Richer Is Always Better

When I was in first grade, one of the kids in my class told me how girls get pregnant. Before this, I hadn’t given it much thought. But now I knew the facts of life because Steven explained them to me. Here’s what he said:

If you look at a girl’s belly button, she’ll get pregnant.

I took it as a warning. And for a while, I was pretty concerned that I might accidentally see a girl’s belly button and get her pregnant.

Eventually I learned the truth about pregnancy. Actually, over time, I learned more of the “facts” of life, and the whole story became a little clearer.

Another kid told me, “If you kiss a girl, she’ll get pregnant.” Now this sounded a lot more plausible to me, but I started to wonder about my aunt who greeted everyone with a huge kiss on the face at all of our family gatherings…

What Steven and the other kid told me wasn’t the whole story. They didn’t have all the facts. I’m sure what they said had some truth to it. I’ve looked at my wife’s belly button before, and she did get pregnant – but as you probably already know, belly button sightings and pregnancy do not have a cause and effect relationship.

I used to believe that stuff about how girls become pregnant. Now I don’t, because I know there’s more to the story.

There’s something else I used to believe that I don’t anymore…

I used to believe that richer, louder, stronger, faster, bigger is always better.

For the sake of time, I’m just gonna talk about the richer part.

Maybe it’s because I grew up having frugal parents. Or maybe it’s because I watched every episode of Miami Vice. For whatever reason, as a young man ready to make my way in the world, I had an insatiable appetite for MORE. I wanted designer labels, expensive cars, and a big, big house with lots, and lots of rooms.

I believed richer is always better.

So I paid attention to preachers who preached on the virtues of MORE. I read books like The Richest Man in Babylon. I bought a Breitling “replica” (that’s the nice way of saying “knock-off”) from a shady character just off Canal Street in New York for $35 so I could fake it until I make it.



“Richer is always better” was the story I believed through my twenties and into my thirties. It shaped by attitude and actions. I admired rich people and looked down on the poor. I memorized Bible verses that seemed to reinforce the richer is always better story.

Slowly, over time, I learned more of the “facts” of life, and the whole story became a little more clear. Just like belly buttons and pregnancy, “richer is always better” is an incomplete picture.

When I went to the Dream Center in L.A., I saw a church that genuinely cared for the hurting, the broken, the marginalized, and the poor. And you know what? It looked like Jesus.

Then I went to New York and worked with Metro Ministries in the ghettos of Brooklyn – ministering to thousands of beautiful, underprivileged kids. And you know what? It looked like Jesus.

Then I went to Swaziland and worked alongside our missionary friends – feeding children, building makeshift church structures, providing a tiny cinderblock home for a single mother… And you know what? It looked a lot like Jesus.

A long time ago, my fake Breitling watch broke. Something else was breaking in my life too – the “richer is always better” story.

In recent years, I’ve been attempting to shape a church that looks kinda like the Dream Center and Metro Ministries and my missionary friends. We love giving backpacks filled with school supplies to the kids in our community every August. We purchase frozen turkeys and thanksgiving groceries and give them to families in need. We give hundreds of Christmas toys to children…

And I think it looks like Jesus.

I heard Richard Rohr talk about the wealthy being disadvantaged. He said riches numb us to the Kingdom of God. He also said we need the poor because they are more in tune with, and hungry for, the Kingdom of God than we are.

Jean Vanier, who works with the severely handicapped, said, “When people love each other, they are content with very little. When we have light and joy in our hearts, we don’t need material wealth. The most loving communities are often the poorest. If our own life is luxurious and wasteful, we can’t approach poor people. If we love people, we want to identify with them and share with them.”

I am thankful for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace teaching. It has helped my family to live debt-free and give more generously. Sometimes, however, he makes me uncomfortable because I hear that old story, “richer is always better.”

Yesterday, I saw this post on Dave Ramsey’s website, 20 Things the Rich Do Every Day – So what do the rich do every day that the poor don’t do?

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In my opinion, this doesn’t look like Jesus. It does send a clear message though: “richer is always better.”

After reading the Dave Ramsey post, I came across this Tweet from Christena Cleveland:

More often than not, the low-income people who attend predominantly middle-class churches are marginalized as “recipients” rather than invited in as “irreplaceable participants.”

It was a quote from a longer post she’d written…

“Many Christians have also forgotten about how much our leader Jesus went out of his way to value and embrace people from lower economic classes.

Jesus seemed particularly passionate about connecting across class lines, addressing the physical needs of the poor, and even commanding his followers to ensure that poor people are central to the life of the community:

‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…’ (Luke 14:12-13)

If we want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we must remind ourselves that Jesus addressed people’s physical needs, but he also affirmed people’s dignity.

Remember that financial independence is not one of the fruits of the Spirit. Chalk it up to the “protestant work ethic.” Blame it on our class-based culture in which high income earners are perceived as more valuable than low income earners. Attribute it to our false belief that money buys happiness. Regardless, we seem to think that people who are financially dependent are somehow less “holy” than people who are financially independent.

Mark Van Steenwyk, author of The Unkingdom of God, said it best: ‘A selfish middle class person is respected more than a generous homeless person.’”

Christena concluded her post by quoting Tim Keller:

“When you come upon those who are economically poor, you cannot say to them, ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!’ because you certainly did not do that spiritually.  Jesus intervened for you. And you cannot say, ‘I won’t help you because you got yourself into this mess,’ since God came to earth, moved into you spiritually poor neighborhood, as it were, and helped you even though your spiritual problems were your own fault… My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor.”  (from Generous Justice)

The story I used to believe says richer is always better. Now I know that’s not the whole story. I’m still learning – hopefully the story that looks a lot like Jesus.

QUESTION FOR YOU: How have your views on wealth changed over time?

This is part 1 of a 3-part series. Come back tomorrow for “Success Will Make My Insecurities Go Away” and on Thursday for “Catholics Aren’t Christians.”

I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

24 Comments to Richer Is Always Better

  1. Great blog, Brian. This is really good! When is your book coming out? I could read lots of this stuff. (btw, I intentionally left only space after each period. I did this to make your day.)

    • Brian Dolleman

      Thanks Dan! Especially for the one space after each period. Been working on trying to get a literary agent – so, I don’t have a timeline just yet. This thing takes longer than I imagined.

  2. I used to think money was everything. And although I believe that living financially debt-free is best, I no longer believe that wealth is defining.

    For Jason and I, I believe, that hanging with the “materially poor” is our sweet spot -better said something we enjoy and look forward to- and something we are very intentional about doing. I feel like when you are at “the bottom” all that is left is realness, brokenness, and readiness (expectation). That’s when God can really do his thing and you can build a relationship based on genuine relation and not based on what they may or may not be able to offer you (even if unintentional)! And just a little secret : that is often times where I find some of the most loyal, compassionate, easy to talk to, generous, encouraging, and long lasting friendships!

    Great post PB!!! Touched home!


  3. More often than not, the low-income people who attend predominantly middle-class churches are marginalized as “recipients” rather than invited in as “irreplaceable participants.”

    I want to include “irreplaceable participants” in my language. This is so so so good! Could you please write a whole book on this Brian? I really love it- love the people you reference. You’re such a well-versed man. There’s a wealth of study, care and compassion within you. You make me better by the way you help form my life. So grateful to be journeying life- holding hands with you.

  4. Chris Wyatt Bohannon

    I want to make a comment from a different angle if I may that has had a lasting impact on my life in a very good and very bad way. I remember people telling me while I was growing up that I needed to “buck up and “no one will ever help you, you have to figure it out yourself.” Back then I had Major Depressive Disorder and a growing case of Borderline Personality Disorder and being told to “grow some” and do everything on my own left me with no faith at all in anyone or anything. From that angle I was very poor but the worst kind of poor is when no one ever shows you love and support. (in turn it works the other way too) I knew many people who didn’t know what it was like to be in my position and the christian people I knew weren’t always a whole lot like Jesus. I realize now that the more I put myself into other peoples shoes and share in their pain and suffering, I feel spiritually rich. When you don’t love the way that Jesus commanded then you are left with being “that guy” that ends up telling someone the worst thing possible. If a person doesn’t humble themselves and show true empathy then they are spiritually deprived and may never become the kind of “rich” that God wants us to be. That is why being alone and not developing relationships can be the most damaging thing for a person. They are like a rich man who looks down on a poor man but in reality they had no riches. If you can’t love thy neighbor or brother as yourself then you aren’t showing “Real Love” you just end up showing sympathy.

  5. Grant Millard

    Love the “The Church that Looks Like Jesus.” It made me just a little bit emotional when you mentioned it.

  6. Great stuff PB! Soo thankful I get to be apart of NWLife and partner with you and the team. This is something you don’t just blog about, but you live it out with how you lead the church. Thank you!

    Ephesians 5:1
    Be imitators of God… (translation-”look like Jesus”)

  7. Please read the entire comment not just the first and second paragraph. (below)

    I feel the need to be contextually accurate when comparing the poor today to the poor from the time Jesus walked the earth. In Jesus time there was a class system that is completely unknown to the current US economical situation. In the old testament “wealthy people” were considered blessed by God. Poor people were viewed as cursed and therefor looked at as if they had a disease. If you look at the story of the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ the reason that the disciples were so astounded at what Jesus said is because as said, rich people were believed to be blessed and have a free pass to heaven. Jesus teachings obviously upset that thinking because he brought grace to all. The poor flocked to Jesus because, as Jesus said, He came for the poor the broken hearted… The poor now believed they too could get to Heaven instead of the current teachings which had them damned to Hell from birth.

    Todays poor, at least in the US and excluding the lowest .5% are able to get out of their financial situation. I’ve been there and done it. When my son Henry was born I went through a job loss and due to poor financial decisions we had made in the past had virtually zero savings. I had to borrow money and get food stamps for a period of about 2 months. It was the darkest hours of my life. I felt like a failure. BUT I, through the grace of God and a lot of hard work, paid everything back and now enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle.

    The issue, I believe, is actually socio-economic prejudices that we have been exposed to by our lifestyle choice. For a person to say that poor people are closer to God is crap. To say that rich people have been blessed by God is crap. To say that the middle class are exactly were God wants them, not too little and not too much, is crap too.

    All that being said, I agree completely with the premise that looking down on someone due to their socio-economic position is completely wrong. What rarely gets addressed is the reverse of this. Poor people are many times pre-disposed to hate rich people. Because “if that person is rich and I am poor he must have taken mine OR he has so much, he has to share or spread the wealth.”

    Again, don’t get me wrong, rich people or even middle class people look down on poor people all the time but it is more common to see a rich person help a poor person than visa versa.

    I think the best term is pity. When we pity someone else we put ourselves above them. When we are empathetic to a situation someone is in we come along side them.

    The Bible is clear on money issues. Don’t put money on the same stage as God or above God. Don’t worship it. But money is neither good nor evil, it has no soul. Money can be wielded for good or evil depending on who’s hands it is in.

    The other principle and probably the most overlooked principle in the bible is, Sowing and Reaping. This doesn’t apply just to Christians but to everyone. Sow sparingly, reap sparingly. Sow abundantly, reap abundantly.

    • Brian Dolleman

      I think it’s impossible to love someone & despise them at the same time. This goes for the poor despising the rich & the rich despising the poor. Personally, I don’t think Jesus despised anyone. And I think He loved everyone.

      I have no idea what it’s like to be born underprivileged – to be raised without any example of work ethic or money management or hope for the future. I don’t know what it feels like to be a minority, to be overlooked, to be ignored. Having worked with ministries that reach out to the marginalized, my heart has been broken for people whose story is different from mine. Compassion is key. I can’t fix every problem. I can, however, suspend judgment & love people.

      Gregory Boyle’s book “Tattoos On The Heart” is an incredible story of a man who wanted to see change take place for L.A.’s drug-dealing, gang-banging population. His tagline is “Jobs Not Jails.” Something he discovered quickly is that speeches, lectures, & advice wouldn’t change anything. He had to hire these guys, because nobody else would. He created Homeboy Industries – started a bakery, & began giving jobs to guys who only knew life on the streets. Anyway, it’s my favorite book I’ve read all year & I can’t stop recommending it.

      America has plenty of success stories – of people who worked hard, picked themselves up by their boostraps & made a name for themselves. It also has a bloody dark side: slavery, oppression, intolerance, racism… the powerful taking advantage of the weak. That doesn’t look like Jesus & never will.

      I do believe Jesus sides with the oppressed, the weak, the sinner, the broken, & the poor. For the privileged & the righteous & the strong & the powerful & the rich, there comes a great responsibility… to humble ourselves & care for “the least of these.”

      • Thank you for this post Brian. I was telling your wife not to long ago that a couple years back I had decided to rethink my finances after a young 14 year old boy was killed by a drive by in Renton. He was on his way home from buying shoes for football try outs and was accidentally shot. I heard his parents tell the story and shared some memories of this wonderful boy. What had got me, though, Brian, was that after he was shot, someone took the shoes. At the time of this incident, I was working three jobs and was barely staying above water. I had talk to God about my money situations time and time again, but that day I asked God to show me how to use my money so I can show people that stuff like this isn’t going to just happen and not have someone do something about it. If I had the money then, I would have bought that entire football team shoes with the boys name on them in his memory. Something needed to be done in his memory .
        This young man’s life and Gods good timimg for me to hear his story changed my views on who needed and deserved money to it being a tool that there is still good in this world. I’m still working on my finances. But it will happen. I will buy somebody some shoes :)

  8. Alan Ambrose

    Thanks for sharing how your views have changed. Love the quote you shared from Christena Cleveland. Thank you for the great input and challenging words.

  9. Honestly, this is the first piece of Christian literature/sermons that I’ve listened to in years that actually makes sense. It’s nice seeing that the church is finally getting itself out of the ‘religious right’ and ‘moral majority’ box that Reagan used to get elected. Not trying to bash on anyones views, or bring politics in, but the intertwining of politics and religion where I used to go to church was one of the major reasons I left and am now an agnostic, and it’s not just me, it’s most everyone in my generation (~25 and under). Anyway, thanks PB haha, I dig this, hope everything is going well for you man.

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