March and April saw some of the biggest shifts in our economy since the GFC, thanks to the pandemic. Seventy per cent of hospitality businesses reduced staff or placed them on unpaid leave.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that, in April, 5.6 million Australians worked fewer hours than usual. Between March and April, more than 750,000 people did not work at all and almost 350,000 people left a job or lost one.
Churches and Christian organisations have not been immune to financial hardships. As congregation members face redundancies or drops in working hours, the usual way of living and giving has been flipped upside down, leaving many reassessing their financial habits.
A chance to re-evaluate our finances in light of the gospel
Times like this give every Christian an opportunity to examine their finances through the lens of the gospel, according to Kevin Hines and Arya Darmaputra. They serve at St Peter’s, Campbelltown as warden and treasurer respectively, and are the directors of Thesauros Consulting – coaching Christians and churches to steward God’s money wisely.
“From an economic perspective, who knows how this pandemic will play out?” Mr Hines says. “We are fortunate that the Government has put in place measures designed to protect people's ability to maintain a reasonable standard of living through this. There are cracks in that system of course, and some people will fall through the cracks.
“At times like this, we can be overwhelmed with financial issues. We don’t want to downplay that, but we don’t want to let that take our focus off what we should be doing, which is to worship the King.
“We want to keep in mind that this is a time where we need to elevate God to be number one. That’s what frames everything else. Whether you are unaffected, or massively affected, this is a time to stop and reassess how you’re managing God’s money that he has entrusted to you.”
What does your wallet say about your heart?
He says that Christians should check their spending reflects Jesus' kingship by comparing it to what they give.
“It benefits [the Christian] because it realigns our hearts to what we truly treasure. The outcome of a group of people doing this is that the church could have increased resources to help those in the community who are in need.
“For the person who is financially constricted, they may need to say, ‘I want to give, but in order to give and get through, I need to cut back on things that other people take for granted’. That may be coffee or Netflix.
“Following on from that, you might be struggling to put food on the table. If you just can’t see how you can cut anywhere, and your only place is to cut giving, don’t feel guilty about doing that.”
Spiritual lessons in economically challenging times
Mr Hines and Mr Darmaputra share several ways that economically challenging times can grow us spiritually.
1. Challenge your pride
Says Mr Darmaputra: “In Western society, we’re predisposed to thinking we need to sort everything out on our own and rely on ourselves. Maybe this is an opportunity to say, ‘I need to rely on other people and God more’. That can be one of the spiritual lessons we learn from this. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.”
2. Be a good steward
Mr Darmaputra believes that sometimes the root cause of our struggle can be bad money decisions made in the past. “If we’ve taken out loans and debt on things we shouldn’t have, that’s what has caused our financial problem, not COVID-19. A 10 per cent decline [in income] should still be survived, but perhaps we can’t get by because we’ve made [past] financial commitments that are causing stress now. Be careful how you steward your money.”
3. Recalibrate our source of joy
Says Mr Hines: “This is a wake-up call. My joy doesn’t come from the holiday planned, or seeing my kids get a 99 ATAR. Whilst those things are good, when they’re done out of proportion to where Jesus sits, we become spiritually stale.”
4. Find contentment in Christ alone
Mr Darmaputra notes the pursuit of earthly things often comes at the cost of wise financial decisions. “We need to rethink our priorities, understand financial boundaries and be content with that,” he says. “People keep spending and borrowing when there is actually true contentment in Jesus that doesn’t cost anything. We can keep spiralling out of control looking for pleasure when we have everything we need in Jesus.”
5. Grow in faith and stewardship
Mr Hines asks whether our budget reflects that our number one priority is Jesus. “Don’t beat yourself up about where you’re currently at,” he says. “The idea is to be encouraged to mature and grow in Christ. This is not an exercise to realise you’re ‘failing’. This is an exercise to say, ‘I take living for Jesus seriously, and I believe that where my treasure is my heart is also, and so I am going to set a goal to mature in this.”
“Isn’t it excellent that we have this tool called money that gives us an insight into where our heart is? We can look at our wallets like a book and see progress. You might be giving $5 a week and earning $1 million. That $5 a week might not reflect that Jesus is number one, but if you look in a year’s time and it has become $100 a week, you can see progress.
“It’s not a perfect tool, but you can see whether you are reflecting that Jesus is number one.”