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Faithful Investing: Struggling to Invest Like God Really Does Own it All


Numerous commentators have noted that the Bible contains over 2,000 verses about money. The Gospels reveal Jesus talking about money often. Scripture’s extensive coverage of the topic can be overwhelming. But as Philip Yancey has helpfully noted, its teaching on money really boils down to three basic questions for the Christ-follower:

money questions

Christians engage in four main economic activities: producing, consuming, giving and investing. In 2022, I conducted a study examining what Christian stewardship organizations and media say about this. I found that a few address believers as producers and almost none say anything about disciples’ responsibility as investors. Instead, they focus on giving, implying that this is the Christ-follower’s most important economic activity, that this is what really matters.

Undoubtedly, generosity is a vital virtue, a means for accomplishing much kingdom good, and a powerful antidote to greed. But munificence, flourishing and spiritual growth can also be experienced through wise investing, not solely through charitable giving. Indeed, the world’s greatest problems – problems that shalom-seekers know must be addressed as part of what it means to be faithful participants in Christ’s mission to renew all things – cannot be addressed effectively by charity alone.

Moreover, the disproportionate focus on charitable giving further cements the unhealthy “two-pocket mentality.” This is the view that investment dollars are simply vehicles to earn one a good financial return, while charity defines what promotes the kingdom and the common good. Many Christians with this perspective treat the investment pocket as though it is outside of Christ’s lordship. The mantra of “God owns it all” is loudly proclaimed in the Christian stewardship world. But its lack of attention to believers’ investing behaviour runs the danger of communicating, functionally, that “God owns some of it.”

I have struggled with the two-pocket mentality for three decades. While I give lip-service to the truth that “God owns it all,” my heart desperately wants to control some portion of “my” wealth. I want to squirrel away a part that is free from the strings of trusteeship. I want to build a nest egg with it that promises security for my uncertain future as a late middle-aged, single woman with health issues. I want my investments to be about me and my needs and desires.

Desiring some security for old age is not wrong, and earning money through investing can be one way God provides for my future. The problem comes when I look primarily to my nest egg, rather than God, for true security. It’s a Romans 7 problem. I have thought and taught about financial stewardship for years and gained a solid biblical understanding after much study. I have clear ideas about what investing is supposed to be about, from God’s perspective. I know the good I should do. But I don’t always do it.

Lord, have mercy.

Investing From God’s Perspective

My friend, Jay Hein, from Commonwealth Impact Investing offers a slogan for faithful investing that connects Abraham Kuyper’s memorable watchwords about God’s kingdom mission involving “every square inch” of the earth with a much-needed conviction by Jesus’ followers (i.e., me) that “every single dollar” belongs to the King and is meant to be deployed for his purposes of shalom.

Investing is about supplying capital to business enterprises to empower their work of providing the goods and services needed for human flourishing. It is an other-centred endeavour that plays a vital role in the missio Dei, God’s work to renew all things in all places.

When applied to investing, the first half of the motto, “Every single dollar for every square inch,” helps me turn from two-pocket thinking. Every dollar, including those I invest, ultimately belongs to God, and must be deployed in ways that honour God. Meanwhile, the second half of the slogan draws my attention to the broad horizon of possibilities for advancing flourishing through my investment practice, not just through my charity. It reminds me that investing is not primarily about pursuing my own personal enrichment – though it is legitimate for me to hope to earn something (and to acknowledge that as a means of God’s provision). Rather, investing is primarily about supplying capital to business enterprises to empower their work of providing the goods and services needed for human flourishing. It is an other-centred endeavour that plays a vital role in the missio Dei, God’s work to renew all things in all places.

Investment Gains: Where From?

God cares how we earn our money, including the earnings on our investments. The Bible condemns gains achieved through theft, fraud or oppressing others (see Ex 20:15; Lev 19:13; Prov 10:2; 14:31; 22:16–17). Again, it is not wrong for me to desire a financial return on investment (ROI). But treating “my” money as if it really is God’s means I must care about how the firms I support are making their profits. Profits are not neutral. As Jason Myhre from the Eventide Center for Faith and Investing says, “profits have moral attachments.” Profits that emerge from products, services or practices not in keeping with the beauty, justice and goodness of God’s creation are not good profits.

Profits have moral attachments.

Investing in businesses is one critical way Christ-followers participate in the “working” and “keeping” of the cultural mandate of Genesis 2:15. Our investment dollars help firms develop the raw materials of creation, adding value to them. They support entrepreneurs who discover new ways to combine elements and fresh ways of extending the creation’s goodness. Through this process, human needs – and quite a variety of human wants – are met. Jobs are created. New wealth is produced; wealth can lift people from poverty and spur improvements in the quality of life.

Honouring the “keeping” part of the cultural mandate, though, means recognizing that not every product is truly good, and that some ways of making things are unjust. Businesses that “keep” do not engage in practices that plunder God’s world or fashion products that distort God’s good gifts.

This is why faithful investing requires intentionality. As Christ’s disciple, I need to pay attention to what my investments are fuelling. One way to express my solidarity with God’s heart when investing is to avoid supplying capital to corporations that profit from human addictions. Investing in companies engaged with pornography, gambling or tobacco might well boost my bank account. (A study by a scholar from the University of St Thomas found that such “sin stocks” had outperformed the Standard and Poor’s 500 by an average of 2.5 percent per year.) But how grievous if I respond to the compassion of God towards me by seeking to benefit financially from other image-bearers’ self-destructive addictions.

Avoiding ill-gotten gain means not only eschewing firms producing harmful products, but also those engaged in injurious practices. These include exploiting workers, polluting God’s good creation, treating residents unjustly in the localities where the firm’s products are sourced or made and lying to customers or shareholders.

What Should We Do With Our Investment Dollars?

Avoiding the bad is only part of the equation of faithful investing. God is sovereign over every square inch of the cosmos, facilitates the common good through his common grace, and is actively working through Christ to renew all things. Truly, all things: every sphere of society and geography, every occupational sector and economy.

This comprehensiveness makes participating in God’s mission through investing a potential exercise in joyful creativity. “Potential,” because conventional wisdom around investing erects a barrier to this. Our sinful hearts and fallen culture urge us to focus solely on financial ROI through prudent diversification and risk management. And because Mammon is shrewd, this narrow, me-focused approach often provides a feeling of well-being – as long as my portfolio is growing. It embarrasses me to admit it, but the truth is that I’ve gotten pleasure from counting “my” money ever since I was a fourth grader with coins earned from a newspaper route. The same urge still tempts me now, expressing itself as immoderate attentiveness to my account balances. This is my all-too-human frailty regarding the high calling of investing. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, my balance sheet gains provide the fleeting happiness of mud pie-making; joining in the missio Dei through creative, strategic investing offers the joy of a seaside holiday. I need the Spirit’s help to desire, and choose, the latter.

Thankfully, the Spirit has aided me. Over the years, I have found the questions below helpful in connecting my investing to God’s mission:

  • Is the Holy Spirit directing me to invest in any particular sectors, industries, geographies or markets?
  • How can my vocational expertise and experience illuminate my investment decisions?
  • How do the products and services of the companies whose stock I’m considering buying promote the common good?
  • How could I align some of my investments with the causes God has made me passionate about?
  • Where are the opportunities for maximizing both social impact and financial return?
  • Where might I sacrifice financial ROI in order to support commercial endeavours specifically serving the poor and vulnerable?
  • Does my portfolio include at least one significantly “faith-stretching” investment to support a worthy – even restorative – enterprise whose work in the world is much needed but whose risk level has deterred conventional investors?

These queries help me practise the difficult other-centeredness of stewardship. They remind me that investing is not an activity divorced from Jesus’ call to love God and neighbour. They urge me to consider investing as a means of worship, an avenue of cultivating creation, and a way of joining Christ’s work in pushing back the curse and advancing flourishing.

This vision of faithful investing may sound far too idealistic in our broken world. That’s a reasonable critique, in the sense that (a) we will never identify a perfect company in which to invest; (b) the information most of us can glean about investment opportunities will be limited; and (c) our degree of agency over investment decisions will likely vary. When I consider my own investment portfolio, probably half of it falls quite short of this vision because of these reasons. For example, I have had little decision-making power during the past 20+ years over my employer’s 401K plan. Its offerings have not included the kinds of mutual funds I am most interested in. Lack of agency with this part of my savings, though, must not stop me from the efforts I can take regarding other savings.

I am not a financial professional. And like most people, I have limited time and limited knowledge about the behaviour of the corporations listed on the stock market. But these things cannot excuse me from undertaking due diligence that is plausible. After all, I am going to be called to account by God for how I have used his money.

Here are some doable steps for implementing due diligence:

  1. When considering a stock purchase, visit the company’s website to learn about the products and/or services it offers. Using the internet, check media coverage of the company (e.g., Has it won awards? Been the subject of lawsuits?). A variety of ratings systems, academic research, and lists of holdings from various “socially responsible investment” (SRI) and faith-based funds can identify corporations excelling in areas such as positive community impact, transparent governance, environmental stewardship and employee care. I have used resources including the Catholic Values Index, the KLD400, the Eventide Center for Faith & Investing, JUST Capital, the Haas Socially Responsible Investment Fund, US SIF, Everence and MSCI’s ESG ratings in my research.

  2. When choosing an investment product, examine the investment strategy for that product and see if it mentions ethical criteria for the selection of companies, and what that entails. A Christian-shaped approach to investing should, at a minimum, seek to avoid investing in companies whose products or practices are at odds with a biblical vision of flourishing. In the US for example, faith-based investing products will generally seek to avoid investments in companies involved in abortion, pornography, gambling, tobacco and alcohol (the latter included because the majority of profits come from those with addictions). Beyond the negatives, is there any evidence that company inclusion in the fund is based on firm practices (e.g., in the area of governance, employee care or environmental sustainability) or the social value of its products? Or does it appear the fund manager’s vetting is based solely on financial factors (e.g., anticipated returns, market conditions, considerations around the size of the firms)?

  3. If you decide you want to secure a financial advisor, be choosy. Ask prospective candidates about their current capabilities and investments in faith-based investing – and listen for specifics. In the US, the Kingdom Advisors network offers some helpful queries to pose. Does the advisor use faith-based investing with his/her own assets and have formal training to help clients implement the strategy? Have they researched the products available at their firm and are they able to offer a range of diversified solutions in this category?

Green Building

Investing’s Effects on Our Hearts

The Bible asks not only how we earn our money and what we do with it, but also what it is doing to us. In my struggle to become a faithful steward, I’ve found that the practice of investing can influence my heart for good or ill. For example, when I consume secular (and even some Christian) sources on personal finance too frequently, fear, greed, envy, sorrow or anger sometimes arise in me. It’s not that there is no value in information from these outlets. But all too commonly, the wily voice of Mammon whispers in the background, “Will you have enough?” or sneers, “You are missing out.” That can push me towards self-centeredness.

By contrast, when one of my faith-based mutual funds performs well, my gratitude abounds. I see God’s provision for me through this and take pleasure in how my fund ownership has in a tiny way strengthened the capacities of firms doing good work. When I hear that a company I have invested in has made a breakthrough in a treatment protocol for sick kids, or launched a new line of cybersecurity products, or started hiring adults with disabilities, I feel a deep satisfaction. When I stretch to risk capital to support a social enterprise, my heart gets connected to its mission and leaders in meaningful ways that typically prompt intercessory prayer. And when I lose money in a venture, my disappointment is eased by knowing that I was trying to be faithful with the Master’s money by honouring his priorities. I believe God is using all these scenarios to nurture in me hope, patience, diligence and trust. And that in itself is a good ROI.

agents of flourishingDr Amy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute and author, most recently, of Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society (IVP, 2022). She serves as editor-at-large for The Journal of Faith & Investing with Jason Myhre and Matt Galyon and is grateful to them for their input on this article.