In the midst of meltdown

In the midst of a meltdown: What does my faith have to do with my financial situation? How does the GFC influence Christians? How can we respond?

Recently, I was reminded that Australia is experiencing its sixth recession in the post-war era. “Soaring new economy stocks go bust” and “Corporate corruption scandal threatens market integrity” are headlines we would have expected to see over the past 12 months. In fact, they were printed in the 1870’s at the decline of North American railroad companies. The events of the past year have been dramatic, but not unique.

As CEO of Christian Super, I witness on a daily basis the impact of the global financial crisis from a range of perspectives: government fiscal and monetary policy responses, changes to international banking regulations, economic stimulus packages, declining retirement savings, people delaying retirement or re-entering the workforce, ministries folding from lack of funding, and so on. As a Christian, I also see another side of this event: families coming together to support their parents, churches depending on God to provide, unemployed people realising their significance is in God and not their job, people connecting their faith with their wallets, charities receiving increased donor giving, and the church playing a greater role in local communities than it has done for years, supporting people in tough financial situations.

Connecting our wallet to our faith is always a difficult issue, and one that we can easily put in the “too hard” basket. When I first became a Christian and started telling my family and friends about my new faith, I received a variety of responses. However, it was my father’s response that stunned me most of all. “I’m happy for you,” he said. “If that’s what you want, that’s fine. But don’t let them get your money!”

As a 21 year old in the late 1980s, I didn’t know how to respond. Not having been raised in an evangelical church, I experienced a strong disconnection between my finances and my faith. The notable finance scandals involving American based televangelists “fleecing the flock” made it impossible for me to make any coherent reply to my father. To be honest, I found myself profoundly embarrassed about articulating what my faith had to do with my financial situation. Clearly, God has a sense of humour – nearly 20 years later I am the CEO of Christian Super, an organisation with approximately $420 million in funds under management! And over the past decade and a half, I have helped organisations and churches tackle this issue of being faithful with the resources God provides.

Some organisations have been very skilful in approaching this task, while others have developed from a low base. Every organisation is different, and what works for one might not work for another. In each case, achieving concensus about the way forward has involved significant and robust dialogue. Nevertheless, the outcomes have demonstrated their genuine desire to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to them, and a drive to put their vision and commitment into action.

In his book, Your Money Counts, Howard Dayton gives a very practical and biblical view of personal money management, noting that there are over 2,350 verses in the Bible regarding money and possessions. Dayton outlines three theological views of money adopted by the church over the past 2,000 years, illustrated by the following table:

Poverty

 

Stewardship

Prosperity

Possessions are evil a responsibility a right
I work to meet basic needs only serve Christ become rich
Godly people are poor faithful wealthy
Ungodly people are wealthy unfaithful poor
I give because I must because I love God to get
My spending is without gratitude to God done prayerfully and responsibly carefree and consumptive

Going back to Genesis, we remind ourselves that God provided his children with good resources and clear boundaries on how to use them. There is an imperative for those of us who have entered into a free relationship with Jesus to apply the stewardship principle outlined above. This view says that we have been given resources for His kingdom and that when considering our finances, whether in prosperity or meltdown, we need to be good stewards. This is not to be done in fear but in recognition that we are in relationship with the Creator.

Despite the current economic meltdown, we need to keep in mind Romans 12:2, which says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you.” We need to reject the worldly view on finances and embrace the true stewardship principle. In their book, Surviving Financial Meltdown, Jeremy White and Ron Blue provide helpful contrasts of the biblical and worldly views on finances as follows:

Biblical Perspective Worldly Perspective
Preservation & steady growth of capital (Proverbs 28:20) Get rich quick
Long-time horizon (Luke 14:28) Short-term horizon
Save/invest first (Proverbs 24:27; Ecclesiastes 5:13-14) Spend / consume quickly
Time is a tool (Proverbs 6:6; 28:22) Time is an enemy
Cycles are inevitable (2 Peter 3:4) Upward trend hopeful
Diversification strategy (Ecclesiastes 11:2) Timing strategy

Christian Super began in 1984 and is an industry fund that provides all profits to its members. As Sustainable Super Fund of the Year (2008), we encourage an investment style based on our distinctive Christian ethos. While we recognise that individuals cannot always directly control what is happening in the fiscal world, we do believe that they can handle money intentionally and in accordance with God’s Word.

“In the midst of a meltdown” By Peter Murphy, CEO Christian Super. prac9.