It was a frank conversation about money with other leaders at our church. We tackled what most of middle-class America considers a taboo subject and faced some hard truths. As a result, I was awakened to my habits and how they influenced the financial situation of our closest friends.
For example, in our community of friends, eating out had become our cultural gathering point—church and then lunch. It had become our Sunday ritual. We love to eat together. Unfortunately, this ritual was causing friends to increase their personal indebtedness to credit card companies.
How did we get to this point in our habits?
Fulfilling Two Human Needs
We had taken two genuine needs (food and friendship) and chosen a luxury (going out to eat) as a way to fulfill those needs. As we talked openly, we agreed we needed to make some lifestyle changes. We all agreed we didn’t need to go out to an expensive restaurant to meet these needs and took the opportunity to forge a new way.
We began having lunches together in our home, and everyone brought a dish. Or we gathered for games and dessert later that evening. As we started to place a higher value on community over convenience, our friendships reached new depths.
In every community, people live in need and in excess. What is enough?
A Poignant Experiment
This critical question will define our personal lives. It’s too easy to be taken over by desire. When we define enough, we step off the conveyor belt of consumerism and create a new intentional rhythm of life. Over time, advertisers, credit cards and the quest for more lose their control. I personally no longer feel pushed around by others choosing my needs and wants. Sometimes less can do more.
How you define enough may be different from how I see it. I can’t determine what you need. I have found the best starting point is a social experiment.
Sarah Flemming, an administrative assistant at Connexus Community Church in Ontario, pursued a social experiment to buy nothing new (no new products purchased from a store other than food) for a year. Her goal was to put the excess money into places that needed it more than her desires. For toiletries, she could restock only when everything was used completely. She didn’t even pay for haircuts (friends cut her hair).
By the end of the yearlong experiment, Sarah had gained great wisdom: “The more we get, the more we want. When will we stop believing in stuff? We buy things we don’t need; meanwhile, we have neighbors in need.”
Sarah now has a fresh view toward needs and wants. Her intentional commitment to live on less inspired her community to do more. Now, five leaders in her church have adapted her experiment to their lives, purchasing nothing new for a year. Including her pastor, Carey Nieuwhof.
When one leader in one community determines what is enough, it ignites a community to think and live differently. Your example of choosing to live with less moves your community toward a more generous lifestyle. What would happen if you and your church wrestled with the question of enough?
Jeff Shinabarger is the author of More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, releasing in March. He is a social entrepreneur, experienced designer, cofounder of the Q event and creative director at Catalyst. He’s been featured in national media such as CNN, NPR and Relevant Magazine and has been interviewed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Chicago Sun-Times, among others. He and his family live in East Atlanta Village.