Why Talk About Chris Brown and Stewardship?
Before purchasing stewardship.com, I did quite a bit of due diligence. Domain investing is not my forte. (I'm still not sure whether I did a good job.) But it really doesn't matter. For me this project has always been more about purpose than profit.
Anyway, I tried to learn everything I could in a short period of time. Some of that due diligence involved digging into the history of stewardship.com. I wanted to know
- Who owned this domain in the past?
- What did they use it for? How similar were past versions of this website to my vision for it?
- Is the word stewardship still in broad circulation? It's certainly less common than it used to be, but is there still a critical mass of people who search for this word?
- Do most people searching for the word have in mind something related to a Christian view of finances? Or something else? (For example, environmental or other meanings.)
The answers to those questions helped inform my decision to purchase the domain.
Stewardship.com, Dave Ramsey, and Chris Brown
The best I could tell, Dave Ramsey's company was the previous owner of stewardship.com. And Chris Brown was the main guy running it for Dave.
Their target audience and mine are basically the same: Christians who want to learn more about money. The details are different, but there is broad alignment between what they used this domain for, and what I use it for. That's a good thing for me as the buyer of this domain.
Buying a previously used domain comes with risks. Aside from the usual risks of any investment, domains come with baggage in the form of a backlink profile. Part of how Google and other search engines determine the content and authority of a domain is from what other websites say about it via links. The search algorithms assume that pages linking to my page have something in common with it.
Imagine this domain was previously focused on, say, global warming hysteria, within the broad category of environmental stewardship. In that case my content would be constantly fighting against the backlink profile. Google would be pulled one way by my articles on the Bible and money, and pulled the opposite direction by what other websites are saying about mine.
Chris Brown's Teaching On Stewardship
So what exactly did Chris Brown teach on the topic of stewardship? I watched some of his past YouTube videos to find out.
According to Chris Brown (and Dave Ramsey from whom I assume Chris got this), stewardship is "Managing God's blessings, God's way, for God's glory." This makes reference to some aspects of the usual definition of stewardship, while broadening it beyond money, wealth, and possessions. He also said that stewardship is not recycling, saving the rainforest, or fundraising.
I liked that he distinguished between poverty and prosperity gospels, and showed that neither is Biblical. An interesting statistic I hadn't heard was that "prosperity is used 92 times in scripture, and it's always positive."
Nonetheless, whether we are making or giving money, we should not think of stewardship as only math or money. It has to effect our hearts. Our heart's attitude towards money should be in line with God's, for example, we should be "cheerful givers" not grudging ones.
Differentiating from Dave Ramsey
Few things are more boring than people who mouth the words of a famous speaker without really making it their own. This happens a lot with Dave Ramsey's material...I mean he is legitimately brilliant and successful...but we each need to think and process things for ourselves. That processing will always shape and change the things we learn from even our most influential mentors.
While Chris Brown in this YouTube video used quite a few obvious Dave Ramsey talking points, Chris's personal story and enthusiasm were sufficient to keep it unique and interesting.
He tells the story of being 11 years old and staying at a roach-infested motel with his mother. They had jumped around to a bunch of different places in order to avoid what Chris called "multiple violent father figures." He and his mom had obviously been through a lot of trauma. But on his 11th birthday, seeing the look of despair on his mom's face, Chris resolved to avoid putting himself or his family in that same kind of situation.
I won't share the entire testimony here, but it's pretty good. Long story short, he ended up attending a Christian college on a baseball scholarship, heard the gospel, and started following Jesus.
Real Estate Mistakes
After college he apparently had a pretty good job and did a lot of things right financially. He flipped houses using cash for awhile, but then decided to lever up with 8 mortgages to juice his returns. This was in 2007 or 2008, shortly before the housing market crashed.
In 2011 he found himself filing bankruptcy, just like Dave Ramsey did many years before and for exactly the same reason. Leverage in any form will do this: whether its real estate debt or heavy margin in stocks or commodities, too much leverage makes investors vulnerable to inevitable market swings.
He didn't share much of his testimony beyond that point. I'd be interested to hear the story of how exactly he got connected with Dave Ramsey.
Chris Brown's Podcast
At some point while doing this research I realized that Chris Brown is still teaching about stewardship today. He has a podcast titled Life, Money, Hope which started in early 2023.
I listened to an episode with stewardship in the title to see what he currently teaches. The content was similar to his older YouTube videos, but with a very different vibe. (Those videos were sermons delivered to big churches, whereas the show has a calmer vibe.)
This episode was a pretty good summary of his current views on money. Chris shared three principles which are different but not necessarily in contradiction with the stewardship principles I see in scripture. Chris Brown's principles are
Spread your money around, don't put it all in one basket. He recommended finding mutual funds with a long track record. This logic has its flaws, which I discuss here. But he does give some good examples, pointing out that in times of market panic its less volatile to own a broad stock index rather than individual stocks.
Chris says the tortoise always beats the hare. He basically recommends following Dave Ramsey's baby steps to invest 15% of your income until the kids' college is funded and the mortgage or other debt is fully paid off. Again, this general principle is great, I just don't agree with all the details.
On the stewardship.com YouTube channel I've been going through the Total Money Makeover. We haven't gotten to the Baby Steps yet...the short version is that I think the first 3 are great, but my feelings about 4-7 are mixed. They can be good ways to learn financial discipline, but are pretty much the same vanilla financial guidance you can hear anywhere else, Christian or secular.
They lack the creativity and inspiration of steps 1-3, which are deeply related to how Dave Ramsey overcame his own biggest financial mistakes. It's also a stretch to argue that Baby Steps 4-7 come from the Bible. They aren't necessarily inconsistent with the Bible...but that is very different from saying they are derived from the Bible.
3. Faithful Management
Chris Brown gives another definition of stewardship in explaining his final principle. He says stewardship or faithful management for God means maximizing the amount of money available for God's kingdom work, provided we pay our taxes and follow the law. His main application point here is to look for tax advantages when investing.
Chris Brown is Really Likeable...but Watch Out For the Details
A lot of what I wrote above seems critical, but the truth is that I enjoyed most of what Chris Brown said. He has an infectious energy and seems to genuinely care about people and the Bible. I enjoyed going through Chris Brown's teaching and will probably check back in on his podcast periodically.
My only criticism of his teaching on stewardship and Christian finance is that when it comes down to the nitty-gritty application, i.e., "What do I do with my money!" questions, it's exactly the same stuff that Dave Ramsey teaches.
I know a lot of people consider that a virtue, so if that's you, have at it. He basically comes off as a nicer, more personable Dave Ramsey. He also talks much more about the Bible, which I love.
So any criticism in this post is not against Chris Brown per se, but more a criticism of the Dave Ramsey paradigm. I've said many times that I'm indebted (haha) to Dave for his teaching. Financial Peace University and the Total Money Makeover gave me a great foundation to get started as an adult with my first paycheck.
I just think Dave's system is often presented as the one and only right way to do money as a Christian, while the reality is that we all have different circumstances. Some big differences include generational gaps and a rapidly evolving financial world. We have to seriously ask ourselves which parts of Dave's advice are timeless (truly derived from scripture) and which were suitable for Dave's generation but not ours.