Eric on geography and Christian life

Why I live in Economy Class

Twelve reasons why I live in “economy class” and I advocate that it should be the norm for Australian Christians to live low-expenditure lives (including in particular our choice of where we live) and give generously from the savings thus made.

  • The Old Testament has a lot to say about money matters. The Law had lots about providing for poor members of the community and for God’s workforce. The prophets came down heavily on leaders who enriched themselves and didn’t care for others.
  • The New Testament has plenty as well. Jesus said a lot that challenged the rich, assumed generosity as a way of life for believers and encouraged the simple life. Paul and James also had a bit to say. Acts describes a church where many gave away their excess to provide for the needs of others.
  • Lots of Christian organisations – church congregations, agencies for care and outreach both here and overseas – are struggling financially or could do more if they were better funded.
  • We have a concept of ‘rich’ that includes (a) earning a lot of money and (b) spending a lot of money. We’re used to the two things going together. I believe we need to pull them apart. You can’t spend money you don’t have and won’t earn, but there is no rule that says a high income must mean a high expenditure.
  • Imagine a family where the father has full-time employment while the mother looks after children. The father spends most of his earnings on what he wants, and little is left for his wife and kids. “I earn my pay fairly”, he says, “I can use it as I please”. But within a family it shouldn’t work like that. Being the member of the family who earns most of the money shouldn’t entitle us to use most of it on ourselves. But to me that looks like an analogy of the global Church. The analogy is not perfect; how the family-hood of the Church ought to be practised is a big & complex topic.
  • Lots of low-income earners necessarily live a low-expenditure life. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
  • Poorer areas have more opportunities to serve.
  • When you live on less and live with those who have less, other things being equal, you will pray more, you will share more, you will enjoy little things more.
  • When you live on less you’ll have a smaller ecological footprint. If the whole world lived as Australians do, we would be using a few earths worth of resources.
  • The Church in Australia has declined over the last 50 years. Christian leaders often wonder what can be done about it. We are excited by the stories of conversions, miracles, revival etc in other times and places. When is God going to do more of that here again? What is the Church in Australia to do? We can and should keep on praying for God to act. We can and should continue our efforts in making disciples. Changing what we do with our money is something we can do. The power is already in our hands. When we “spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry” (Isaiah 58:10), when we can say “Silver or gold I do not have” (Acts 3:6), we might see God do things haven’t seen here much.
  • In countries like Australia we forget how rich we are. What I call economy class is closer to normal on the global scale.
  • It’s easy for me. I grew up in economy class (and I’m shopping impaired). So I don’t expect others to pick this up to the extent that I do. An advocate must often go beyond what they call others to. But most of this list is not specific to me.

There we go. There’s lots I could say but this short list is the best way to put down the main points. I’ve written on this before; this is the 2015 short version.

I regularly read things and say, “OK, but…“. Here are some of the things readers might be thinking, with a few of my short comments on those points.

Lots of good people in the Bible lived upper-class lives (for their time).
Yes, although they didn’t have cars, computers, advanced medicine and other good things we have today. Wealth didn’t work out too well for Solomon.

Shouldn’t we just enjoy what God has given us and be thankful?
What has God given me for me, and what has God given me to share? There are a lot of things that are not transferable. I can’t send my leftover food to a hungry person overseas. If you have  a great husband, he’s not going to be anyone else’s husband. If you live in Australia, you automatically have better education, health, infrastructure and peace than most of the world. Enjoy and be thankful.
But money is highly transferable. There’s so many things that can be done with it, in so many places!

Romans 12:8 describes giving as a gift – you shouldn’t expect others to be gifted and to serve in the ways you do.
Yes, there are some reasons why this is easier for me than for others. But arguably anyone can live on below-average expenditure, because we see so many who do. So if you have above average income, then maybe God is enabling you to give generously.

I’m sick of the church asking for my money.
So are we all. There are ways to rethink “giving” – here’s one. Rather than thinking of “me” giving to “the church” – two parties, think one party, we are the church, we’re in this together, we share a mission, we share our resources. Leaders need to shape the church to work like this. The spenders need to spend wisely. There is no room for ministers getting rich from the church. We sacrifice together.

Does God need my money? The whole world is his “and the cattle on a thousand hills”.
Yes, and some of what he owns might currently be in your care and need to be transferred to someone else in his family.

Yes, the father who neglects his wife and kids is a fool, but we don’t have to bail out our poor cousin.
How the Church works together as a family is a complex matter and I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it.

In what specific ways do you advocate saving money?
This is where a long-form article would come to the fore. I don’t want to set rules, but here are a number of obvious things: Focus on the largest sections of the pie chart of your expenditure. Don’t live by yourself. House prices vary wildly with geography – live somewhere cheap. Learn the difference between need and want. In many cases there are cheaper ways to meet your needs.

How far do you advocate taking this?
Further than we currently are. I don’t have a solid answer for this (which might be a good thing; I don’t want to set up rules) but as a possible guide you could put yourself in the place of a normal low-income Australian person/family OR put yourself at the global average income level.

I’m already doing these things.
Good. I’d love for this to become normal for Christians in our country.

Spending stimulates the economy. This economy class living is bad for the economy.
If you give money to another part of the Body, it will still be spent and benefit the economy. If that part of the Body is in another country, the economy there probably needs more stimulation than ours. More money available to Christian organisations will mean more people employed in gospel work than economically productive work, but I think that is worth it. There will always be enough consumers to keep the economy going.

Should this be applied to time as well as money?
Yes, and I am so bad at that. I’ll leave it for others to expound that topic.

Anything else? What are your thoughts?

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