This year has been gut-wrenching for many on almost every level: a global pandemic sweeping through our country has left well over 200,000 dead and many other sick, the restrictions many states have enacted have left many others without work, especially those who labor in the service and hospitality industries, and political and social unrest has roiled the country. The headlines every day are rarely encouraging. Many pastors and church leaders are leading from a position of uncertainty, especially economically.
While many of our ministries have stabilized because of the faithful giving of Christians, still we are nervous about future economic stability. What economic flourishing points toward Christians often have a tense relationship with the economy. On the one hand, we understand that missions and ministry is supported by the generous giving of God’s people. It takes money to hire and train and employ and publish. And yet we understand that a love of money, an all-out obsession with dollars and cents can be thoroughly corrupting. What’s more, Christians in prosperous countries like the United States can easily become too conformed to the age, too pursuant of a materialistic life that robs them of the cross-bearing, self-denying call to follow Jesus into his mission in the world.
Pastors are right to call their people away from an obsession with the American Dream and into a life of holiness and sacrifice for the kingdom of God. And yet, as much as prosperity can be corrupting, we shouldn’t necessarily root for economic despair in our country either. Economic flourishing in a society means that people in our communities have meaningful work, jobs that help them fulfill their God-given dignity and contribute to healthy, vibrant communities.
Seek the good of the city
Recessions and depressions have real world consequences that can be crushing: Men and women who can’t support their families, the poor who get even poorer, and the accompanying physical and mental toll that often results in more social brokenness. Of course we know that God can often use such times of despair to get people’s attention, to revive his church and to awaken a sense of their own mortality to draw people to himself. And during times of despair, we should earnestly pray and plead for the Spirit of God to visit us in this special way.
Revival often follows times of national suffering. These moments can wrench us away from our idolatries. Still, I don’t think we should root for bad economic news that crushes our neighbors. What’s more, I think we should root for our communities to flourish in every way, economically, socially, and more. If the Jewish exiles in Babylon were instructed by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 29) to “seek the welfare of their cities” and if Paul instructed Timothy to pray for the wisdom of our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-3) if we take seriously Jesus’ command to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” we should pray for and take joy in good economic news.
A good economy means our neighbors have meaningful work, our families are provided for, and the network of public and private institutions are funded to be able to care for those who are under-resourced. A good economy means our churches and institutions have resources to do their best work. A good economy means that many escape the idleness, despair, and crime that often result from unemployment and poverty.
Community flourishing leads to greater flourishing
We shouldn’t worship at the altar of the economy and should fight the insidious corruption of materialism and yet we can do that and still root for community flourishing and our country to flourish in ways that help lift up our neighbors. Pastors can do this by preaching to this tension, both uplifting what the Bible says about the dignity of work and industry and creativity, and warning against the love of money.
We should resist sending the message that the nine-to-five careers of our people are somehow less of a calling than those of us who work for non-profit or Christian organizations. And we can encourage all kinds of work in our local church, from businesses owners to blue collar workers to stay at home moms to public officials. And we can give our people permission to rejoice when they read good economic headlines.