One of the core convictions of the Anabaptist Mennonite Network reads:
‘Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation and working for justice.’
The postscript to Beyond Tithing offers some ‘what if’ questions to help us reflect on ways of working out the implications of this statement. They are not particularly radical; they are simply starting points that are within reach of many individuals and communities.
What if we were to start talking about money in a new way? What difference would it make if…
- we identified consumerism as one of the powerful idols of our time and determined to resist this idol?
- we recognised that excessive privacy and individualism strengthen the grip of this idol on our lives and rejected these cultural hindrances?
- we talked openly and regularly about our finances with trusted friends, breaking the bondage imposed by the taboo on such conversations?
- these conversations explored how we earn our money, our attitudes towards our possessions, our values and priorities, our lifestyle, our decisions about spending and saving?
- we discussed how much to give away and to whom, how to monitor our giving, and when to make changes?
- we helped each other work through the implications of moving into a smaller house or a different neighbourhood?
- we decided that our capital resources as well as our income could be put at the disposal of those in need?
- we considered whether to regard money spent on our own church as subscription payments or institutional support (the equivalent of club fees) rather than giving, since we are really just funding our own pastoral care, meeting place and activities?
- we considered no longer claiming back tax on gifts covenanted for such purposes, since these are not charitable donations but ways of funding benefits for the donors?
- we knew that those with whom we shared our ideas, hopes and fears would be honest but not judgmental, persistent but not intrusive, sensitive but also courageous?
- these friendships and conversations involved mutual accountability, with each participant invited to offer and receive counsel and encouragement?
What if our church community were to support this approach to finances? What if…
- we became a church community with counter-cultural reflexes that resisted the idol of consumerism?
- our church provided teaching and training to equip us to think biblically about financial issues and to develop the skills and values required to develop the kinds of friendships in which these can be discussed?
- we studied such biblical principles as jubilee and koinonia and asked how these might be worked out creatively and progressively in the local context?
- we undertook a thorough audit of our church premises and found ways to reduce costs and damage the environment less?
- we asked whether we really needed these premises, or at least whether we might be able to share them with another congregation or community group?
- we invited the comments of others before deciding to spend money to improve our facilities – the members of a church in a poorer area, a homeless person, a refugee?
- we asked whether we really needed the staff our church employs – or is thinking of employing – and whether we could reduce our costs by together investing more time in mission and ministry?
- we chose to fund a staff member in a poorer church instead of appointing a new staff member in our church?
- we determined to appoint as church leaders only those who were known as friends of the poor?
- we chose to give away to disaster relief or development projects the hundreds of thousands of pounds in our building fund?
- we differentiated clearly between (a) money given by church members to support our staff, premises and programmes and (b) money given for people and causes beyond the local church?
What if we started to apply some more of these principles to our church life? What if…
- we were sufficiently secure in our friendships and open-hearted in our attitudes to begin to address the inequalities in our own church?
- we were to discover ways to begin to redistribute resources among our members, so that those who have more than they need could contribute towards those who have less than they need?
- we were to sell our surplus possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, so that we could say truthfully that there are ‘no needy persons among us’?
- we were to pass round a collection plate and invited those who wanted to give to put some money in the plate and those who were in need to take money out?
- we formed common-purse communities to explore more deeply the disciplines of sharing and accountability to help the rest of us move on?
- we encouraged small groups in the church to share their resources in order to release funds for ministry and mission?
- we rediscovered the ministry of the deacon as one who distributed resources for the benefit of the poor?
- we were to work towards becoming a debt-free congregation by helping those in debt to break free and stay free of debt?
- we were to take this a step further and found creative ways to pay off mortgages and to fund major expenses without incurring future debts?
What if we saw financial matters as an important dimension of our mission in a consumerist and debt-ridden culture? What if…
- we extended this way of sharing to others in our local community, on the fringe of our church and beyond?
- we became known as a community that took financial issues seriously and was able to offer more than just sympathy (or condemnation) to those in debt?
- we chose to risk being taken for a ride rather than refusing to help others, or being seen as a soft touch rather than hard-nosed?
- we explored ways of sharing our homes with homeless people?
- we invited others to follow the One who releases debtors and calls them to release others?
- we sent church planting teams into pioneer mission situations who would fund themselves by sharing their resources?
- we forged deep links with other churches in different parts of our nation or our world and explored together how to share spiritual and material resources without dependency or paternalism?
- we encouraged one another to campaign and vote for policies that favour the poor in our own nation and globally?
- poor people were to realise that the gospel is good news and to recognise that our church incarnates this good news?
- we were to find that this kind of sharing was exciting, liberating and joyful?
The AMN can supply copies of Beyond Tithing at a reduced price of £15.00 (including postage).