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Five Capitals 101: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

By July 2, 2018 July 22nd, 2019 8 Comments
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Investment is a buzzword in America right now. It’s actually a big deal for the whole world right now.

Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly thinking about

  • How to invest our time
  • Which relationships to invest in
  • How to invest our money
  • How to invest our ______

As Christians, we noticed this and starting asking ourselves, “What does investment look like from a ‘kingdom of God’ perspective?” What kinds of capital are we working with? What kinds of returns are we looking for in our investing?

We noticed that Jesus taught his disciples how to invest their time, energy, and money for a bigger return than just financial reward. The Gospels are filled with parables and conversations around money, capital and investment.

As we began to think and talk about these things, we outlined what we’ve come to call the five capitals. (And of course we named our organization after them!)

What we mean by capital

Before we talk about the five capitals, we need to talk about capital. What is capital? Capital refers to investable assets we have in our possession. Economies are built on the exchange of capital.

We normally think of money when we think of capital, but it’s quite a bit more than that. Economists talk about natural capital (the natural resources available to us), public capital (infrastructure of cities, etc), and social capital (the value of a brand), to name a few.

Essentially the world works as a network of relationships where we invest different kinds of capital, expecting some kind of return on our investment.

And, as usual, Jesus takes us beyond our normal ways of thinking and trains us how capital and investment work in the bigger picture of life with God (or, as Jesus calls it, “the kingdom of God”).

So as we look at Scripture, the life of Jesus, and our own lives, we notice that our capital can be put into five categories. Here they are, in brief, listed from lowest in value to highest in value.

Financial capital

Financial capital is simply the money we have available to invest. It’s measured in dollars and cents, pounds and pennies, etc.

We are most familiar with this one, because we work with it every day. It’s not inherently good or bad, it’s simply a resource to invest.

Jesus talked about money quite a bit, actually! He talked about how we could turn it into an idol, if we are relying on it for significance or security. But he also affirmed that it’s simply a form of capital that allows us to invest in other capitals that are worth more (read on!).

Intellectual capital

Intellectual capital is the creativity and knowledge we have available to invest. It’s measured in concepts and ideas.

This is worth more than financial capital, because you can’t create ideas and creativity simply by spending a lot of money, but you can make a lot of money from a great idea.

Jesus possessed an astonishing level of intellectual capital, which he used often in his mission. He was recognized by the crowds, his disciples, and even his enemies as a rabbi, which means “teacher” or “master.”

It’s important to recognize that Jesus wasn’t just a holy person who prayed a lot—he was also a smart person who thought a lot. As Dallas Willard said, “Jesus wasn’t just nice, he was brilliant!”

Physical capital

Physical capital is the time and energy we have available to invest. It’s measured in hours and minutes.

Physical capital is the time we make available for tasks, projects, and relationships, as well as the capacity we have to use that time.

Health comes into play here, because it greatly affects our ability to invest our time and energy. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and living a rhythm of life that allows us to both work and rest is essential if we are going to steward our long-term physical capital.

Jesus shows us how to do this when he teaches his disciples how to rest and abide so they can bear fruit (John 15). He also is consistently encouraging them to get away from the crowds with him, so they can rest from their work.

He knows their ability to invest their time and energy in the work of God is dependent on honoring their need for rest and rhythm.

Relational capital

Relational capital is the relational equity we’ve built up over time with others. It’s measured in the quality and depth of relationship we have with our family, friends, and associates.

Our relational capital “accrues” and “pays dividends” in many ways. Studies have shown that people with more friends report higher levels of overall happiness and well-being. People with lots of relational capital tend to be healthier.

And when other forms of capital run out on us, it’s wonderful to have relational capital to fall back on. When we invest in relationships and give value to others, they are inclined to give value back to us in kind.

Jesus invested a lot of time (physical capital) to grow a tremendous amount of relational capital with his disciples. (In fact, none of the other capitals will actually grow without some kind of relationship with someone else.)

Jesus invested quite a bit of time in just a few disciples, deepening his relational capital with them, because he knew they would need it for the “job” he was going to give them.

Spiritual capital

Spiritual capital is the “spiritual equity” we have to invest. It’s the most valuable of all the capitals, and it’s measured in wisdom and power.

People astonished at Jesus’ teaching, because it was filled with authority and wisdom. People were amazed at his miracles, too, because they expressed a degree of God’s power that they’d never seen before.

Jesus was rich in spiritual capital. That’s the resource he had that enabled him to carry out his mission, which was to open up the doors of the kingdom of God to everyone. Since spiritual capital is the most valuable asset one could have, we could say that Jesus was the wealthiest person ever to live.

Trade it all in for spiritual capital

Jesus was constantly urging people to trade in other forms of capital to gain spiritual capital. For Jesus this is the ultimate “payoff” of living as his disciple: you grow your spiritual capital, which is of the highest value of all the capitals.

  • When Jesus talked about life in the kingdom of God and how it was worth cashing everything else in for, he was talking about a life rich in spiritual capital.
  • When Jesus talked about eternal life, he wasn’t just talking about long-lasting life—he was talking about a life rich in spiritual capital that lasts forever.
  • When Jesus talks about “the kingdom of God” and “eternal life,” think of them as code words for a life of spiritual wealth.

You could say that Jesus’ whole mission was to help people prosper in spiritual capital. His message was that through relationship with him, anyone could become “wealthy” in spiritual capital. And once spiritual capital is your top priority, he promised that all the other capitals would be taken care of (Matthew 6:33).

The good news that Jesus announced was that the true wealth of a life with God in his kingdom was now available to everyone. It’s like a treasure a man found in a field, Jesus said. In his joy, he sold everything he had and bought the field!

Those are the five capitals! Leave a comment below to give us your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

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