Surrendering the American Dream

I’d like to tell you a story.

It’s a story about two people who didn’t grow up with much. One was the son of a farmhand and a bus driver, the other the daughter of a single mom. It’s a story of not having much but not really knowing it. It’s a story of growing up, getting educated, and earning an honest living. It’s a story of making ends meet, then making enough to do more than meet your needs. It’s a story of making enough to waste a lot, and it’s a story of realizing you make too much to not give more away.

It’s my story; it’s my wife’s story. And I’d like to tell it to you.

Most people in ministry complain a lot about not making very much money. I’ve never been one of them, because I know it’s not true. I make more than the average youth minister, based on this survey at least. In fact, without throwing out a specific number, I make more than the average youth minister my age, in my region, in my church size, of my gender, with my level of education. Plus, I remember when my dad shoveled horse manure for a living and sometimes we started our car with a pair of vice grips. So you won’t catch me complaining.

Two years ago my family and I moved to Texas. Have you ever heard the saying, “Everything’s bigger in Texas?” It’s true. We had some very generous folks help us buy a house. So we settled into our little McMansion without giving it a whole lot of thought. The house my wife and I bought had four bedrooms, two and a half baths, two living spaces, two areas to eat in, two living rooms, and a two car garage. It’s typical of a Texas house. Here are a couple pictures:

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Pretty nice, huh? I was 30. My wife was 28. We had two kids. Our fence wasn’t white and picket, but other than that, it was a big old slice of Americana. We were living the life. Then a crazy thing happened on our way to the American dream:

We read the Bible. And some other stuff. And visited another country. And realized we were filthy stinking rich. Not by Katy, Texas standards (the average household in the county our church is located in makes $125,000/year…we do not). But by the world’s standards, we are. No question.

Global Rich List RankThere are over 2 billion people in the world who live on two bucks a day or less. My salary puts me in the .09% of the richest people on the planet and in the top 7 million richest people overall. You can find out where you rank here.

All this led to a conclusion. There’s a longer story behind the conclusion, and maybe I’ll tell it later. But the bottom line was this:

We were not giving enough money away. And we were living in a 2,600+ square foot expenditure that prevented us from being as generous as we wanted to be. So we decided to sell our house, take our profits and pay off all our debt (still have the pesky student loan hanging out there), and downsize to a rental. The savings will net us well over $500/month, which we plan to give away.

Some of you are thinking, “Oh, sweet. I did that a couple years back. It’s a no-brainer. What took you so long, dummy?” Others will think we’re nuts–for spiritual or other reasons. Who rents? Why throw your money away? You’re house isn’t that big! If you can afford it, why move? Won’t your smaller house feel crowded?

Trust me, we’ve thought of it from about every angle possible. And I’d be a liar if I told you we were totally cool with every aspect of the decision. But we’ve reached some conclusions that supersede all our reservations:

1. We are paying big money for rooms we barely use while there are homeless people all over the world. (Luke 14:13-14, Proverbs 19:17)

2. We have two eating areas in our home. Yesterday, over 25,000 died of starvation or starvation-related causes. It will happen again today. That’s not okay. (Matthew 25:35, Proverbs 28:27)

3. Investments in this world matter way less than investments in the Kingdom of God, so owning a home isn’t a huge priority for us. Though we probably will own again when we’re in a position to do so, because over the long haul, it is cheaper. So in a way we’re planning to downsize again, so we can give more. (Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 11:24)

4. By downsizing our space, we’re reminding ourselves that this world isn’t really our home, anyway. (Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 13:14)

5. Capitalism is a great financial system, but it’s not a basic tenet of Christianity. It may be the means through which two formerly poor kids gathered up a lot of stuff, but that doesn’t mean we deserve it or have the right to hoard it. (Matthew 6:19-21, Matthew 25:40)

So our lives are about to shrink by 1,000 square feet or more. Our extra dining space, our extra bedroom, our extra bathroom, and our extra living room will disappear. The key word there is “extra.” Because our house shrinks, we’ll be able to get rid of a lot of stuff, too. Already, we’ve dropped over 20 bags and boxes at a local charity.

We’ll land in a home that, globally, is still above average. The point is not to live in squalor. The goal is to leverage our wealth for the good of the Kingdom, not to inundate ourselves with meaningless trinkets and possessions.

One more thought, lest I come off prideful or condescending, which I really do not want to do:

This is our conviction. It may not be everyone’s. There are many who will give away more money than us next year because they earn more, spend less, etc. By the same token, while the conviction may not be the same, the challenge is identical for anyone who calls themselves a Christ follower.

So I leave you with this challenge:

1. Read all the Scriptures I just shared. Look yourself up on the Global Rich List (click the link or image above). Have a nice honest talk with yourself, with God, and with your family. Do you have enough? Too much?

2. Do some soul-searching on how you justify those areas of excess. Why do you think you need the things you think you need? Is it normal in your community? Can you afford it? Have you ever really even stopped to think about it?

3. Do something that other people won’t understand in order to advance the Kingdom. How can you leverage your wealth to be more generous and beneficial to Kingdom work?

323There is a for sale sign in our yard today. We don’t know when our house will sell or exactly where we’ll land next (Other than it’ll be in Katy, Texas. So no worries, Current family!). We have some prospects, and we’re praying the right one will work out. We’re praying we make enough on our house to pay off that student loan, and we’re praying it will free up the most money possible so we can be as generous as possible. A year from now, we’ll have thousands of dollars that we’ve funneled into Kingdom work instead of brick and mortar. I don’t only ask you to pray for us.

I ask you to join us.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 says:

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (emphasis is mine) 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

My family is done ignoring those words. We’re done pretending we’re not rich. We’re done hoarding our wealth. We’re done living for the present age. We’re going to live with less because less will do, and give more because we have plenty to spare.

I would love to hear your thoughts and we covet your prayers.

Thanks for reading.

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Since publishing this post back in August, my wife and I started a nonprofit corporation called The 25 Group. Our purpose is to leverage the wealth of the American church to fund global Kingdom work. We’re looking for folks not to sell their homes, but to devote $25/month to the cause. You can sign up to give here