Expert Witness

Money: What Is It Good For?

If you’re grappling with questions about money, success, and financial planning, Thrivent Financial is here to help. Find out from Thrivent why we as Christians need to think deeper about money.

The mission of Thrivent Financial is to help Christians be wise with their money so they can live content, confident and generous lives. The “War Cry” spoke with two representatives of Thrivent at the recent Evangelical Press Association Convention to inquire about what they see as troubling cultural trends and personal perceptions of money, how the publication of its major book, “Inspiring Generosity,” explores biblical conceptions of money and generosity as portrayed through classical art, and advice they would give—particularly to young people—about money, success and financial planning. 

War Cry: Why did Thrivent undertake the publication of “Inspiring Generosity,” which is a remarkable compilation of artwork and supporting descriptions and explanations that drive home the book’s message? 

Joanna Reiling Lindell, Director and Curator, Thrivent Collection of Religious Art: Scripture says a lot about money. There are only a few stories in the book that are directly connected to finances. But there are so many ways (and so many incredible stories) to consider what generosity means. Generosity can be a complex and challenging reality. It’s not simply the good feeling that comes from sharing philanthropically—as wonderful as that is. Generosity runs much deeper than that. 

We also created the book as a way to share Thrivent’s collection of original art. Thrivent has worked hard to collect and preserve historic biblical art connected to Christianity, from the likes of Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn and many others, including contemporary artists. The collection exists to be shared. Not everyone is able to come to our gallery in Minneapolis to see it. We also loan pieces from our collection. Now we have this resource to share our collection with more people.

WC: I have to give a shout-out to Albrecht Dürer. His work is exquisite. 

Joanna: He is one of my favorites. He and Rembrandt are two of the greatest printmakers in the history of Western art. They were great artists of the Bible and of religious subject matter. Dürer was a technical genius. It’s amazing that every black line in his prints represents an exacting etching in wood. He was profoundly devout in his faith and a brilliant entrepreneur as well. 

Callie Briese, Director of External Affairs and Executive Editor, Thrivent Magazine: So often, we look at generosity as a transaction—I’m going to give you money; I’m going to give you my time. That is very well and good. But there’s so much more that goes into living a generous life—in the way we interact, in hospitality, in kindness. The book tells stories that are obviously associated with generosity, like the widow’s mite. But it also talks about things like God sending His Son to Earth as itself an incredible act of generosity. We don’t always think of such examples that go well beyond transactional generosity.

WC: How did Thrivent come to be? 

Callie: Thrivent was started in the 1900s when two organizations merged to help their Lutheran neighbors in the event of an unexpected death. It served as a way to pool resources and grew to offer financial services such as insurance, so people would not be pushed into poverty. In 2013, our members said they want our children and grandchildren who don’t identify as Lutheran to take advantage of Thrivent, so members voted to extend their common bond to all Christians. That is where we serve today. We offer a full range of financial services. Our goal is to help Christians think deeper about money. 

What I love to see is when someone changes their perception about money. The stress goes away, because you are planning for the future. And it is soul-satisfying when someone sees how to use their money to reflect their faith. They take on a stewardship mindset. 

WC: How do you define stewardship?

Callie: We would say stewardship is defined as “all we have is a gift from God.” All of it, whether our time, our talents, our treasures. Whether a person lives off a finite sum or a salary, we are called to be good stewards of that. Time, for example—I am called to use my time wisely for work, for church, for volunteering, for family. It may mean that I don’t make big bucks, but that I’m living out my calling with the talents God has given me. 

WC: Do you feel you are fighting cultural trends?

Callie: Absolutely. We’re bombarded by messages every day telling us we need more. We need to be more, buy more, have more. This idea of more permeates our society. The concept of enough doesn’t. What we are fighting against requires a paradigm shift. Helping Christians think deeper about money means deciding to buy what we need, to buy enough. How do I determine what’s enough for me? Taking on a stewardship mindset means using my money to reflect my faith. It means making conscious, wise financial decisions. It means not striving to please this mindset of more and more and more. 

WC: What troubles you about how people tend to handle money these days? 

Callie: I am troubled by the joy we are missing out on as a society. We live in a me-first world. We tend to focus on what we don’t have instead of on using well what we do have. That robs us of joy. It might lead to monetary happiness, but not long-term joy. In an interesting study by a university, ultra-affluent people with a net worth in the millions were asked, “How much would you need to feel like you had enough, that you were financially secure?” The consensus answer was 25% more. And that statistic of 25% is shown to be the same for someone making an average wage. It’s a mindset of wanting more instead of cherishing what we have. 

WC: A recent podcast talked about one of those happiness surveys, in which countries were ranked according to a happiness quotient. Denmark was identified as the happiest place, primarily because there is a high degree of social trust—not locking doors, leaving children outside to play, things like that. Of course, Denmark has a high rate of taxation, and resources to share, and perhaps the problem of inequality does not haunt that society as it does here. Those below the poverty line, at the bottom of the social and economic strata, naturally want more, want to achieve at least basic necessities. And The Salvation Army helps those dealing with brokenness, loss, problem behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse, lack of education, and economic dislocation. How do you see your work with individuals dealing with such individual need and social tension? 

Callie: Thrivent serves the middle class, primarily. We serve those just starting out, those who are struggling and those needing to find an income to sustain their families, as well as those who are better off. We want to inspire members to be more generous, to live a generous life, and that involves helping those who need help. There is this idea of a social community. We are called to be in this together. So we ask how collectively we can come together to make a difference. 

WC: How do you help people determine how much is enough? 

Callie: It’s a deeply personal question. Each person’s answer will be different. And I think it’s a question few people have asked themselves historically. It involves prayerful consideration of what God really wants from your life and how to live out what God calls you to be. 

WC: What advice would you give people, like a 26-year-old struggling with finding the right job or trying to deal with student debt while worrying about being able to handle the future? 

Callie: I would challenge them to change their idea of success. As a society we often measure success by how much money you have, how big a house you can buy, what make of car you drive, the latest gadget you own. I would advise that they look at what their talents are, where you can contribute to what God is calling you to do. If you look at it that way and find success in that, you are on a pathway to making wise financial decisions. We can’t give a blanket recommendation. We would need to sit down and assess the individual’s situation, but in general try and take the long-term view. It’s never too soon to do an examination of self and to consult with a financial professional. 

WC: What questions would you encourage people to ask themselves about financial and related matters? 

Callie: We have individuals ask questions to take a member on a journey to think differently about money. Questions like: “Who am I?”; What is my story?”; “What’s my enough?”; “What do I need to help me to fulfill that story from a financial perspective?”; “What do I need to help me?”; “Do I need to get out of debt?” 

Then we ask: “Who can I help?”; “How can I contribute to my church and my community?”; “How can I come alongside someone else?” We help them see money as a tool to live out their faith, rather than following this idea of getting, keeping up with the Joneses. It’s so freeing if you can get out of that mindset.

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