How can today’s body of Christ live out the Bible’s kingdom economic principles? Are we challenging ourselves to look at our economy through the lens of the Bible? These questions overwhelm me when I realize that through my work, I bear the responsibility to craft programs and policies for many groups: our ministry team (the full and part time staff of Advance Memphis), our graduate employees in the Advance Memphis Staffing Program, and even for volunteers and donors. Bob Goudzwaard argues that while socialist and capitalist economies focus on maximizing OUTPUTS (more production, more money), the biblical economy focuses on INPUTS (taking care of workers, of immigrants, of land and animals). As I’ve studied these principles and begun trying to apply them at Advance and in my home, I am constantly asking myself if my priorities reflect the kingdom principles of INPUTS first, or if I’ve fallen into the trap of OUTPUTS obsession.
For example: am I more focused on outputs, such as the number of graduates employed, the number of GEDs, and the number of dollars in the bank—to the exclusion of people’s hearts? Or am I, instead, concerned with how to honor and develop the individual spiritual gifts and talents of our participants and staff? Do I consider the humanity of our Staffing Program graduate employees and, in turn, craft employment policies that give image bearers dignity? I’m also reconsidering how I view Advance staff, donors, and volunteers. Are they merely “labor” and a means to an end? Are they commodities to use to get ministry results as inexpensively and as efficiently as possible?
My focus on outputs shows up in a lot of ways. I know there have been times when I’ve been guilty of an attitude and practices focused only on results and on financial “stewardship,” rather than on encouraging and developing the image-bearers I encounter at Advance. Unfortunately, I’ve defined stewardship as “getting the most bang for my buck.” I’ve asked employees for as much work as possible with as little compensation as possible in the name of stewardship (a reduction of Biblical kingdom stewardship). I’ve worried about quantity over quality. In this, I’ve failed to love my neighbor as myself. Remember: it’s a command God gave His people to love our neighbor. I’ve asked Christ’s forgiveness for my mistreatment of my fellow man and of His natural resources, and I ask your forgiveness as well. Today, I’m working to reconnect with the inputs while learning to trust God for the outputs even as we continue setting goals and working toward results. I’m acknowledging that stewardship may mean doing what’s right in loving my neighbor, even if it costs more.
Recently, I’ve worked on increasing the tangible ways that I’m caring for our inputs. We’ve added professional development days for full time staff and we’re working to add them for Staffing Program employees. Advance challenges ourselves to move as many employees as possible from temporary to permanent employment, even if it makes our work more difficult. We’ve begun giving employees “flex time” to acknowledge the evenings, weekends, and early morning hours that they often work in order to serve and love our neighbors. We’re sharing the surplus from the Staffing Program with its employees, increasing wages (longing for the day when a full day’s work is a living wage for the employee) and offering bonuses for attendance.
We’re also having “Feast Days”—enjoying time with Staffing employees, mentors, and business owners as we grill and eat lunch together. Counseling is now available for everyone at Advance: on site for participants and off-site for staff members. We’re adding new ways to develop our Staffing Program leaders, preparing them to move to permanent positions. We’re taking steps that value the image-bearers we encounter, but there’s more work and learning to be done. Skills and wages must increase for our neighbors, especially sinceTennessee leads the nation in minimum wage workers.
When viewed through a Biblical lens, how does your place in our economy change? Does it change how you manage your home or business—or even daily errands? Does it change who you hire? Does it change how you manage or how you work as part of your team?
These are the questions that I’m struggling to answer, and I invite the Church to join me in this prayerful struggle. Sovereign economy? No! Sovereign man? No! Sovereign God. YES! PLEASE join me in our application of Biblical truths regarding inputs and outputs. It matters to our Creator. I believe that through prayer, God’s word, diverse and challenging personal relationships, and humility, we can experience a foretaste of God’s kingdom economy in the midst of our own lives and community.
The mission of Advance Memphis is to empower adults in South Memphis to break cycles of unemployment, establish economic stability, reconcile relationships, and restore dignity through knowledge, resources, and skills by the power of Jesus Christ.