Today’s Economic Climate
We minister in tumultuous economic times. For youth workers and our students, money matters have rocketed to the top of our concerns. Here are some of my money lessons from more than 30 years of ministry-most of it working with youth.

Choose Impact over High Income
I’ve never had a large income, owned a luxurious house or the latest sports car; but I don’t regret my path-not for a minute. Choosing the path of greatest impact over the path of greatest income has led to richer experiences and richer memories-much more deeply satisfying than a richer bank account.

After seminary, I co-pastored a church, later feeling the call to full-time youth ministry. I took a drop in salary but experienced an increase in impact potential. Then the walls to Eastern Europe toppled, and Slovakia longed for youth worker training and materials. So, I accepted God’s call to missions. After my wife was diagnosed with cancer, we returned to the States; and I became a writer of youth ministry resources, which I continue to be into my 50s. I have a worldwide impact through my written resources.

From pastor to youth minister to missionary to writer isn’t exactly moving up the corporate ladder. To make ends meet and plan for the future, I had to take a closer look at the Scripture about money management and get a lot of advice from wise people along the way.

Find a Biblical Balance Between Income and Impact
My theological mentor, Robertson McQuilkin, used to say, “It’s easier to go to a consistent extreme than to stay in the center of biblical tension.”

Applied to my personal money management, that means, “It’s easier to consistently think ‘reach the world’ (Matthew 28:18-20) than to keep it in tension with ‘save for the future’ (Proverbs 6:6-8). Both are biblical. Both can be spiritual.

Because having inadequate savings seems more foolish than spiritual, youth workers who aren’t saving might consider several options: discovering creative ways to live beneath your means; asking for a raise; seeking a job that pays more; and/or securing secondary streams of income.

“Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well'” (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6).

As a youth pastor, I started writing on the side to try to make ends meet. It’s one of the best moves I ever made.

Travel Light
If the latest material things aren’t essential to happiness (Philippians 4:12), then why collect them? Again, balance this with God providing us with “everything for our enjoyment” (2 Timothy 4:17). Material things aren’t bad in and of themselves; but if we’re content with Jesus, why adopt the world’s obsession with collecting shiny new things?

This is how “traveling light” looked to me in youth ministry:
• Driving inexpensive, reliable cars that are paid off. Today, one of our cars has more than 150,000 miles on it, and the other has more than 200,000-and they’re both running well.
• Owning a house with a mortgage payment far beneath our means so we’re not constantly harried by the task of making ends meet or choosing ministry opportunities based solely on compensation.
• Shopping thrift stores and discount stores instead of frantically following trends. (Hey, aren’t all our clothes “used” once we’ve worn them once?)
• Especially during times of deep recession, our students need examples of adults who are content with less and aren’t driven by a need to appear fashionable.

Think Long-Term
By planning ahead, Benjamin Franklin was able to retire in his early 40s and make a huge impact on the world. He never could have done it without working hard, working smart and living frugally.

By living frugally and refusing to incur debt in my early years, I’m now able to continue devoting myself to ministry in my latter years. Are you working and living in such a way that you’ll be able to continue making your mark in your 50s and beyond?

Never Stop Learning
My speaking mentor, Dan DeHaan, used to pray, “Lord, whenever I get comfortable, shake me up!” He knew that living in a comfortable rut wasn’t good for his spiritual development.

When I was a youth minister, I never allowed myself to get comfortable by merely doing what worked in the past (i.e., the safe route). The style of ministry that God used powerfully when I was in high school-bringing me before the throne each week in wide-eyed wonder-elicited yawns from the next generation. As youth change, so must our methods. What worked in previous decades, or even last year, may be largely irrelevant today.

To keep my ministry methods shaken up, I met regularly with area youth workers to share ideas. I read student ministry publications such as this one. I attended youth worker conferences. I asked my students and adult sponsors what they’d do differently if they were in charge.

As Al Rogers of the Global Schoolhouse Network has said, “In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

To keep my personal life shaken up, I kept getting wise counsel. This included learning about personal money management. Often when I prayed for help with my personal finances, God’s answer included, “Go gather wisdom!”

“For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her ” (Proverbs 8:11).

These days, I’m interviewing 100 people over 50 years old (that’s more than 5,000 years of experience!) about how they’d advise the younger generations regarding personal finances. What an untapped treasure! I’ll bet there are scads of older people in your church who never get asked for their wisdom. Why not do that?

Once I chose five of our wisest senior adults and put them on a panel before our youth group. A week prior, I asked the youth to write down questions they’d like to ask; then I gave these questions to the panelists a few days before the session. During the session, youth took turns standing up and reading each question. The answers were very insightful-a home run.

The more we learn, the greater our impact. The more we learn, the more secure our jobs become. The more we learn, the more adaptable we become to the ever-changing world of youth.

Teach What You’re Learning
After reading wheelbarrows full of books on personal finance, reflecting on hundreds of Scripture verses about money and interviewing scores of people, somebody suggested that I try to put my big points into a short, memorable outline that I could use to teach others. Here’s what I came up with. (I expand on it at and in my book, Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It.) The five points correspond with your thumb through each finger, as a mnemonic device. Perhaps you can pass it on to your students:

Catch a Vision.

Most aim at nothing and hit it every time. Warren Buffett, the wealthiest living American, caught his financial vision in elementary school and never let go. A long-range goal can transform accumulating wealth from drudgery into a fun game. Don’t let a slow economy get you down. God has good plans for you!

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

“Good people leave an inheritance for their children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22).

Work Hard.
Most first-generation millionaires say they work harder than most people. Warren Buffett and Sam Walton began early with paper routes and odd jobs.

“The plans of the diligent lead to profit” (Proverbs 21:5).

Get Wisdom.
Getting wisdom includes sharpening your skills, growing in character and growing in knowledge. Benjamin Franklin’s father often repeated Proverbs 22:29 to his son: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” Young Benjamin put those words into practice and eventually stood before five kings.

Wisdom is central because if you keep growing in wisdom, and you become the most skilled in your trade, you’ll likely receive top pay and be the least likely to be fired during a recession.

Wisdom speaking: “I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, to endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries” (Proverbs 8:20-21).

Commit to Living Way Beneath Your Means.
Many first-generation millionaires started out working the same jobs as everyday people, but they learned to live cheaply so they could save and invest. Ron Blue spent most of his life studying money management, writing about it (more than 12 books) and advising people about their money. One day, somebody asked him to sum up all he’d learned about personal money management in a few words. Here’s how he responded: “Spend less than you earn, and do it for a long time.”

“He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich” (Proverbs 21:17).

“The wise store up choice food and oil, but fools gulp theirs down” (Proverbs 21:20).

So how do we cut back? We stop worrying (Psalms 49:16-17; Proverbs 24:1); stop coveting (Deuteronomy 5:21); and learn contentment (1 Timothy 6:6-8; Philippians 4:12).

Invest Regularly.
It may seem like a small amount of money, but investing just $20 a week starting early in life can multiply into millions later.

“Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land” (Ecclesiastes 11:1).

So what’s it all for? To buy bigger toys? To impress? No…

Help Others.

The fun of having money goes beyond acquiring more stuff. Money allows us to help others in need and make a difference in the world. Many studies show that giving people are happier people.

“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).

J. Steve Miller is author of Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It ( is founder and president of Legacy Educational Resources. Located in Atlanta, he provides Web-based resources for youth workers ( and public school teachers ( and speaks to audiences from Atlanta to Moscow. His wife, Cherie, and seven sons freely let him know what does and does not work.

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