Why Don’t More Faith Communities Emphasize Simple Living?

church and money

My church is part of a denomination whose doctrinal statement reads in part, “Nonconformity calls us to reject the world’s unrestrained materialism, its sensualism, and its self-centeredness. Rather we seek to express the values of God’s kingdom by a lifestyle of modesty and simplicity.” Nevertheless, in the eight and a half years I have been a part of this denomination, I remember hearing only one sermon on simple living. In fact, I believe that was the only sermon I ever heard on the topic, despite having been a part of various Christian churches all my life.

I wouldn’t call the members of my congregation extravagant, but most are saturated in consumerism, just like the majority of people in our culture. They drive big cars, wear fashionable new clothing, pursue expensive hobbies, and think nothing about paying to attend church events. Those who do live simply are usually those who are forced to do so by below-average household incomes.

The church has started offering Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University courses, and those who have taken them seem to be trying to live debt free and within their means, but few truly make an effort to live substantially below their means, which is what I think of when I hear “simple living” or “frugal living.” (As an aside, I don’t understand the point of paying $93 to take the Ramsey course when the same information is available for free online and through the public library.)

At my church we hear frequent sermons on giving, but without specifics on how to live so that we can afford to give. One prayer we pray, thanking God for rebates, clearance sales, and freebies that allow us to be good financial stewards, seems almost like a joke. Frugal living, as most Saving Advice readers know, goes far beyond buying things on clearance.

Sadly, not only have few churches emphasized simple living (even in denominations that make it part of their doctrinal statements), but many people see the North American church as completely intertwined with consumerism. Televangelists preaching material prosperity are the dominant images of Christians in many people’s minds. In reality, most Christians would say they believe in the doctrine of stewardship, defined in Christian terms as the belief that all our money and material goods belong to God and are ours to manage for Him, to use for His purposes. I remember little more than the basics from my college world religion class, but I have the notion that other faiths have similar doctrines to this Christian doctrine of stewardship.

So why don’t more faith communities practice frugal living and more clergy preach it? For one, I think part of it is that a frugal lifestyle seems too radical. The Amish, cloistered nuns, and others who actually choose to live simply are seen as inherently different from the rest of us. Typical believers can’t possible attain that level of holiness or separatism, many believe. However, we don’t need to completely separate ourselves from the world to reject consumerism (even though cloistered living would help!)

I also believe that many members of the clergy are afraid to preach about frugal living because they struggle with living that way themselves. The one sermon I did hear on the topic was from the perspective of “I know this area isn’t my strength, but here’s what I’m learning” rather than “Follow me, and I will show you how it’s done.” At the same time, the topic of how we spend our money (or not) can be seen as too personal, even in a culture with few other taboos. Few people are willing to talk openly about their income and spending habits, even with those they call “Brother” and “Sister” in a house of worship.

At the risk of attributing false motives to others, I will also say that I believe some clergy (certainly not all) are afraid that if they start to talk about living simply, they will scare away potential converts and even dedicated members. I hope I am wrong. I hate to think that faith leaders are willing to ask their congregations to give up drugs and alcohol, limit sex to marriage, practice honesty in all circumstances, and dress modestly, but believe that the typical person of faith is unwilling to address greed and consumerism in his or her life.

Speaking as a layperson, I would love to get more support from my church in my efforts to live frugally. Sermons offering practical tips for rejecting consumerism, encouragement in simple living from fellow members of my faith community, and more free fellowship events would go a long way in helping me and others like me who want “to reject the world’s unrestrained materialism, its sensualism, and its self-centeredness” but feel like we are going against not just the world’s dominant culture, but also the culture of our own faith communities (no matter what the official doctrine states).

Image courtesy of hoyasmeg

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20 Responses to Why Don’t More Faith Communities Emphasize Simple Living?

  1. steve says:

    They don’t offer that information because many are only in it for the money. If they teach you how to finance properly, they won’t get the money they want. It’s as simple as that.

  2. Jay Gatsby says:

    Like any other organization, religions are financially-dependent on their members for their charitable works, if not their very survival.

    That said, all religions place a greater emphasis on spirituality rather than the material world. Yet even if they gave equal time to the spiritual and the material, what would make religion the appropriate means by which to teach financial responsibility?

  3. Angela says:

    My Church teaches it “religiously”. Ha. More should teach it, but there again they need you to pay them in order to survive.

  4. nanamom says:

    You can ask a person to give up sex before marriage,avoid drugs and alcohol and be honest, but don’t ask them how “successful” they are. While I don’t equate success with wealth many people do and there is the problem. Success has become not what we can do to live our life for Jesus but how much we make and how prestigious a job we have. They hold themselves as better than those who practice thrift as the Amish do and consider them backwards. Churches don’t practice the art either that I have seen except by force (low income)

  5. princessperky says:

    IMO churches avoid suggesting simple living because the ‘sacrifice’ of waking up that early on a Sunday is hard enough for most folk, asking em to give up the fancy coffee on the way in would be a sure fire way to lose members (and therefor lose income)

    Our church ‘hints’ at simple living or at least at looking around your house to see what you are advertising, what your ‘stuff’ says about you… and what better use you might be able to make of your money.

  6. Jay Gatsby says:

    What about the biblical quote: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)


    It was often used by various churches to get their members to “unburden” their wealth….

  7. Sean says:

    As an aside, I don

  8. Lisa says:

    Financial Peace courses are a good start. I believe that one of the first things God commanded was good stewardship. He told Adam to care for his garden. I would agree that most newcomers are not ready to hear a message of “give up your current materialistic way of doing things”. They come to faith in stages. Most churches will allow or even encourage small groups that focus on an area. Perhaps you could help those who take the peace course with the nitty gritty of day to day living in a simple manner.

  9. baselle says:

    Yeah, you would think that if a church taught you how to be a whiz at budgeting and in living simply that tithes would increase.

    However, many churches are aspirational and frankly, branded. Often knowing that Mr. Jones worships at the super-church X brings in people. Even there is no Mr. Jones, worshipers watch each other and compare and really weed out folks who are not like them. And frugal people are not like them.

  10. harrison says:

    I would take it a step further and say that not only do most churches not teach frugality and simple living, they actively discourage it. They try and separate you from your money all kinds of ways (all in the name of God). Personally, I think that if more churches did teach personal finance, more people would be even worse off.

  11. Hilary says:

    Money is a “material” too, in the sense that hoarding money is just as materialistic as buying the newest gadget. I think living simply and being frugal align with church teachings, but being cheap and not donating to charities does not. Say what you will about churches being greedy, but those tithes and donations pay every worker’s salary. With some notable exceptions, I’d wager that most ministers are not in it for the money (if nothing else, there are far better ways to get rich).

  12. RMac says:

    Financial Peace University is a DVD based curriculum that is fun, entertaining and educational and not available in libraries. Along with that the small group accountability aspect is huge in encouraging each other. Plus you get access to other resources. It truly is inspiring. Well worth the $93.

  13. Sylvia says:

    I am a pastor’s wife and have never even heard of a church approaching such a topic in it’s prayers and doctrinal statement. I am so impressed just to hear that! We lived within our income and were criticized to the point of being asked to put our van behind the garage, instead of in the driveway. I guess someone thought it wasn’t “nice enough”, since it was an older one. And there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.
    Our denomination pays little as a habit, yet members criticized that we weren’t living a better (fancier) life. It was considered an embarrassment to them. As a pastoral family, you can’t win for losing.

  14. Cindy M says:

    Shannon, excellent article. You ask why your denomination does not stress simple living. Do you know that probably 99% of “Christianity” believes they are either living in the “kingdom” or working to get there, does OT/Israel tithing (which would correctly be 30%, by the way, not 10%, and not for us today because WE ARE NOT ISRAEL), baptism and church membership. My bible study group emphasizes what Paul taught in his epistles and we follow his pattern – we don’t “tithe,” no membership roll, no baptizing, no sending missionaries to foreign countries, no choir, no frills, NO DEBT, amen. Dave Ramsey and others teaching the tithe are full of beans. We rent a union hall and will always stay small because we don’t follow the crowd and “celebrate” xmass or other pagan-sourced ideas. We meet several times a week to do II Timothy 3:16, “study to show thyself approved…” and to uplift each other for the week ahead. Please do check out discerningthetimespublishing.com and midactsdispensationalism.com. And no, we are not a cult and we do study the whole bible. I’d never go back to the old denominational baloney.

  15. Cindy M says:

    Whoops, that was II Timothy 2:15, NOT what I put above. Guess I really do need to do more studying, ha-ha. Anyway, everyone please check the above web sites and read our statement of faith.

  16. Mark says:

    Some churches do talk about this. My church will be talking about materialism all month long!

  17. sam says:

    Cindy, tithing is important as it not only helps to support your place of spiritual nourishment, but churches also help those in need. A

  18. Gail says:

    Very interesting article. I think you are correct that many pasters/leaders can’t preach or teach messages on simple living as they don’t know how themselves. Simple liveing is a Biblical concept especially within the new church where everyone freely gave of what they had so that all would have enough.

    I think many Christians and those who follow other religions would be so much better off if that practiced frugality and simple living and dependence on God for their needs. The Bible advocates that people work for a living and depend on God.

    I think it is a shame when bankruptcies are published in the paper to see church goers I know listed there. It tells me that somehow they have gotten their priorities in life messed up.

    I’m so happy to see you have written an article like this. I hope people sit up and take notice.

  19. Riley says:

    1) Finance has nothing to do with God. (which #2 somewhat negates but religion doesn’t really make sense either) 2) Jesus said it’s impossible for a rich man to enter heaven

  20. I love this post! A friend of ours told us about a church in Alabama that invited the Crowne Financial to give a workshop at their church. That was the coolest thing I’d heard of in a long time. Perhaps the closest thing to Simple Living being taught in church in many a year.

    Anyway, I love what you wrote. We’re hoping to infiltrate our new church with our simple living discoveries and even offer a few classes there (for free) on making soap, keeping chickens, turning off the cable, and focusing on the family.

    Excellent post! I am new to your site.


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