal living where two or three families live under one roof. Let us be clear: this is not an attempt to return to 70s hippie communes, but an economic solution in the face of rising property value. Consider a four bedroom house with two families living inside where one room could be used for one set of parents, one room for another set of parents, one room for girls, and one room for the boys. If each family had three children (let’s say for example 2 boys and four girls), the two boys could share a room (obviously giving up some of their closest space to the girls), and the four girls could share a room. How much does this save? We will use the United States average housing costs rather than my home state of California (where rates are significantly higher than much of the rest of the US). The median cost of a home in the US runs at about $210,000 plus or minus the part of the country you live in. In other words, both families would share half of the savings of the money they would have saved trying to each buy a house independently-a savings of $105,000 per family. It also cuts the mortgage payment in half for both families each month.
Consider a similar situation for a six bedroom house for three families. For the sake of the example, lets say they each have three children (nine children total), with the make up of 3 girls and six boys. We have three bedrooms for the three sets of parents, one room for the girls, and two rooms for the boys (three in each). Think of the wonder of school. When the children come home they can all help each other with homework, they can all do chores, and they will learn self-sacrifice (especially if the house has only two or three bathrooms). What better way to raise children? How much money do you save now? You are saving the cost of two other houses, but you are probably losing about $100,000 to get the extra room and possibly a third bathroom. If the average house cost for all three families was $210,000 the total would have been $630,000 for all three houses, but we are assuming with the added $100,000 that the one house they do buy would cost about $310,000-still a savings of over $106,000 for each family.
Also note that you have free baby-sitting, access to save even more money if you rideshare, a pool together to buy bulk food at COSTCO (plus saving money, if you shop together, of buying the other two COSTCO cards that you would normally cost about $35 a year), you save money on furniture (saving $500 per family on a couch or $100 per family on only one table instead of three), you save money on DSL internet costs (a savings of about $100 a year). The economic benefits of such a move are endless.
If everyone in a small church of 500 paired up with another family-where we average each family consists of about four people (about 125 households)-the costs of mortgages for the 62 families would be cut in half. In other words, the church of 500, where communal living was practiced, could save over $13 million. These ideas could seriously change the financial situation of the American church.
But think even further on the spiritual benefits. You have in your house a set of Christian friends with whom you “do life together.” You have a group of people who are able to keep you accountable in the way you raise your kids, the way you do your taxes, and the way you read the Bible, pray, and meditate on the Spirit of the living God. You have to learn to practice patience when others frustrate you, and you must learn to live practically in “sharing” with one another. Plus the church saves the resources of the two or three people who would try to “create” this small group feeling. Rather than trying to orchestrate such a feeling, the small groups would be the people you are already living with 24/7.
Two: Only One Car Per Household
Christians should consider only having one car per household. The needs for another car are largely individualistic and for convenience. In a two income household one of the two should carpool to work or take public transportation. The idea that we need two cars costs Christian households (depending on the car) anywhere from $10,000-$25,000 that they spend on the car plus the money each month for gas (at least $40 a month), and the cost for annual repairs and oil.
Let us make a conservative estimate about the cost of two cars vs. one car. If we are economical and buy a mid-range car at $15,000 used, we will also have to pay for the oil checks and maintenance about every quarter ($80 a year), we will have to pay for registration of the car each year ($60 a year), we will have to pay for gasoline for the car ($40-80 a month, we will go with $40 to be conservative). If we have the car for five years, we are paying the $15,000 plus an extra $3,000 on gas and maintenance (these estimates are conservative). So if we are not conservative, we will be paying upwards of $20,000 over five years for a second car.
Let us instead consider ride-sharing. If we let the kids car-pool to soccer practice, after-school activities, and if one of the two parents carpool to work, there are expenses to be paid. As good stewards, we should be paying those people who are driving our kids around by paying for half the gas they use while driving our kids. Lets use a very extreme example and say that this costs us $50 a month-$25 for our carpool to work and $25 for the carpooling for our kids. This will come out to $3000 over five years. In other words, we will save at least $17,000 over five years in a family with only one car per household.
Three: Practicing communal living with neighbors.
Notice above how we suggested that communal living can save money when one only has to buy one table instead of three or one cabinet instead of three. Now we turn to the neighborhoods in which we live. For instance, not everyone in a neighborhood needs to own a vacuum. If a group of ten neighbors were to share a vacuum cleaner, that would not only save the cost on that one vacuum cleaner ($100 or upwards for a good one), but it would save the other nine families the cost of buying their vacuum cleaner (a total community savings of $900). This can also be true for lawnmowers, weed-wackers, tool sets, refrigerators, toys, and other such things.
Let us be clear, communal neighborhoods pose the biggest challenge of all ten suggestions to actually carry out in real life because it doesn’t depend on us. Our neighbors would also have to consent to such a plan, and we cannot force others to conform to our plans. Other nations-namely France and Russia-tried to have such revolutions where everyone was forced to be equal and share, but these revolutions largely failed to garner popular support. The Christian way never forces the state to “agree” with our practices, but provides an alternative expression to state politics in order to show a truly revolutionary way of living in the way of Jesus.
We embody Christ when we move into a new neighborhood and attempt to start such a communal attitude in our neighborhood. This may mean gathering neighborhood support and teaching others in the neighborhood how to sell their lawnmower or tool sets on craigslist in order that ten or fifteen neighbors share the best toolset amongst themselves (a good toolset, by the way, costs hundreds of dollars). This will depend on your neighborhood’s willingness to live communally, and the American empire has to a large extent already indoctrinated us to believe that we all need our “own” set of tools, lawnmowers, and toys. But we need to do our best to provide an alternative for our neighbors from a kingdom mindset. This alternative, although it may not be embraced by all, will provide a real and tangible way for the sharing nature of the Eucharist to break out of the four walls of the church and embody our lives in the here and now.
Four: A Practice of Giving Graciously to the Church
I have outlined the first three options above because the moment I begin talking about “giving graciously” to the church the response often is, “I don’t have enough to even meet my own needs, let alone the church.” Hopefully as we have considered the three options above, we see that communal living presents a better way to live. We are often just too individualistic to see it. Another excuse: “Well, I give to other organizations and missionaries and it is already more than ten percent, so I don’t give to my church. They already have enough money.”
These statements says two things. First, it suggests that we care more about organizations in other places than we do about the people in our community. Do we care about our pastor’s well-being? Do we not realize that he depends on the money from the offertory to keep his family fed? Second, it says something about where the church gives their money. Should we support churches using their money to build bigger parking lots and sanctuaries? ***Side-note: There would be no trouble with parking if families would carpool and singles could be picked by families with extra space in their cars. Churches should really consider this.*** Churches need to make sure they are constantly giving the money back to where it belongs: the least of these, the orphans, the widows, and those who simply cannot repay them. We need to make sure we are a light to the cities we are in. If individual members are more willing to buy into the vision of the church, they will be more willing to give money to the church. In this sense, the church budget should be discussed almost weekly in the church so that members know where their money travels.
In other words, part of the service should consist of the pastor explaining that week where the money in the church had gone. If applicable, pictures or video should be shown as evidence that the money actually went where the church wanted it to go. Such evidence is not always possible (especially since Jesus calls us to do many of our deeds in secret), but there needs to be more accountability on a weekly basis as church money funnels out to the world. Pastors should also be able to theologically explain why the church spends money on certain projects and not on others (i.e. building bigger barns vs. helping the poor). These things will help the church immensely.
…more to come in the near future…