You’ve probably heard of the economic theory of conspicuous consumption. Where people go $350,000 into debt to buy a house in the right neighborhood. It’s ultimately a lie because they just went into debt to prove how much they were worth.
And the left-leaning Prius crowd has now lead to the study of a new theory called conspicuous conservation. People buy a Prius to look green. It’s ultimately a lie because just drinking less milk would be better for the environment than buying a hybrid vehicle. (Did you know that plenty of people install solar panels on the wrong side of their house just to be seen as green? Insane.)
The general concept of both is that we are motivated to spend money on things that represent the person we’d like to be seen as being. Even if that’s not truly who we are. Trillions of dollars per year are spent (or indebted upon) because of these theories.
Both of those got me thinking about the church and parachurch ministry world I live in. And, while very few of us have Bentley… or even Prius kind of money… many of us practice an economic theory I’d like to call, conspicuous thrift.
We fall over ourselves to show how little money we’re making. And while many of us struggled at the beginning of our careers we are doing OK now. Sure, compared to a peer who owns a car dealership or is an accountant we can’t keep up.
But we will do everything in our power to keep up the appearance of thrift.
- I don’t go on a nice vacation unless someone from my church hooked me up with a timeshare in the Keys.
- Vacation? Yeah, we can’t really afford that because we are so involved in short-term missions.
- Yes, this is a nice grill. Thanks for saying that Tim. A guy from my church installed it for me as a gift.
- I love golf but I only get to play when someone from church invites me. Plus, I’m super busy leading Bible studies.
- Yes, our kids do attend a private Christian school. But I get a discount because I’m a pastor.
- Yes, it is a new couch. I mean new to us. I got it off Craigslist.
- We have student loans because I went to a private Christian college. But it was for ministry training.
- I keep a very casual look, mostly from Kohl’s. Or the Salvation Army.
You get the idea. But the reality is that the prevailing concept is that ministry people don’t ever want to be seen as high on the hog. And they’ll got to great effort to make sure they are seen as thrifty.
I suppose we all have Jim & Tammy Faye to thank for this.
[And certainly, most of my peers in youth ministry will roll their eyes because they actually do make so little money that those are aspirations and not conspicuous thrift.]