Saturday, October 13, 2007

Resource: Living with Less

Leader's Insight: Living with Less
Leading believers to embrace a simpler life (and 3 key questions to get us there).
by Chad Hall, Leadership guest columnist

Everywhere I go these days, big is in. My combo meal is super-sized, my SUV is third row, and the TV of my dreams is 62-inch plasma. We Americans are big eaters, big spenders, and big wasters. Even our churches are into big, owning big malls and even bigger coliseums in order to accommodate big crowds and enable big growth. Like the population at large, we Christians seem to have a growing acceptance of the bigger is better credo.

But all this growth might be creating some big problems.

Our society and systems seem unable of handling the never-ceasing expansion of want and need. Our souls are groaning and the planet is buckling beneath the collateral damage of growth. Landfills are full, the air is thick, and we cannot drink from many of our streams.
In light of our growing problems, maybe the church should give small a chance. I propose that ministry leaders are just the ones to help Christ followers exchange big for small. After all, leaders are supposed to help usher others toward something better (not just something bigger), so maybe we should start ushering folks toward living lives that are less hectic, less cluttered, less selfish and less toxic. And maybe instead of a big ad campaign advertising "LESS!" we should start living with less ourselves. Instead of the pulpit, maybe some personal choices would help slow down the growth, bring some sanity to our lives and make the world more livable.
Give less a chance.
Our family recently decided to sell our riding mower because its impact on the environment was not offset by its necessity. Shortly after, my wife quipped, "I think we're becoming tree-huggers."
How had it come to this? After all, I have a strong dislike of Birkenstocks, I think Michael Moore is a narcissist, and I appreciate creature comforts every bit as much as the next guy. So why is my family choosing to push-mow the lawn, ditch the extra television, and experiment with line-drying our clothes? I'm not sure how it all began or where it's going, but we've adopted a series of small questions that are redirecting our souls and may be benefiting the world around us.
Three small questions
Not to cast blame, but my journey toward less started with Randy Frazee. Prior to a conference in 2003, Randy and I had a dinner conversation during which he shared with me the somewhat radical lifestyle changes his family had made in order to make room for real relationships.
A few months later Randy wrote the book Making Room for Life. When my wife and I read that book, we started talking and eventually began asking the question of simplification , "Even though something is commonplace, do we really need it in our lives?"
With that question in mind, all sorts of things were up for grabs: buying a house in the "right" school district, needing two incomes, cell phones, minivans, and even (hold your breath!) signing our kids up for soccer. It was like a little compact fluorescent light bulb turned on to illuminate some of the chains of conformity we had allowed to make our decisions for us. We began to see how deeply we'd bought into culture's code of success being equated with more and more. The results of all this "more" were clutter and confusion and so we decided to simplify our lives. Removing some of the typical suburban clutter was a bit scary, but over the course of a few years, it really has begun to make room for life.
We soon discovered the joy of having fewer bills to pay, fewer trips to make, fewer calendars to juggle, and fewer agendas to manage. Lurking amidst the resource of free time, we discovered the pleasure of not just having neighbors, but of knowing our neighbors. Our lives soon began to revolve more and more around the half dozen or so families we considered to be our neighbors.
We soon recognized that our role as good neighbors meant significantly other than trying to get someone to attend this or that church. As we experienced the inherent value of people and place, we began to ask, "How can we live so that when Christ returns he won't have to work so hard to redeem our neighborhood?" This became our family's question of significance. We want to add kingdom value to the relational, spiritual and even physical environment we inhabit. Our interactions with neighbors have gone from enjoying their company to co-laboring with them for the good of our little corner of creation. Campfires in the backyard, pizza on Sunday nights, and building a tree house all took on kingdom significance because we were contributing to making things in our acres of earth a little more as they are in heaven.
From significance we took the small step to stewardship. A couple of months ago we picked up a book by medical doctor Matthew Sleeth entitles Serve God, Save the Planet. We've read with wide wonder about the ways his family scaled back their "quality of life" in order to have less impact on the planet. They got rid of their dishwasher and clothes dryer. They traded down to a house the size of their former garage. They produce a small bag of garbage every other week. Wow.
Reading such stories helps us see how a radical lifestyle aligns with living God's way. Now our family is asking the question of stewardship, "Will this choice make the world more like heaven or more like hell?" Our neighborhood of concern has expanded dramatically. Landfills, toxins, and making choices based on our own wants: these are the ingredients of hell. The new heaven and new earth will include none of these things, so why should we add them to this world now? When we choose concern over convenience and less over more, we are being kind to neighbors we have never met and honoring creatures God thought worthy of life.
Go thou and do likewise
I don't think our family is unique. We fight consumerism and selfishness and choices of convenience perhaps more than does the typical family of five. But small realizations are leading to simple questions that force important decisions in our everyday life (including which mower to use). All of this matters not because the environment is suddenly a hot topic, or because we worship Mother Earth, or think our spit will fill the ocean, but because the dots suddenly connect: when I live a gospel life I desire less stuff for myself, which frees up time and space for heavenly community, and this community includes places and people far away and even in the future.
So what does living and leading with less look like for you? What about your congregation? What if those you lead followed your example in removing the clutter, focusing on community and caring for creation? My hunch is that God would be pleased, you would find life more livable and the planet would breath a deep sigh of gratitude.
Chad Hall is a coach/consultant living in Cary, North Carolina, and the co-author of Coaching for Christian Leaders: A Practical Guide .

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