The Economics of Jesus

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : September 16, 2007

money changers A while back, I listed some alternative economic practices.  Here’s a summary of them (go here for more details).

  • Abolish the tithe…
  • Care for the poor in your midst…
  • Financial accountability groups…
  • Spend less than 50% of your church budget on staff, building, and office expenses…
  • Support local economies…
  • When buying “globally” buy fair trade…
  • Minimize waste, reclaim waste…
  • Share stuff…
  • Devote tax returns to the Kingdom, rather than to that “gotta have” luxury item…
  • Donate your best stuff, rather than your worst stuff…
  • If possible dump your car and use a combination of foot travel, bike travel, and public transit.

My co-conspirator Josh and I have started using Google docs more and more for online collaboration.  It is a very synergistic way of brainstorming-from-afar.  We use it for various ministry lists, descriptions, and action plans.  And we recently came up with more economic practices for Jesus followers:

  •  Whenever possible, foster a gift economy.  This goes beyond just sharing stuff.  Instead, it encourages people to give stuff without expectation.  For example, we have a weekly outdoor hospitality meal called the “Hospitality Train.”  We load up our bike trailers, go set up a solid meal, and feed ourselves, our friends, and strangers.  And we have encouraged folks to bring something to give away next time.  Our hope is that our free meal will help foster a gift culture.  We hope that, someday, a sort of Free Market will grow up around this economy.
  •  Christians should try to open source all of their intellectual property.  Instead of seeing our creations as our property, we should see it as belonging to the Body of Christ.  I believe that this is more faithful to our theology than assuming that we “need to work within the system.” We don’t anymore.  There are TONS of alternatives.  If you REALLY believed that your message is from God, then why should you make a profit off of it?  There is only one real challenge to this (and I believe it is a valid one): you’ll get a wider audience if you publish through the mainstream publishing companies or release music through a record label, etc.  In this case, we should feel free to use such methods, but always fight to make things available for free or cheap as we foster a better alternative.
  •  Garden with friends and share the bounty. 
  •  Supplement your gardening with Community Supported Agriculture.
  •  Share housing. Yep…I sound like a hippy.  In some places like San Francisco, housing is SO expensive that many conventional and normal people share housing in order to afford living in a home.  In Minneapolis, housing is cheaper, but it is still economically beneficial to share housing.  It frees up money for other things, fosters sharing of resources, encourages hospitality, and helps us live the way that most people in the world live (and the way folks in America lived before the 1940s).
  •  Start making and fixing more things yourself.  I grew up in rural Minnesota.  I grew up sucking at all those things that country kids were supposed to be good at: engine repair, agricultural skills, fixing stuff, building stuff, etc.  But compared to most of my friends who grew up in the suburbs or the city, I am a master among men! When you don’t know how to make stuff or fix stuff, you take things for granted.  And when you take your “things” for granted, you become wasteful and you begin to take your wealth for granted.  Don’t throw away that old chair, FIX IT.  Don’t throw away that rice maker…FIX IT.  Don’t throw away that bike, FIX IT! Don’t buy that Chinese food…MAKE IT YOURSELF.  Don’t go out and buy that $300 bookshelf…MAKE ONE! Making bookshelves is the easiest thing in the world.  Trust me.
  •  If you can’t make it or fix it, buy it used. I know it looks crappier than something new.  But you’re spoiled and should deal with it.  Stop caring about shiny appearances and take some pride in the fact that your simpler living frees resources for better things.  
  •  Instead of investing in your future, invest in the futures of others through micro-financing. Liberating Waste
  •  Reclaim Christmas as a celebration of Christ, rather than a celebration of affluence.  Celebrate a “Buy Nothing Christmas” or give away stuff at Christmas. 

If you have some that you’d like to add, you can comment here or visit our Facebook group page.

for further reading . . .

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7 Responses to “The Economics of Jesus”

  1. Beyond Words on September 16th, 2007 9:31 pm

    Yes! We need to keep sharing these ideas. I blogged about it a few weeks ago–my ideas are a bit more modest than yours, but radical for the place where I live.

  2. Anna on September 17th, 2007 8:07 am

    We made pizza dough from scratch this weekend! Small step but it was really fun and our Uncle is now hooked on the concept. :)

  3. More Fire on September 17th, 2007 2:23 pm

    Great list! I especially like the idea of shared housing, which is what we are currently in the midst of doing in a couple of houses in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. NYC is crazy expensive and oftimes a very isolated place. So we’ve set up Radical Living NYC! It also enables us to pool resources and more effectively reach out to others in our immediate community.

  4. Kyle on September 17th, 2007 6:46 pm

    Can you recommend a good book or website that’ll teach me to make good bookshelves? ‘Cause I could use them. You know, when I’m not giving my books away quickly enough… :0)

  5. markvans on September 17th, 2007 7:00 pm

    Here are some links for making nice bookselves:,2049,DIY_14444_4203877,00.html

  6. Mike Enright on September 18th, 2007 11:47 pm

    I appreciate your list very much. It is quite challanging and eye opening. However, I have a question. What role do you think savings and investment should play? Do you think that it is permissible for Christians to save money? I tend to think that people have a responsability to save for their and their children’s future.

  7. Ariah Fine on September 30th, 2007 10:10 am

    Hey, I’d still love to get together if you have a chance…

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