Let’s talk about money

By Mike Littlecheckbook-688352_1280 copy

When I talk to groups of people about faith and money, I often start by suggesting they share their checkbooks and credit card statements with one another. I’m (mostly) joking, but I don’t tell people that right away. As I watch people glance at each other nervously, I explain, “Money is such a dominant topic in our scriptures that we have to get our money conversations ‘out of the closet.’” I know how to make people uncomfortable, don’t I?

In response to this suggestion one day, a woman adamantly objected. “My generation was taught not to talk about money,” she said, and packed up her things and walked out. There was an awkward silence. Then a hand went up. “I am a lawyer,” a man said (I was the one who got nervous then)—a divorce lawyer. He shared that in his experience, 85-90% of his clients break up due to money. “If we can’t talk about money in church,” he asked, “where can we talk about it? That has been the problem.” Exactly.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 12.40.28 PMWe don’t want to talk about money. But Jesus talked more about money and its relationship to God’s way of life than anything but the Kingdom of God itself. Our story as a people of God is that we are all invited to live in this new realm that Jesus talked about, the Kingdom of God, which includes every aspect of our lives, including our money. Perhaps especially our money.

The question is, what does it mean to be the body of Christ? Especially in the midst of the huge disparity we see in the world, how can we be the family of God? How can we live in God’s realm now? We’ve been trained in our individualistic culture that our money, resources and lives are private, but that creates such isolation and loneliness. Instead, God intends for us to have community, to be community to one another.

Perhaps it is so threatening to talk about money because it has somehow become related to our identity. Our worth is connected to how much money we make and what we own. That is absolutely antithetical to Jesus’ teaching that our identity is found in community and our love for others and that our worth is found in God’s grace and God’s love for us.

We have learned to place our security in our money, and we certainly don’t want our indiana-1888207_1280security threatened. Jesus called the guy who built the bigger barns a fool because he identified his security in what he had in the barn. It’s no different for us. We say we want our barns full of God but we have one shed out back full of money, just in case.

If we talk about money in the light of our faith, it might require something of us that we fear. But spiritual growth always involves a risk.

Growth starts with an acknowledgement that we want to grow deeper. It starts with an awareness that if part of God’s family is suffering, then I’m suffering. As a Christian, I’m responsible to help bring the fullness of life for everyone, a fullness that includes people’s inward lives and their outward, material well-being.

In our churches, many people recognize this responsibility and are unsure about their plenty and wonder what their obligations are. We are often caught up in all the time and energy involved in “making ends meet” but realize that the deepest values that we grew up with in the church have been attended to poorly. When we can acknowledge that, we are ready to make some changes in our lives.

About the Author

Mike Little-photoMike Little is director of the Faith and Money Network, a ministry born out of the Church of the Saviour that equips people to explore and transform their relationship with money within the grounding of their faith. Many resources are available at www.faithandmoneynetwork.org. Mike Little can be reached at mike@faithandmoneynetwork.org.

Join us TOMORROW at 8 p.m. ET for a Live Chat led by Mike Little. During this chat, we will explore your relationship with your money, writing a money autobiography, making good financial decisions, connecting faith and finances, and more! There’s still room to sign up at marcia_5.gr8.com.

Photo credits: pixabay.com

How to Give More During Lent (and Beyond) – Part 2

By Matt DeBall

church-768613_1280 copy

We began this month with an introduction post by Marcia Shelter that invited us to 
consider how we can “give more” during Lent—taking a step beyond the traditional trend of “giving something up” for Lent. Two weeks ago, I invited you to do a self-inventory of your time, possessions, and budget to consider what you can put aside or change for Lent that could allow for the capacity to give more. Last week, Timothy Siburg shared a great reflection about how he has taken on something new for Lent this year. This week we will explore how to take practical steps to move forward and give more during Lent.

Taking a path of simplicity and generosity, especially in our world today, is not always an easy task. With many demands (some very important, some not so much) on our time, energy, and resources, it’s easy to get caught up in the ebb and flow of a busy life and miss the opportunity to live in a way that best honors God and shows love to those around us. The season of Lent invites us to intentionally consider all that is happening in our lives and to put some things aside to more fully focus on the work of Jesus through his death and resurrection as well as the work that God continues to do in us and in the world.

A helpful first step toward living a more generous life is considering how you spend or share your time, energy, possessions, and money. For help to do this, feel free to check out the first part of this post. After doing a careful assessment of these aspects of our lives, we can then move forward and make changes to be more generous. Here are a few thoughts to help you consider how to give more:

1) Give more time – Is there a member of your family, faith community, or neighborhood who is in a rough season? Is there a way that you could offer help or simply a listening ear to show God’s love to them? Is there a local charity or community group that does great work and whom could benefit from your service? Is there an initiative at box-18749_1280your church that you are passionate about but have not yet given a try? All of these are questions that can help you share more of your time.

2) Give more money – Have you noticed any purchases like drive-thru coffee, eating out that you could replace with cheaper alternatives for Lent (or longer)? Do you have a phone plan or TV package that is more complex (and expensive) than you need? These cost savings may not amount to significant savings, but every bit we can decrease in our regular expenses allows us the flexibility and peace of mind to be more generous. In cutting down non-essential costs, what ministry of your church or initiative in your community could benefit from your support?

3) Give away or share more possessions – Now is the perfect time for spring cleaning.
Are there any items which you rarely or never use (clothes, tools, non-perishable foods, books, or other lightly worn objects) which you could give to someone in need or share with a local charity? You may also want to consider selling nicer clothes to a second-hand store and donating the money you receive to an organization in your community. Does gratitude-1201945_1280someone
in your neighborhood attend the same church or community events as you? And could carpooling be
a valuable option for both of you? Considering these
ideas may help you become a better steward of what
God has given you.

4) BONUS – Give more of yourself – After minimizing non-essential drains on our time, energy, and money, we not only have more of these items to give, but in general, we have more of ourselves to give. When our schedules
are less full with non-essential fillers, our living spaces
are less cluttered, and our minds are less busy, we can be more fully present in our times of rest (whether alone or with family) as well as in moments of sharing and serving others.

Though making changes can be difficult, it’s remarkable how small adjustments can make a big difference. As you consider how God may be leading you to be more generous, we hope you will feel renewed in this Lenten season and beyond.

About the Author

m-deball-9-2016Matt DeBall is the COMPASS Communications Coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He also serves as Coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Communication Arts from Judson University of Elgin, Illinois. He loves running, reading, and napping. He and Chelsea live in Northern Illinois with their Welsh Corgi, Watson, and attend the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you’ve read? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Starting Point: Community and Shared Stories

By Dori Zerbe Cornelsen

mbchef76It’s the week after Christmas. In a cartoon sent to me by a colleague last week, we see a person at a store service counter, overflowing bags in hand, saying to the cashier, “I try to keep the Christmas spirit by having credit-card debt all year long.”

It’s hard to avoid the over-spending at Christmas when you get sucked into the vortex of shopping, even when it originates from a place of love and generosity for your favourite people. Maybe the new year is a time to blaze a new trail with others that can help remind us that we can show our affection to those we love without the hefty price tags. One resolution might be to find a support network, a community of people, with whom we can find a path that leads us toward God’s good news of enough for all.

In his book, Money and Faith: the search for enough (2008 Morehouse Education Resources), road-815297_1280Michael Schut writes in the introduction about the need for telling stories to ground us on our journeys of faith. He writes: “I believe that in telling and listening to our stories, we discover signs of God’s passing and presence – faith tracks, haunting harmonies, flickering images, unspeakable longings. Author Frederick Buechner… contends that each of our journeys through this life is sacred.”

Schut speaks of our own sacred journeys and their many layers, including those that expose our experiences with abundance and scarcity:

When we begin to plumb, poke, or peek into our relationship with money, that exploration often leads to… questions of trust, security, values, and to experiences of abundance and joy, as well as scarcity and fear. When we get in touch with those sorts of experiences, we need not travel far to discover moments of holiness, moments that deeply inform our sense of who God is and whether or not we feel we will be provided for in this life.

Our stories are meant to be shared in the company of others. In Deuteronomy 8, the writer tries to ground the people of God in their journey of faith by recalling the story they have lived. They were just about to receive the promise of the good land filled with streams of water, harvests of grains, fruits and honey, and extractable resources for wealth generation. Having sojourned in the wilderness for decades, this was good news! But their wilderness story wasn’t supposed to be forgotten and the writer reminds them:

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God… Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery… (Deuteronomy 8:10-14).

With whom can we journey this year, with what community can we surround ourselves, that calls us to remember God’s desire for us is not to depend on our own power and entitlement? With whom can we find a circle that encourages us to find the way of generosity together? We don’t have to do this alone – our faith isn’t just between us and God. Sharing our stories can weave us into communities of faith that ground our journey with money in God’s values.

About the Author

dori_zc-abundance-profile-pictureDori Zerbe Cornelsen is a Gift Planning Consultant with Abundance Canada, encouraging and inviting generous living.  She and her husband Rick live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where lots of generous, warm people live in cold temperatures for 6 months of the year.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Reconsidering consumerism

By John Withum

It was Christmas Eve 2014, and I was in panic mode.

vrcvr4qdFor a few years, my wife and I set Christmas budgets on what we could spend for each other. We left a little wiggle room, but always tried to stick to it. I had spent my budget, but the pile of presents under the tree seemed unimpressive. She was having a rough year at work, and I felt guilty that I had not put more effort into selecting her gifts. And that explains how I ended up spending almost $100 on last minute gifts at Target.

What in the world caused me to attempt to satisfy an emotional response with inanimate objects? Searching for the answer led me to re-examine the messages consumer capitalism has sold me about my self-worth, particularly around the winter seasonal celebrations.

Beginning almost immediately after the front doors have closed on the last trick-or-treaters, retailers roll out deals and decorations for the variety of celebrations between November 1 and December 26. Interestingly, very few of these sales focus on Thanksgiving, and most of them skip straight to the end of December. Why? No one gives Thanksgiving presents.

Consumer capitalism, at least the variety found in the United States, utilises every opportunity it can to earn money on the emotional response to various holidays and special days in cultures. As winter celebrations have continued to evolve in the U.S., consumer capitalism has ensured it has a hand in shaping public formation around two traditions: traditional winter cultural celebrations and the actual Christian holiday of Christmas.

Where did most of what we know as the “holiday season” in the United States originate? The long, dark winters of northern Europe is as good of a place as any to start. Think yule santa-claus-1628845_1280logs, wassail, the various iterations of “Santa Claus” (such as Sinterklaas from the Netherlands, Father Christmas from England, Kris Kringle from Germany), trees, and stockings. There are many, many more to be mentioned, but hopefully this is enough to make the point. It is easy for capitalism to co-opt these winter celebrations because, being cultural, they have developed over long periods of time. They can be further exploited by retail marketing, advertising executives, and businesses who are interested in cashing in on good feelings. Most of these traditions being exploited are from northern Europe, where the lack of daylight in winter months has encouraged celebrations revolving around community, light, warmth, and rebellion against the darkness.

What is surprising is how easily marketers have drawn in classic Christian celebrations of Christmas. The whole message of Christmas, in the words of Christian author Scot christmas-1010749_1280McKnight, is “about a God who entered into the world in a socially shamed family in order to lift the socially shamed to the highest name ever.” It is about Israel’s true king being born into a feed trough while the false king of Israel murdered children. Christmas, situated at the end of Advent, must deal with looking back on the moment when our help in this world arrived and looking forward to the day when justice and righteousness reigns in fullness through Jesus’ return to Earth.

There is a long history—dating back to the late 300s—of Christmas being used to lure followers of Jesus away from the sort of northern European pagan celebrations mentioned earlier. It seems, sadly, that Christmas has a bad reputation for being compromised. For whatever reasons, Christians have constantly been willing to trade the deep, world-shaking message of Christ’s arrival for a more comfortable place in society. It is not insignificant to consider the trade-off of message for comfort began after Constantine imposed the will of the Roman empire on the church by declaring Christianity the official religion in 317 C.E.

And here we are today. We are still trading comfort for our witness in the world. We would still rather tell our children about Santa Claus than have them be outcasts. We continue to drain our wallets and pile up debt in the name of hoping our loved ones feel our love in the weight of the possessions in their hands. We want to go with the flow of society, except on Sunday when it’s time to proclaim and sing the Scriptures of old about the arrival of our Saviour. Jesus Christ, Son of God, forgive us.

fireplace-croppedConsumer capitalism helps all of us to feel better about all of this by appealing to the same sensitivities that gave birth to the aforementioned winter traditions. The sunlight grows short, the darkness grows long, the cold creeps in—so bring us light displays and fireplaces. The change in the season often brings loneliness—so tell us it is time for families and parties at your local chain restaurant. We become thankful for all the people who help us get through the tough seasons of life—so thank them with lots of gifts, purchased online or at your local retailer.

But what if we flipped the script on consumer capitalism and collusion with old pagan traditions? When we realise God is not far from us (Acts 17), we see there could be one thing the winter celebrations have to offer: the focus on light.

Read John 1. Read Isaiah 9. The arrival of Jesus Christ is a light in the darkness. These old winter celebrations are awake to a reality that darkness is difficult to live with, and light is necessary for survival; what they miss is how the light truly arrives and is manifested. God sent his light in the world to illuminate the darkness, and has called followers of Jesus out of the darkness to be witnesses to this light.

When we are confronting the darkness as followers of Jesus the Light, we must be careful not to fall prey to the traditional consumer capitalistic agendas for our world. Splashing the cash on a bunch of gifts is not going to bear witness to the Good News of God being born to rescue the world. There must be a difference between the way we behave towards Christmas—a Christian holy day—and whatever this watered down, consumer capital nonsense is. It begins by asking ourselves what is actually redemptive, especially in the face of what the rest of culture tells us.

Most of us, at this time of year, have calendars full of events and activities. What if we reconsidered which of those were actually important? Colossians 4:5 (NLT) tells us to “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity.” Carefully consider what is occupying so much of your precious time. Which social events will be enhanced by your presence and allow you to spread the light? Which events are merely obligations and only require you to “make an appearance”? Your presence and absence is a message to others, and we are poor stewards of our time if we say yes to every gathering.

If our time matters, then it makes little sense to spend our time in stores (or online shopping!) when that time could be used to remind your starbanner-boxloved ones, children, etc. that they are actually a priority in your life. Use the opportunity to rest and recharge (which is absolutely a biblical response to free time) or to find a way to increase the light of Jesus in your neighbourhood, community, or family. Again, if how we spend our time makes a statement, it will make a statement to our families if we are spending time with them rather than being elsewhere.

What about the thorny business of gift-giving? We can fairly thoroughly dismantle lots of the persuasions of consumer capitalism, but since childhood, we have been taught to expect we will give and receive gifts at this time of the year. Our desire to please our loved ones is not intrinsically bad; our desire to quantify our love with possessions is. We have a choice of whether to buy presents for a few people who we truly love and care about, or a lot of people we feel obligated to give a gift to. When we pare down the list, we can reduce the time and potential financial damage due to guilt, and we can increase how much the gift means to us. My uncle regularly travels throughout the country, and takes beautiful pictures everywhere he goes. One year for Christmas, he combined some of his photographs with my mother’s favourite hymn out of an ornate older hymnal and presented it to her in a beautiful frame. It was very thoughtful, and it hangs on her wall to this day.

This is also an excellent time to teach our children new expectations when it comes to gifts. I grew up making lists of desired toys from adverts in the newspaper, then eagerly storming the living room on Christmas morning to see the piles of presents I expected. No matter what the haul was, I always felt empty by Christmas evening. The presents were opened, the meals were eaten, and there was no longer anything to look forward to. If we teach our children early about the good news of Christmas, and tell them in their terms about our priorities for Christmas, we create an opportunity to form their lives around the Gospel rather than consumer capitalistic desires. Consider the “Want, Need, Wear, Read” approach. It involves buying one thing your child wants, one thing she is in need of, one thing to wear, and a new book to read. This allows children to see gifts as purposeful, meaningful, and that there is more to Christmas than wrapping paper.

Reconsidering our behaviour towards Christmas is not nearly as tidy as tweaking a few shopping habits or taking back our calendars. These long-held consumeristic patterns are tied up with our emotions and, often times, can mingle with our fears of hurting someone’s feelings or disappointing our children if we change these ways. To be sure, toes will be stepped on and boundaries must be created and enforced.northern-lights-984120_1280

Since the fateful trip to Target two years ago, my wife and I have slowly taken back Christmas’s meaning in our lives. We started a Christmas morning pancake breakfast and service at our church for anyone who needs a warm, bright, inviting place to be. We have tamed the number of people we buy gifts for, and focus on gifts that involve spending time with the ones we love. And this year, rather than giving each other gifts, we are scratching an item off our bucket list and going to Minnesota to see the northern lights.

Reclaiming Christmas is hardly easy, but it is worth it.

About the author

Processed with VSCOcam with kk1 presetJohn Withum is the associate pastor of the First Baptist Church of Aurora, Illinois. He also serves as the recess supervisor at a local elementary school. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Journalism from Marshall University of Huntington, West Virginia. He and his wife, Katie, live in Northern Illinois with their dog, Bacon.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Finding Your Enough: A Personal Reflection

By Timothy Siburg

Two and a half months ago my wife Allison and I packed up all of our worldly belongings- our countless boxes of books, dressers full of clothes, and our entire winter wear wardrobe. With the help of our family, we loaded all of it, except for one car load’s worth, in a moving container, and then watched as it was driven out of sight in early mid-August.

Now we’re in Nebraska. We know where we will be living, but can’t quite move in yet. We are excited to dive deeply into our roles and callings. And even though we don’t have our own home right now, we have been graciously welcomed by the local Lutheran camp, and two great friends who have been hosting and housing us.

small-wooden-house-906912_1920This past month, as we have lived without our own space in Nebraska, has been an “in-between time of sorts.” Or, perhaps as one of my favorite pastors likes to say, a wilderness time. It’s been a beautiful time to reflect, live simply, and be in community with those hosting us.

The other day, Allison leaned over and asked, “do you miss our stuff?” I said, “sort of,” and then proceeded to ask her the same question. Allison said, “nope. It’s been great.” Perhaps one day we’ll be a “Tiny House” family yet? Though we’ll definitely have to downsize our library of books.

This experience has been one where we have had to make do with less. And you know what, strangely, we have. And it hasn’t been bad at all. It’s been a chance for me to think about what indeed is my enough.

What does your enough look like?postergen-chalkboard-generator-i-have-enough-and-i-am-enough

Besides a sense of having enough stuff, there is the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual sense of being enough. Allison likes to remind me of the work of author Brene Brown.

Among many of the great quotes Brene Brown has shared, she has said that, “We are living in scarcity. If we want change, choose gratitude and joy over scarcity.”

For me, this means deeply knowing and being reminded that I have enough and I am enough.

Feeling called, loved, and affirmed, and helping others feel the same, that’s enough for me. Being able to help others grow and be better at what they do, that fulfills me. And knowing that God is with me, and being open to whatever that relationship and call looks like, is more than enough and opens up doors to experiences like the one I am having now in this in-between time of life, with more than enough.

About the author
timothy headshot
Timothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison has been called to be an ELCA pastor, and the two of them reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.

Image credits: pixabay.com, postergen.com/chalkboard-generator

Enough Already!

By Marcia Shetler
websters-dictionary-enough

Enough is an interesting word. Sometimes we use it to express a sense of satisfaction, and other times to declare our annoyance. In North America, though, when it comes to money, sometimes we find it hard to say “enough.” Our consumeristic culture entices us to always want more, and we get caught in financial traps that leave us with more obligations than resources to pay for them. How do we find our enough? That’s the question the COMPASS Initiative is exploring this month.

In his book Simple Money: A No-Nonsense Guide to Personal Finance, author Tim Maurer points out that our values greatly influence how we manage our money and how we find our enough. He says that values are simply:

  • “. . .the stuff in life that we want to be about.
  • That which we want to define us.
  • The guideposts that we want to live by.”

anchor-1023439_1920He goes on to say, “Values are critical as anchors for our goals and boundaries for the actions we take to achieve them. But most of all, they make the hardest decisions in life much easier by helping us prioritize what truly is the most important. Understanding what you value most will help simplify even the most complex financial decisions.”

Maurer introduces his readers to George Kinder, an expert in studying the intersection of money and life. in Kinder’s book The Seven Stages of Money Maturity, he invites imagining that you are financially secure—that you’ve reached your enough—and answering these questions:

  • How would you live your life?
  • What would you do with the money?
  • What would you change?

As followers of Jesus, our values are influenced by what we read in Scripture, what we learn bible-983105_1920from others in our faith community, and how we are led by God’s Spirit through our relationship with our Creator. This month, this blog and other COMPASS resources will provide you with many opportunities to consider how you can find your enough from a Christian perspective. Each week new articles here on the COMPASS blog will provide practical ideas, personal reflections, and spiritual insights. Follow our Twitter feed and join us on Facebook all month long for great curated content on the topic. And learn about resources on the COMPASS web page that you can use for further in-depth study.

Finally, join us in a Live Chat with Shane Claiborne on Wednesday, October 19, 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific. Shane is a founder and board member of The Simple Way, a faith community in inner city Philadelphia that has helped birth and connect radical faith communities around the world. He writes and travels extensively speaking about peacemaking, social justice, and Jesus. Shane’s books include Jesus for President; Common Prayer; Follow Me to Freedom; Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers; and his classic The Irresistible Revolution. He has been featured in a number of films including “Another World Is Possible” and “Ordinary Radicals.” Shane’s adventures have taken him from the streets of Calcutta where he worked with Mother Teresa to the wealthy suburbs of Chicago where he served at the influential mega-church Willow Creek, and to some of the most troubled regions of the world such as Rwanda, the West Bank, Afghanistan, and Iraq. You won’t want to miss this energizing and engaging Chat! Register today at stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats. People of all ages are welcome!

The COMPASS Steering Committee and I look forward to journeying with you this month as we meet each other on Facebook, Twitter, and at our Live Chat, to gain new insights into Finding Your Enough!

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler became the Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center in March 2011. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible Certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Reducing College Debt: a Group Ride. A community slides toward lower education loans.

debt-1376061_1280By Devon Matthews

When Jordan and Candace Shoenberger got married, they faced a problem common among young adults today: massive student loan debt. Together they owed $170,000 from their undergraduate education.

Both social workers, they had a monthly loan payment that was burdensome. They deferred the loans as long as possible and went back to graduate school. This only left them with more debt.

Jordan heard about a group of people who pooled money into a common fund called Relational Tithe to meet the needs of their community. It was founded by Christian activists Shane Claiborne and Darin Petersen. “It was modeled after what the apostles did in the early church. They held everything in common, and no one was in need. It’s an old idea, but a beautiful one,” Jordan said.

He and several friends created a way to use a common fund to reduce student debt. It was named SLED, the Student Loan Experiment (the D doesn’t stand for anything but makes it a catchy acronym).

Each month, members of the group contribute to a common bank account. A payment is disbursed to one group member to make an extra principal payment toward the student loan with the highest interest rate.

This extra payment shortens the length of the loan and decreases the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Each group member continues to pay the minimum payments on their student loans.

snow-1283278__180SLED’s first cycle lasted twelve months, with six people receiving two disbursements each. Over the course of the year, each receiving member was able to pay down an additional $2,000 of their outstanding debt, totaling $12,000 as a group. These extra payments saved the group a collective $15,000 in future interest payments, shortening their collective loans by eliminating ninety-six monthly payments.

The second cycle of SLED is in progress, with twenty-four participants and lasting eight months. Over this time, the group will distribute $8,400 to eight members. After this cycle is complete, the program will be re-evaluated and directions discerned for the next term.

SLED has been successful in grounding the group beyond financial aid for its members. The group has committed to building community and developing relationships with each other that go beyond assisting each other with debt.

Once a month, they share a meal and talk about financial topics that interest them. Past conversation starters have included, How did your family view money, and how has that shaped your own view on money? and, In what ways have you started to plan for the future and for retirement?

Group members reflect that belonging to SLED has created solidarity around a situation that often carries a stigma. Being in a community where members can be vulnerable about their financial challenges is freeing and creates space for positive and realistic conversations.

Group members are optimistic about SLED’s future. Kaleem Kheshgi imagines SLED becoming “a resource for sharing lessons and best practices in financial responsibility among young people with education debt.” He could imagine speaking in churches, high schools, and colleges, helping borrowers make wise financial decisions regarding debt.

John Davis envisions SLED encouraging inter-generational conversations about the realities of student debt and its effect on communities. “This difficult conversation could lead to a deeper level of vulnerability on other issues, as well as making use of the collective wisdom and experience,” said John.

This blog post is a condensed version of an article that was first published in Everence’s Everyday Stewardship magazine and appears in volume 18 of the Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine.

About the Author
Devon Matthews, a member of SLED, lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He, his wife Kristen and many other SLED members attend Pittsburgh Mennonite Church. For more information, contact SLED at SLEDPGH@gmail.com.

About COMPASS
This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow COMPASS on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com