The future of the world is becoming increasingly unsettled. This
article describes ways that people can prepare to cope with any crisis
that emerges. To understand some of these issues, readers will need to understand the place of the
Division of Labour in economic activity. I will explain the meaning of this expression in the first few
sections before going on to talk about preparation in more detail.
Specialisation and Subsistence and Self-sufficiency
In a traditional society, people often live by substance. They do not
depend on any other people for survival, because they grow or produce
everything that they consume. If they cannot grow or make it themselves,
they do not have it. Living on subsistence allowed the people to be
self-sufficient, but this was quite limiting, because they spent so much
of their lives producing food and shelter, they do not have time to
develop and make other products that they may want.
Trade changes everything, because it allows people to specialise. One
person specialises in growing grain. Another specialised in catching
fish. A third person specialises in baking bread. Each one does what he
is most skilled in doing. By focusing on one task, each person could
increase their skills and find ways to do a task more efficiently.
The person who specialises can produce more than they need to
survive. They can trade their surplus production with others to get all
the things they want. Trade improves the situation of almost everyone.
Over the last fifty there has been a vast increase in specialisation
and trade. The Japanese have specialised in making flat screen TVs, New
Zealand has specialised in producing milk powder and special effects for
movies. Americans have specialised in making autos. The Chinese have
specialised in manufacturing clothing. This trade and specialisation has
made most people better off.
I do not have a clue about how to make a computer or a flat screen
TV. I could not make a decent automobile, if I worked on if for a
hundred years. If I made my own clothes, I would look like a caveman.
However, by specialising in tasks that I am skilled at doing, I can
afford to buy all these things and many more.
Division of Labour
The name that economists use for this specialisation and trade is the
“division of labour”.
Division of labour or specialization is the specialization of
cooperative labour in specific, circumscribed tasks and roles, intended
to increase the productivity of labour (Wikipedia).
By increasing the productivity of labour, supports trade and improves
the standard of living in a society.
The division of labour is really important, because even a small
decline in the division of labour will make most people will be worse
off. The reality is that no Western country can make all the products
that modern people are used to consuming. When specialisation and trade
diminish, standards of living decline.
The division of labour and specialisation is a Christian way of
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members
do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one
body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different
gifts, according to the grace given us (Rom 12:4-6).
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are
different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds
of working, but the same God works all of them in all men (1 Cor
The church functions best when the prophets prophesy, the apostles
apostle, the pastors, pastor, the evangelists evangelise, the servers
serve and the encouragers encourage. When each Christian tries to do a
little bit of everything, the body of Christian is weakened.
Life in the City
The division of labour makes life in cities possible. Without the
benefits of specialisation and trade, life in a modern city would be
impossible, even for those who live simply. Several companies in the
city where I live produce top quality electronic equipment that is
exported all over the world. However, this city does not have the
capital equipment are the range of skills needed to manufacture the full
range stuff that people need to survive in a modern city. The only way
that we can maintain a city lifestyle is to specialise in manufacturing
and exporting a very limited range of products and import the other
goods and services that we need.
What is true for a city is also true for a large country. Even the
United States does not have sufficient capital and skills to produce the
full range of goods and services needed to sustain life in and American
city. If America attempted to be self sufficient, living standards would
suffer as the benefits of the division of labour and specialisation
disappeared. Life in the city would be terrible.
Self-sufficiency is not a practical for a city or country, but it is
even less practical for an individual. An individual who attempts to be
self-sufficient loses all the benefits that have come through trade and
the division of labour. A man fending for himself will be hard pressed
to produce enough food and clothing for his own family, even if he was
very industrious. He will not have time to produce all the things that
we need to live in a city.
In difficult economic times, trade declines. A reduction in the
division of labour and a decline in living standards inevitably follow.
We will have to deal with this, if it happens, but we must understand
that a total collapse of trade and return to total self sufficiency
would be a total disaster for people living in a modern city.
A collapse of trade would severely damage the lifestyles of people
living in the country. Most country people in the Western world are
dependent on the division of labour and lack the skills and equipment
needed to be self-sufficient.
People in some parts of the world may be forced into subsistence and
self sufficiency, but that should never be our first response to crisis.
Whatever our circumstances, we should always attempt to specialise and
trade as much as is practicable. We should always maintain as much
division of labour as possible. Being dependent on other people will
strengthen our community and enlarge our lifestyles.
Preparing for Economic Crisis
The credit crunch has created a great deal of economic uncertainty.
Christians are starting to think about life in difficult times. Some are
preparing to cope with an economic crisis. This sense of urgency is
good, but we must focus our efforts wisely.
When preparing for difficult times, most Christians think about
returning to a subsistence lifestyle. Their first response is to start
growing vegetables. Some Christians consider moving to the country,
where a self-sufficient lifestyle will be easier. Growing vegetables
might be a sensible away to support other people, but is probably
foolish if the aim is to be self sufficient. The self-sufficient
lifestyle is actually a substance lifestyle, and that is an awful way to
Returning to subsistence is not the best way to prepare for tough
times when most people live in cities. If Christians want to provide a
lead, we will need to develop models for life that will work in a city.
Before rushing into the country, we should think clearly about what
happens in an economic crisis. Once we have a clearer idea of what we
will be facing, we can prepare more sensibly.
At the personal level, an economic crisis affects people differently.
- Some people will lose their jobs. They will face a massive drop
in income. If they find new work, it may not match their skills, so they
will be less well paid.
- People who keep their jobs will continue to live quite well. If
prices fall, they might actually be better off than they were before the
- Most business owners will face a reduction in income. They will
generally be able to continue to operate, but their profit will decline.
- Some businesses will fail. The owners of these businesses will
face a severe reduction in income.
The situation will be varied. Some people will have a dramatic
decline in income. Others will carry on living as normal. The relative
size of these two groups will depend on the severity of the recession.
Pauls spoke about the situation where some are well off and other are
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard
pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your
plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will
supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written:
"He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered
little did not have too little (2 Cor 8:13-15).
Paul suggested a solution for the situation where some have plenty
while others are hard pressed. The solution is generous giving. A key to
preparing for difficult economics is to learn how to give and share.
Christians can best prepare for difficult times by building
relationships and building channels through which those who are better
off can share with those who are hard pressed.
Deacons will have a role in facilitating this giving and sharing.
Acts 6 describes how people with this calling were set aside to care for
those in the Christian community who were poor. We should be working and
praying to raise up this ministry.
At the economic level the main impact of an economic crisis will be a
reduction in the division of labour. Trade will become more difficult,
which will reduce the level of specialisation. New Zealand may not be
able to afford to import so many autos, computers and flat screen
television. A decline in the volume of trade and in the degree of
specialisation will make us all worse off, but it does not mean we have
to return to self-sufficiency and subsistence.
Whatever happens, we should maintain as much division of labour as
possible. When trade gets more difficult, we might need to shift to
sharing to get the benefits of specialisation, but we should not return
to subsistence unless that is the only alternative. Sharing can
strengthen the division of labour when declining trade weakens it. A
return to self-sufficiency should not be necessary, if people have
learnt how to share.
Networks and Relationships
When a financial or social crisis causes trade to collapse, networks
and relationships will have an important role in ensuring that goods and
services flow from those who are skilled at producing them to the people
who have the greatest need. This presents an amazing opportunity for God’s
people. We are experts at relationships. We should have strong networks
with other Christians. We should be really experienced at giving and
sharing. If Christians get prepared, they should be able to lead the way
in the giving and sharing that will enable people to survive through
difficult times. Every Christian should thinking about what they can be
share with others.
During an economic crisis, there will be plenty of Christians living
in the country who are skilled at producing food, so there will be no
shortage of food. However, the collapse in trade may make it more
difficult for people in the city to buy the food that they need. City
Christians might need to share fuel and other resources with those
growing food in the country. Sharing between Christians living in the
country and Christians living in the cities should ensure that food is
provided to those who need it. Christians with strong networks will have
an important role organising the flow of surplus food from the country
to the city.
City people will also need to share among themselves. If we cannot
buy new appliances, we might need to get better at sharing what we have.
People with plenty might give clothing to those with none. The owners of
vehicles might provide transport for those who need to travel.
Over the last century, Christians have entered into the modern
suburban lifestyle with the same enthusiasm as the rest of the world.
This works fine when markets are operating effectively. People can live
wherever they choose, because the market brings everything they need to
them. If they want to meet with other believers, they jump in the car.
If Christians believe that the market will collapse in the future,
they should think more strategically about where they live. Giving and
sharing will be much easier for people who live in close proximity to
each other. In troubled times, isolation in suburbia might mean
separation from those who can care and share with us. If the economic
crisis affects supplies of fuel, the cheap transport that sustains life
in suburbia might disappear. Sharing transport will much easier for
Christians who live closer to other Christians.
Returning to subsistence makes an economic crisis worse. Whatever the
situation, we should try to keep the division of labour going as much as
possible. Sharing skills is a good way to capture the benefits of
specialisation. Each Christian should think about their skills and
identify ways to bless other people in their community. These skills
might not the same as they exercise in their calling or their paid
employment. The prophet might have skills in repair electrical
equipment. The accountant might have repaired old cars as a hobby. In
some situations these skills might be more valuable do their community
than what they usually do.
Christian leaders should look out for people with skills that their
community might need. Networks that link needs with skills will be
really important for the well being of a community. If we cannot buy new
automobiles, we might need to keep older ones going for longer. The
person getting their car repaired might not have money to pay the person
repairing there cars, but they might be able to deliver vegetables to
those who are suffering. Each person should be encouraged to use their
skills to bless the rest of their community.
Some skills that are now redundant might become more valuable. These
days very people bake their own bread, because it is not economic to put
energy into making something that can be bought so cheap at a store. If
the economic system really collapsed, bread might be hard to buy.
Bread-making skills would be really valuable. People with skills in
repairing electrical appliances .and vehicles might suddenly find they
have plenty of friends.
A person who loses their job might be tempted to plunge into
self-sufficiency by growing their own food. That might be sensible, if
they are skilled at gardening and know people who would enjoy the
surplus vegetables, but for most people gardening may be totally
inappropriate. Each person should find ways to benefit their community
doing tasks that utilise their skills. Not everyone is a gardener and
man cannot live on vegetables alone.
Apostles and Deacons
Deacons will develop strong networks between those with plenty and
those in need. This is a division of labour. People with business skills
may be good at producing surplus wealth, but lack the compassion and
patience needed assist poor people struggling to get back on the right
road. Deacons will be specialists in helping poor people how to manage
their lives better. The body of Christ will be stronger if deacons can
focus on doing their calling, with others providing resources for them
to distribute. Barnabas handed his surplus wealth over to the deacons to
hand out, so that he could get on with his ministry as an apostle (Acts
During a crisis, deacons with lots of contacts will take the
responsibility for building networks between town and country. They will
facilitate the flow of food from the country into the city. They will
also ensure that the Christians growing food in the country get the
resources they need to support their ministry.
Another role of the deacon is to identify people with skills put them
in touch with those who need word done. If an auto mechanic is
unemployed, the deacons will link him with people that need their cars
repaired. They will also make sure that the giving flows back the other
way, so the mechanic’s family does not starve.
If apostles have been sent out to establish new churches, they will
have links with Christians in other regions. Paul was able to link the
Macedonian Christians who lived in plenty with their brothers and
sisters facing famine in Jerusalem. These links and relationships will
be really important for ensuring that food flows from the country to the
city and arranging for the Christian farmer to get his tractor repaired
by the mechanic who lives in the city
Releasing apostles into their ministry might be the best way to
prepare for economic crisis. Developing the ministry of the deacon is
probably the best way to prepare for social decline.
How Giving Works
In a money-based economy, the gardener pays the hairdresser for a
haircut. The butcher sells lamp chops to the motor mechanic and buys
potatoes from the gardener. The farmer pays the mechanic to fix his
tractor and sells the flour to the miller. The baker buys flour from the
miller and sells bread to the hairdresser. In this system, the goods and
services flow one way and the money flows back the other way.
If the money system breaks down and the cash machines are empty,
these exchanges would be impossible. If money loses value, buying and
selling might become difficult. The world will have to go back to
barter, where two people swap their surplus goods and services. Barter
is very restrictive, due to search costs. If a hairdresser wants some
bread, he must find a baker who wants a haircut. Economists call this
the “coincidence of wants”. The problem is that when the hairdresser
finds a baker with surplus bread, he might be bald and need a new shirt.
A lot of productive time will be wasted looking for people who want to
make exchanges, so everyone will be worse off.
Christians can escape the barter trap through giving and sharing. The
hairdresser might bless the gardener by giving him a free haircut. The
gardener can bless the butcher by giving him his surplus potatoes. The
butcher can bless the motor mechanic by giving him some lamb chops. The
motor mechanic can bless the farmer by repairing his tractor. The farmer
can bless the miller by giving him some surplus wheat. The miller
blesses the baker by giving him some flour. The baker can then bless the
hairdresser by giving him some of his bread. Giving and sharing provides
everyone with what they need without any money changing hands.
In the circle of giving, goods and services flow in the same way as
in the market. The difference is that money does not flow the other way.
What does flow is blessing. Jesus said that it is more blessed to give
than to receive. Each person gets what they needed, but they also get
God’s blessing because they gave to those who are need. The giving and
sharing makes the whole community better off and increases God’s
blessing at the same time.
Giving and sharing will only work if there is a high level of trust
between the various Christians. The will be committed to giving and be
constantly looking out for people in need. If the Christian farmer does
not know the Christian miller, the circle of giving could break down. If
the baker knows the hairdresser, but do not care enough to find out what
he needs, the links will break. Often the circle of giving will be much
larger and more complicated than I have shown.
The world would have to trade on a reciprocal basis: you scratch my
back and I will polish your shoes. Blessing flows round and round, which
is more effective than reciprocal swapping.
Sharing and the Gospel
The objective of sharing is to spread the good news and not to keep
God's people comfortable. Christians should also use their resources to
help people who are not Christians. When the Arameans were besieging
Samaria, four lepers were shut outside the city. When they found the
army had panicked and fled, the hungry lepers were the only ones who
They ate and drank, and carried away silver, gold and clothes, and
went off and hid them… Then they said to each other, "We're not
doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to
ourselves” (2 Kings 7:8,9).
Christians must not fall into this trap. We should aim to feed all
the poor living in our communities, not just the Christians.
Everything that happens should be an opportunity for evangelism.
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection
with Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling
the message only to Jews. Some of them… went to Antioch and began to
speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.
The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and
turned to the Lord (Acts 11:19-21).
Economic crisis will create opportunities for proclaiming the good
The impact of any economic crisis will vary from region to region and
country to country. The preparation that is appropriate for the current
crisis will vary according to where people living.
- In many countries the current economic crisis will manifest in
high levels of unemployment. The main challenge will be transferring
income from those with plenty to those under pressure.
- In other countries, business trade will be disrupted. Assisting
the flow of food from country to the city might be important. The
methods described above will work effectively.
- In some regions the economy and its infrastructure might totally
collapse. This has happened in Zimbabwe. The
supermarket shelves are empty, so no one has food, even the rich are
hungry. In this environment, skills like baking bread and growing food
will be really important. Sharing will be essential for survival.
- In a few places, society may collapse into total chaos. These
situations call for a different level of preparation. I will deal with
preparation for living in a collapsing society in the next few sections.
A collapsing society could become a dangerous place for Christians to be
The problem for those trying to prepare is that none of us no how bad
things will get in our city or region. The wisest option is to be
conservative and prepare for the worst. If the worst does not happen, we
will not have lost anything. We will be able to assist those who have
not prepared. Jesus parable of the ten virgins should guide our
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took
their lamps…. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The
foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The
wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps (Matt 25:1-4).