Plan a Sabbath Economics Workshop

Thinking of conducting a Sabbath Economics workshop? We’ve put together notes and resources you may find helpful. Contact our office for additional support and help us add to this list, if you have materials you would like to share!


I. Time Frame 2-3 Hours

  • Introductions (15-20 minutes)
  • Go around the circle to give each person a chance to say their name, their faith community (if appropriate) and one arena where they see economic injustice or economic hardship in the world today.
  • Ask the group as a whole where they experience economic imbalances causing hardship in their own lives or in the lives of their faith communities.


II. Opening Context (10-15 minutes)

Many faith communities today are becoming increasingly concerned about the suffering that they see going on in the lives of individuals, communities, and the world as a result of economic hardships. Many are choosing to use the tool of Sabbath Economics to open discussions about the issues and the possible solutions.

The gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider every year. In the US now 1% of the population controls 70% of the wealth—the picture is worse when we look at the world situation. Even in the present economic downturn, most of us in the US rank in the top 5-10% of the most affluent on the globe. One billion people in the world live on less than $1 a day.

Three billion live on less than $2 a day. These world citizens don’t have the healthy food, safe water, proper housing or health care needed to survive and thrive. This is nearly half the world’s population.

In the US , no matter how good our intentions, it is difficult not to get caught up in the assumptions of the society in which we live—e.g., what is necessity vs. luxury, how much is enough. We are like the fish in the fishbowl—so immersed in the water it swims in that it scarcely realizes the water exists. Or like we human beings who walk around all day breathing in the air we need to sustain our lives without conscious awareness that it is there. Just so, the assumptions that our society is based on often become just an unnoticed, taken for granted part of our lives together, often unquestioned and unchallenged.

When we count the cost of the typical American lifestyle it is fashionable these days to look critically at the cost to the environment; unfortunately, it seems that we less often count the human cost of the inequitable distribution and use of the world’s abundant resources. Perhaps sometimes we don’t think about it because the problem seems too large, too overwhelming. But it IS solvable.

The Millennium Project estimates $6 billion would achieve basic education for all the world’s citizens—less than we spend each year on bottled water in the US! $9 billion would provide safe water and sanitation for all—less than we spend on DVD rentals annually. Basic health & nutrition could be achieved for $13 billion—about 1/4th of what we spend on soda pop each year and 1/8th of what we spend on fast food! So, global poverty isn’t about lack of resources, but rather about inequitable distribution & other priorities. (Share with the group the section below: A Few Facts and Figures on Affluence and Poverty on Planet Earth which gives more statistics and their sources.)

The Church of the Savior in Washington, DC (background informationhad a deep desire to serve the impoverished persons of their city as well as a desire to empower faith communities to work for economic justice, for the redistributive justice of the Bible, in our present world. This desire birthed the Sabbath Economics program—study, self-help and action groups designed to empower participants to live out more equitable lifestyles and to partner with the poor in doing so. The Sabbath Economics program is based on the concepts of Jubilee and Sabbath in the Old or First Testament, beginning with the manna experience in the wilderness (see Exodus 16 and Numbers 11). The Sabbath Economics program suggests that a number of fundamental life lessons were learned from that experience:

  • It is vital that we listen for and obey divine guidance for the way life is intended to be lived on this earth.
  • The earth contains enough bounty for all if each takes only their own share.
  • There should be no poor and no accumulation of excess in the global society.
  • Human beings have an innate need for regular rest from both production and consumption, as do our animals and the earth itself.
  • This rest is critical for the experience of shalom —the overall well-being of body, mind & spirit.
  • Ancient Biblical wisdom maintains if we don’t do this we will die.

The Seven Point Sabbath Economics Covenant was developed out of these learnings as a comprehensive tool for assessing one’s personal or institutional progress toward a more just and faithful lifestyle.


III . The Seven Point Sabbath Economics Covenant (10 minutes)

Introduce the seven parts of the Seven Point Sabbath Economics Covenant.

(I like to draw it on a flip chart and introduce each of the seven points first before giving participants the handout for work in their small groups.)

  • Excess capital —We may feel we have no excess capital, but every time we place our money in a financial institution, even common funds such as checking or savings accounts, we give that financial institution power. This point encourages us to examine the institutions we place our money in and to move toward placing more of our funds in institutions that promote socially responsible investments or community development funds. (Resource: Money and Faith: The Search for Enough, Michael Schut, compiler and editor.)
  • Negative capital (debt) —Ancient Biblical wisdom stated that the borrower is slave to the lender, and indeed we see today that debt often dictates decisions about where we live, what jobs we take, and our lifestyle in general. Many do not feel free to follow divine leadings in their lives because they are controlled by their debt. Therefore many faith communities today are seeking to make financial management classes a part of their ministry to their members and to their community. This Sabbath Economics principle encourages actions designed to eliminate debt.
  • Giving —Giving has long been recognized by faith communities as both a statement of faith in divine providence and as a moral responsibility to care for the poor. Giving also helps build social relationships. This principle encourages self-consciousness in the amount, frequency and destination of our giving.
  • Environment —Encourages taking concrete steps to make our homes, faith communities and residential communities significantly “greener”.
  • Consumption —Encourages reducing consumption and changing lifestyle patterns to be more sustainable.
  • Solidarity —Encourages us to find ways to interact regularly with the marginalized in our communities and especially with the poor.
  • Work/Sabbath —Invites us to re-examine our relationship to our work, spiritual, family and leisure time and to strive for a healthful, faithful balance, not only for ourselves but also for those who work to serve us.


IV. Small Group Work (20-30 minutes)

Divide in small groups, one for each point if enough participants. If not, give more than one principle to a group. The group is to discuss their point and make a list of ways that this principle can be applied in daily life. There are examples from the Bartimaeus Institute and from other Sabbath Economics workshop participants in the handouts below to get them started, though some groups prefer to “start from scratch”, allowing the creativity of the group to be fully engaged in seeking ideas and solutions. Each group should choose a reporter to bring their discussion results back to the total group.


V. Large Group Reporting and Reflection (30-45 minutes)

  • Report back to whole group
  • Reflect as a group on the experience, insights, and questions raised.
  • Ask which principle would be easiest for them as individuals to work on? As faith communities?
  • Which would be the hardest?
  • Which would they like to begin working on in the next month or so?
  • How would the application of these principles make a difference in our world?
  • Which one do they feel would make the biggest difference and why?


VI. Closing (5 minutes)

Show participants the two booklets on which this workshop is based and encourage them to consider getting them for individual reading or, better yet, for small group studies and action groups in their faith communities, which is what the books were designed for.The books are available from Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries:

  • The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics, by Ched Myers
  • Sabbath Economics: Household Practices, by Matthew Colwell

Close with this quote by John Woolman or another on the topic of economic justice—“[We] feel a desire to take hold of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted and increase the happiness of the creation. Here we have a prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable, that to turn all the treasures we possess in the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives.”


BCM Household Sabbath Economics Covenant

Note: This seven-fold covenant is a working model developed for the Bartimaeus Covenant Investor Community (BCIC) process. Its focus is household economics (the realm of personal and family finances) . The process invites participants to think of at least one specific commitment they can make in each of these seven areas for one year. The suggestions below are only to help the participant brainstorm realistic and creative steps for themselves. For information about BCIC retreats using this Covenant contact BCIC Coordinator Peg Rosenkrands at: (313) 617-9532 or [email protected].

  1. Surplus capital: Does my household have surplus capital? How can I move toward making more of my capital available for community development? What would I have to do to convert my investments to Socially Responsible Investments ( SRI ) and/or Community Development. Fund Investment (CDFI) options? Examples
    1. Move 100% of investment capital into SRI funds.
    2. Calculate a “social mortgage” or “usury tax” on your surplus capital to tithe
    3. Place 50% of investment capital into a CDFI.
  2. Negative capital (debt): What is my household debt level (mortgage, car notes, credit cards, and student loans should be calculated separately), and what is my debt-to-savings ratio? Because debt should never be an asset or strategy, how can I move toward reducing my debt load? Examples:
    1. Begin using a “credit card safeguard.”
    2. Limit yourself to one credit card (and its limit).Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, P.O. Box 328 , Oak View , CA93022 (805)
    3. Use some of your savings to pay off a percentage of your debt to reduce the amount of debt interest you service.
  3. Giving: Gifting helps build social relations rather than private capital. What are the history and values around my giving? What is my relationship with those to whom I give; how does my giving contribute to transforming that relationship? Examples:
    1. Experiment with communitizing my decision-making process, in order to work on accountability issues.
    2. Seek help in developing a strategic giving plan.
    3. Examine the balance between my giving of money, time and talent.
  4. Environment: What concrete steps can I take to make my household and lifestyle significantly “greener”? Examples:
    1. Do a household audit on waste, including recycling, toxic products, etc.
    2. Look at energy usage, including driving, and aim to reduce by 10%.
    3. Commit to growing something edible on a year round basis.
  5. Consumption: What ways can I go further in reducing my consumption and changing my patterns to conform with sustainable patterns. Examples:
    1. Do a “fearless moral inventory” regarding possible issues of economic “addiction,” and make some concrete commitments about “recovery.”
    2. Do an audit of goods I consumer that are fair-trade, anti-sweatshop, locally produced, minimum packaging, etc., and plan to increase these by 10%.
    3. Commit to buying 25% of my food from sources that are organic, local/regional, Community Supported Agriculture, and/or farmer’s market.
  6. Solidarity: What am I doing to interact in a meaningful way with people from a different social stratum, particularly those who are marginalized? Examples:
    1. Join a local living wage-type campaign.
    2. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen, shelter or clinic to find out what local needs are.
    3. Commit to one “exposure” type program, or sponsor a friend of family member to join one, each year.
  7. Work/Sabbath: How can I improve/expand my disciplines to assure I have regular rest from work, and adequate space for spiritual reflection and renewal? Examples:
    1. Keep some sort of Sabbath day each week, with specific restrictions.
    2. Commit to a retreat once a year of at least 4 days, and/or set aside time each day for journaling, prayer, scripture study, etc.
    3. Cut back work hours to 4 days a week, or to 7 hours a day. Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, P.O. Box 328 , Oak View , CA 93022 (805) 649-1327

More Examples For Implementing the Seven-Fold Sabbath Economics Principles

In Daily Life

  1. Surplus capital
    • Living simply is a key to surplus capital creation
    • Invest locally
    • Buy locally
    • Managing money to create surplus capital is important—but weigh the costs
  2. Negative capital (debt)
    • Stop using credit cards
    • Question the need for a purchase
    • Make no pretense about the amount of money you have
    • Education is a good investment
    • Understand what gives you worth—understand yourself in non-material ways
    • Understand psychological triggers
    • Reward yourself for not creating debt
    • Re-think Christmas debt/spending
  3. Giving
    • See giving as benefiting the giver as well as the recipient
    • Become willing to receive help
    • Ask, “Does my giving make the recipient better?”
    • Form a $10 a Month Club—individuals contribute to a group fund and all decide together where to give the money
  4. Environment
    • Do composting
    • Install solar panels
    • Lobby for curbside recycling
    • Hang clothes on the line even in winter
    • Grow root crops for year-round eating; do preserving and canning
  5. Consumption
    • Use USA-made products
    • Use local farm produce—CSAs, organic Become a “locavore”—eat from: farmers’ markets, co-ops
    • Grow lettuce in window in winter
    • Make purchases in locally owned stores
  6. Solidarity
    • Volunteer at an inner-city school:
    • Reading
    • Helping with homework
    • Serving snacks
    • Drive for Meals on Wheels
    • Volunteer with after-school programs
    • Volunteer for tax-help programs
    • Volunteer with ESL or adult literacy programs
    • Volunteer with homeless shelters
    • Provide respite care for caregivers
    • Work at a soup kitchen
    • Work for Habitat for Humanity
    • Volunteer at a sheltered workshop or group home
  7. Work/Sabbath
    • Commit to attending worship two times a week
    • Don’t have business meetings on First day/Sunday
    • Commit to an annual retreat
    • Do only uplifting things on First day
    • Focus on visiting family/community on First day
    • Read aloud as a family
    • Take walks
    • Memorize scripture
    • Read Bible or other devotional daily
    • Take regular time for personal quiet, reading or journaling

List compiled by participants in Sabbath Economics workshops in Ohio, Maryland, and Illinois.

“A Few Facts and Figures on Affluence and Poverty on Planet Earth” or “American Consumption and Global Poverty in aNutshell”

In the U.S., no matter what our good intentions, it is extremely difficult not to get caught up in the practice of over-consumption. Like the fish in the fish bowl—so immersed in the water he scarcely knows it’s there—we are so immersed in our consumer culture that we take it for granted as “just the way life is.” When we count the cost of the “typical” American lifestyle, we often look at the toll on the environment, but less often do we consider the human cost of the inequitable distribution and use of our world’s abundant resources.

One billion impoverished people in the world live on less than $1 a day; nearly 3 billion live on less than $2 a day. They don’t have the healthy food, safe water, proper housing, or health care they need to survive and thrive. That is nearly half the world’s population! The Millennium Project estimates $6 billion would achieve basic education for all—less than we spend annually on bottled water! $9 billion would provide safe water and sanitation for all— less than we spend on DVD rentals. Basic health and nutrition could be provided for $13 billion—about 1/4th of what we spend on soda pop each year and 1/8th of what we spend on fast food! So, global poverty isn’t about lack of resources, but rather about inequitable distribution and skewed priorities. (See the charts below for more details.)

How Much Americans Spend
Each Year
Spending Priorities $ U.S. Billions
Christmas gifts 2.5
Going to the movies 4.9
Health foods and beverages 5.5
Bottled water 7.7
DVD rentals 12
Dietary supplements 17
Foreign Aid 20
Cosmetics 22
Food Stamps 24
Books 27
Weight loss products and services 33
Soda pop 54
Clothing 82
Consumer electronics 100
Fast food 110
New and used cars 6oo
Defense, including ongoing wars 700

Look at what we Americans spend on common budget items every year— And compare that to the World Bank’s estimated costs for achieving universal access to basic human needs and services in all developing countries in the world—

How Much is Needed to End Global Poverty $ U.S. Billions
Basic education for all 6
Water and sanitation for all 9
Reproductive health for all women 12
Basic health and nutrition for all 13

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • What do these facts and figures suggest to you about the “typical” American lifestyle today?
  • …about the way of life of many of our human brothers and sisters in impoverished nations of the world?
  • How do they call us to change and grow as individuals, faith communities, and as a nation?


Note: Sources for above data include World Bank, Common Dreams, One World, Food First, Global Issues, Center for Science in the Public Interest, MSNBC, Dallas Business Journal, Houston Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, The American Prospect, New Internationalist, My Financial, and others.  Research details are available on request from Right Sharing of World Resources Program Secretary.