A spiritual approach to money
One group’s formula for trying times: Live gratefully, spend less, buy justly, give more.
Jamaica Plain, Mass.
In turbulent economic times, the watchwords are usually: Cut back. Live frugally. Hunker down and put money in safe places!Skip to next paragraph
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But here in Boston, small groups of churchgoers have been applying a different message to money management. During the past two years, they have studied what the Bible teaches about money and wealth, discussed their personal budgets, and taken concrete steps aimed at four commitments: “Living gratefully, spending less, buying justly, and giving more.”
With gratitude as a foundational principle, the study groups follow a 12-session curriculum called “Lazarus at the Gate,” referring to the challenging gospel story about a rich man who persistently ignored a beggar named Lazarus at his gate (Luke 16). They discuss passages from the Old or New Testaments that consider wealth as a blessing, a potential idol, a resource for meeting needs, and to be justly distributed.
“Right now there are a lot of opportunities to feel fear when thinking about money. But if you start from a place of gratitude and abundance, it radically changes your perspective,” says Rachel Anderson, director of Boston Faith & Justice Network (BFJN), which coordinates the small-group program. “How we choose to spend our money – there are many justice issues there and room for change to steward Earth’s resources better and alleviate poverty.”
Many participants say the experience has been eye-opening and life-changing, as they explore the meaning of economic discipleship.
Each individual decides on ways to live more simply, such as not buying sodas or snacks during the week or selling a car and taking public transportation instead. At the final session, they commit some of the resources saved from new spending habits to charitable organizations they’ve researched and prioritized.
The first group to follow the Lazarus program met once a month for 12 months in 2007.
“It was a fantastic experience. The group of 14 people wound up giving $40,000 to five organizations dealing with poverty around the world,” says Mako Nagasawa, of InterVarsity Campus Ministry. He and Gary Vanderpol, a Boston pastor, initiated the program, and worked with BFJN to offer it to churches in the area.
“Creating our first budget and sharing it with the group really helped us. We didn’t buy anything we didn’t need, and we didn’t eat out,” says Ms. Adams, a public health worker. “We stayed away from ‘lifestyle inflation.’ ”
Instead of moving into a larger apartment as they had planned, Adams and her husband remained where they were.
As a result, the couple managed over the year to reduce the $50,000 they had in student loans to only $3,000. “It was miraculous!” she says.
A step in the process that really opened her eyes, she adds, was checking their financial position in the global economy on the website, globalrichlist.com. After entering their annual income, she learned that they were among the top 0.7 percent in the world. While she had always thought she could give time and energy to good causes but not much money, “now I see I can give a lot of money, actually,” she says.
What she most appreciates, however, is being able to live her Christian values more consistently. "I tended to think that being saved was the most important thing. Now I’m more interested in reflecting God’s love as much as possible,” she says. “And God wants us to be involved in dealing with poverty and justice.”