Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12
It is cliché to say that times are tough. It is also true. Some of the more dire prognosticators foretell of economic collapse globally and complete devaluation of the dollar. Money only has the value we give it and it is a means of converting our effort, skills, toil, expertise and investments into a portable and broadly acceptable format in exchanges for products or services offered by others. That is all money is.
When money has no value, OR when we are unable to convert our personal resources into money, that is the definition of economic hard times at its most fundamental level. Therefore, we are obligated to find other means of using our personal resources (skills, talents, gifts, strengths, passions) to obtain things we need/want for life.
Historically, before money, there was one primary option—barter. One directly traded what they had for what they needed from someone else. And, whenever money has been scarce or without value, barter is the means used to acquire needed resources. A certain synergy results in such transactions because often a stronger relationship is built between parties because what is exchanged is more than pieces of paper or metal, but a piece of ourselves that represents our time, effort and expertise. As believers we can set examples of this and many do.
In my own life, when I have had less money available, I have bartered my skills in various aspects from handyman to computer in exchange for professional services and even room and board. When I have had friends in worse shape than I, I have tried to reciprocate in ways that are mutually beneficial.
One way a friend and I mutually helped each other is with food. My friend had no income for a period of time and was not only not able to pay bills, but starting to go hungry. I am busy and rarely home to fix my own food, so spent a lot of money eating out or eating prepared foods, neither of which was particularly helpful, nor were these options inexpensive. So, I figured for the same money it takes to feed me unhealthy food, I could buy healthy, quality groceries so my friend with lots of time and skill could make nutritious, portioned meals for two. If we were both eating healthy, we would each prevent or reduce other health problems which would further reduce expenses for both of us. Thus, we would be free to use our time more efficiently with higher creativity, which might help my friend find income to pay the other bills, and what money was earned could go to those bills without having to also stretch to cover food.
The point is, we can find creative, synergistic ways to help out each other without costing someone lots of money. This is the heart of being the church—ministering and providing for each other in ways that maintains dignity and creates more than was there before, all to the glory of God. It is why the family is the primary structure of human society—each member works together for the good of the whole and forms a stronger unit. In our hyper-individualistic society, we have forgotten this and have lost sight of the benefits of family and community, believing we each are fully responsible for providing for our own selves.
Another benefit is mutual accountability. When we creatively barter like I am suggesting, then there are no handouts—there is no need for them and there is a counter-incentive. If I fail to buy the groceries, then both of us get hungry. If I instead go out to eat and spend the grocery money that way, then I become directly responsible for my brother or sister going hungry.
Each partner in the trade brings something to the table and each has some level of independence and say in how the details play out. I can choose some of what to buy, and my friend can choose how to prepare it. There is a healthy sense of dignity and pride that arises from this.
So, the questions become:
1) What are the needs you are struggling to meet?
2) What are needs others in your congregation are not meeting in their lives?
3) How can you work with them so that each meets more of the needs in ways that don’t cost more resources, but less for the group and the individuals therein?
4) Another way to ask the question is what needs are you meeting in your own life through the use of money that you can have met equally or better through a creative partnership with someone else?
5) What will be the impact on the types and strengths of the relationships in your congregation?
6) What will be the impact on your community when they see what is happening among you?
7) What will be the impact on the demand for bureaucratic services if we all found ways to do this, even just within the confines of our church? Then, what if we looked outward to our neighbors and communities?
8) How would this draw you closer to the Lord, corporately and individually?
9) What are you waiting for?
Prayerfully examine needs looking for creative solutions and implement them. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, worry about getting it started, then, don’t worry.