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Bring Them Up

Get Rich

The following are the notes from my talk at our school’s 11th Fundraising Feast last Friday.


There’s a story about my relationship to the school that I’ve never told in public before. It took place within a month or two of starting ECS.

Another family invited our family over for dinner, I think it was a Sunday evening, and it seemed like it would be a relaxing time of food and fellowship. Mo and I loaded up all four kids, at the time Maggie was in 5th grade, Calvin was in 1st grade, and while Hallie and Keelah weren’t old enough for school just yet they tagged along with Mo every day for the few classes she had to teach.

We arrived at the host’s home, shared some greeting pleasantries, and began eating after a short while. Not too far into the meal we found out the real agenda for the night. For the next couple hours Mo and I learned a variety of things that we were doing wrong, previously unknown to us. The criticisms were unpleasant enough, and showing no signs of slowing down, that Mo texted her mom to come and pick up our kids, which the hosts didn’t even realize until Mo and I were leaving.

The chief accusation, which also functioned as main heading that included a full magazine of bullets under it, was when they said, ”You just started a school to get rich.”

It wasn’t just the Higgins, but also the Sarrs. Both families were partners in greed. Since everyone knows if you want to get rich just start a private Christian school, how could we justify following the well-worn, almost-certain path to financial success?

I am here tonight to tell you, that after almost a dozen full years of ECS, I have never been more rich in my life.

If I had known heading into dinner that night what I know now at this dinner tonight, I would have tried a completely different defense. I would still start with laughter, of the head-thrown-back guffawing kind, and not just because risus est bellum. But I don’t think I’d try to make any arguments from the tiring histories of private school budget strains, let alone the many painful, even brutal experiences of school closures due to budget collapses. I wouldn’t try to draw any capital from my character account as a leader, asking what about my person made it seem like I was money hungry. If I could go back to that table again, instead of saying “Get real,” I’d say, “You’re absolutely right.”

Now in Logic terms I’d be playing with verbal equivocation, a possible informal fallacy, but I’d play it hard. I’d be using the key word in their premise in a different way in my conclusion. But part of my argument would be that my definition is not just another option, not just a better option, but the right definition. Did we start a school to get rich? Not in any way to increase our personal collection of dollars. But starting a school has absolutely increased our wealth.

What does it mean to be rich? What does it mean to be wealthy? What does it mean to you?

I am not trying to spiritualize the discussion in a way that sneers at money. We call this event our Fundraising Feast. We are trying to raise funds. We have bills, we write paychecks, we want to provide financial scholarships for families that need aid, and we’d love to improve the only non-asphalt play-place on our campus with turf, especially for the 13 months a year that it rains.

But we are laboring to build and to enjoy that which doesn’t rust. Our treasure is not just in what we can see, where thieves break in and steal. And that does not mean that God only makes His people rich in heaven. I said, I have never been more rich in my life. That’s right here, right now.

Stuff as riches is a simple metric, but it’s a superficial one, and not a certain source of joy. For those whose life is lived only under the sun, they are busy wearing themselves out to gather and collect; cash comes and cash goes, but the monthly subscriptions remain forever. If that’s all there is, it’s a burden, it’s striving after wind, it’s vanity. How many “rich” people have accounts full of emptiness?

When God makes wealthy He adds no guilt. “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22). Again, this includes what we eat and what we wear and the shelter our Heavenly Father provides. But He gives so much more.

Maybe you’ve read (or wanted to say you’ve read) the book Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. Taleb makes his money as a financial investor, but he also plays the part of a know-it-all-philosopher. The principle of anti-fragility is being in a position to benefit when things get shaken. He is certainly aiming his advice toward making money, but even he knows that wealth is more. His list of “true wealth” include:

  • worry-less sleeping
  • a clear conscience
  • a good appetite
  • no meals alone
  • good bowel movements
  • absence of envy
  • reciprocal gratitude
  • frequent laughs
  • periodic surprises

Being “rich” is having an abundance, but it’s abundance of more than just possessions (or power).

I’m rich with an expanding while tightening network of likeminded Christian families; we love being with our kids and homeschooling is mostly awesome and yet for us it does not compare to the riches of this community. I’m rich with seeing the joy of teachers who call ECS their “dream job” not because of how the economics work out but because of the environment they work in, and then being in the educational trenches with them. I’m more rich because of personal learning and need-to-grow accountability as a parent, a teacher, and as a divine-image bearer in the great stream of Western Civilization. I’m rich with kids who aren’t just suffering through assignments, but who have their dumb ideas laughed at and their great ideas sharpened; they want IN and want MORE. I’m rich not just with kids who know the standard, but with kids who love the standard and the vision of helping others love and confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

I’m rich with a clear conscience and with consciousness of God’s abundant blessings on this big project.

A few months ago, the day that re-enrollment paperwork was due, I was out of town, and Mo started working through some of the online questions to apply for financial aid. One of them was, “What would you be willing to give up for sake of a private education?” Mo has trouble with these sorts of questions, because she’s curious and can get lost in the clouds at the 50-thousand foot level pretty fast. But this one was easy. What would we give up? Everything. And that’s because of what have we gained: Everything.

What’s amazing about this kind of wealth is that it’s not zero-sum. It’s not like a bigger piece of pie for me means burnt crust crumbs for you. We are creating new value, win-win wealth, generational wealth, non-linear wealth. Through cooperation and mutual exchanges and sweat equity, multiple families get multiple blessings. You do have to invest, but it’s hard to calculate the compounding interest. You do have to get skin in the game, but you get back more than you could give away.

“One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing” (Proverbs 13:7). But we are not LARPers: Live Action Rich Pretenders. We have the world and life and death and the present and the future. All are ours because we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).

Friends, may you eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God is blessing us. And, may you aim for so much more than cash and comfort. Get rich, really.