Our consumer culture promotes one overarching goal: More! In countless ways, both subtle and overt, we’re told we don’t have enough. We need a bigger house, a newer car, a nicer vacation, more money in savings, and on it goes.
In the face of such a messaging onslaught, a small but apparently growing number of Christians are declaring — and encouraging others to declare — they don’t need more. They have enough. They describe it as “setting a financial finish line.”
Chicago-area financial planner Tim Mohns first heard of the idea about 10 years ago through his involvement with Kingdom Advisors, an organization for Christian financial professionals.
“As a Christian, I was used to thinking in terms of, ‘How much should I give?’ Then I was challenged to flip the question around to, ‘How much should I keep?’ But it’s actually about something bigger than that. It starts with the question, ‘Is Jesus really Lord? If so, how do I steward what he has entrusted to me? And more specifically, how much do I keep for myself versus how much should flow through my hands as a conduit of God’s love?’”
For Mohns, setting a financial finish line started as a six-month experiment. He was making about $300,000 per year, but was increasingly concerned that his work may be at cross-purposes with God. As he helped people achieve financial independence, he worried that he might be fostering spiritual independence.
Challenged by a friend to join a ministry that would have paid him one-third of what he was making, Mohns and his wife decided to see if they could live on that amount. Ultimately, they sensed God directing him to continue as a financial advisor, but they kept their lifestyle capped at what he would have earned in the ministry.
God’s blessings quickly became apparent. In 2008, when the market fell, they weren’t forced to live on less; they had already decided to. “I had a huge lack of fear. So, there was a freedom that I would not have known.”
Since then, Mohns and his wife have been able to increase the flow of their financial resources toward Kingdom purposes.
A financial finish-line framework
A new book unpacks the idea of setting a financial finish line in more detail. God and Money, by John Cortines and Gregory Baumer, describes their journey of generosity. Both found early career success, meeting at Harvard Business School where they earned MBAs and initially dreamed of million-dollar homes and early retirements. At the time, Cortines even used the online password “Retire_at_40.”
They were already committed Christians and in the habit of giving at least 10 percent of their incomes, but a prompting to read the Bible from front to back opened Baumer’s eyes to how much God’s Word says about money. Then, a class about God and money at Harvard’s Divinity School challenged them further, turning their dreams of increasingly comfortable lifestyles into dreams of increasingly generous lives.
A term paper for the class turned into the book, God and Money, in which they candidly share many financial details of their lives, including the finish lines they and their wives have established for their families.
While trying to avoid being overly prescriptive, the book provides a framework for establishing finish lines in the areas of lifestyle spending, savings, and net worth. They acknowledge that there are seasons of life and individual circumstances to consider. For many people earning low to moderate incomes, the idea may never be realistic.
But for wealthier people, the authors suggest there comes a point when they objectively have enough. Setting financial finish lines through a thoughtful, prayerful process, and with the help of trusted counselors, could free tremendous resources to be used for ministry work.
An idea whose time has come?
While national studies point to relatively meager giving among Christians (for the past 100 years, American Protestants have given 2-3% of their income, according to research by Empty Tomb, Inc.), a survey Cortines and Baumer conducted among wealthy believers (median income of $200,000 - $400,000) gives hope for more generous days to come.
Among 200 respondents, a little over 50% reacted positively to the idea of setting lifestyle spending limits, with most placing the value of such a limit at less than $150,000 per year.
As for capping their net worth, 25% said they already have done this or plan to, and more than half said they found the idea intriguing, but had never heard of it or given it much thought. Once a net-worth limit is set, any amounts above that cap would be given toward Kingdom purposes.
Isn’t it wise to save?
Even for wealthier Christians, setting a financial finish line may seem unnecessary. After all, where does the Bible talk about this idea?
Mohns says while it isn’t tied to a specific verse, the idea comes from a biblical theme about wealth best expressed in 1 Timothy 6:17-19: “We have an opportunity to take hold of the life that’s truly life. That comes from not putting our hope in wealth, but being willing to share.”
Still, even in the pursuit of good stewardship, some may wonder whether it makes sense to cap retirement savings. After all, no one knows what their medical or long-term care costs might turn out to be — or the cost of living, or the performance of the market, or…
Wouldn’t it be better to err on the side of having more than you really need and leave the excess to charity upon your death rather than run the risk of not having enough while you’re still alive?
“If God doesn’t exist, that makes all the sense in the world,” Mohns replied. “But think about this: If you trust that your faith in Jesus is good enough for all eternity, can’t you take God at his word when he says if you seek him first everything else will be taken care of?”
At first glance, it may seem that setting a financial finish line is a tangible way of rejecting the quest for more. But Mohns says that’s not quite right. He’s highly motivated by the pursuit of more — just a different type.
“I‘ve seen firsthand that the cultural definition of ‘more’ does not deliver the life that is truly life. Where I have experienced it — the only place — is in my relationship with Jesus. The ‘more’ that I want is more of what He has in mind for me.”
Mohns says that setting a financial finish line has taken away his fear of not having enough, provided a greater sense of purpose and adventure in his marriage, and given him a far stronger sense of calling in his work as a financial advisor where he regularly challenges people to set financial finish lines.
“One client worth about $12 million said, ‘If I take this advice, what’s that going to do to you? What will you have to manage and make money from?’ I said to him that if God isn’t in this we’re both in trouble!”