Spending time in study together is a profound way for the leadership of a congregation to bond and become stronger as spiritual leaders. As a member of the session of my own church, we have begun a study of “Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission” by Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller. The first chapter in this book begins with an understanding of how congregations can learn to embrace fundamental changes in perspective that will lead us away from a focus on ourselves to a focus on those where God has planted us.
Today, I would like to share part of the chapter entitled, “Conversion from Scarcity to Abundance.”
During times of stress and challenge, congregations often pull inside themselves like hermit crabs into a borrowed shell. This can be a reaction to internal conflict, radically changing neighborhoods, or fear about the fate of our denomination. This survival mentality flows from an outlook of scarcity.
Old ways of doing ministry are no longer adequate, but there is no imagining of something different. Finances may be historically low, and no one proposes a scenario to turn things around. The same leaders cycle through petrified volunteer positions until they are bone-tired, without recognizing the gifts and potential of others.
A conversion from paucity to plenty must begin in the hearts and minds of each member. Rooted in the soil of gratitude for our faith and calling, it grows into new hope and vision. What are the tools for this transformation? There are numerous books, small group studies, and meditations about the power of positive thinking. Central to this popular literature is a clear premise: gratitude for “what is” demands disciplined attention, a daily recounting of the many blessings our Creator showers on us.
How many of us nod our heads as we hear Jesus say, “Do not worry! Which one of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Then, in the fray of daily living, how often do we allow fear to cloud our lives? Many of us believe that nurturing an outlook of abundance is key to self-actualization, but when faced with daunting challenges, how often do we revert to notions of scarcity for ourselves, our families, our congregations?
It is not a stretch to say that the same is true for congregations desiring new vitality of mission. Their corporate self-conceptions, their theologies, their beliefs about their pasts and futures, all of these require a conversion from scarcity to abundance. We stand on the shoulders of giants who have embraced this process. Hebrew and Christian Scriptures brim with joyous optimism. Consider the witness of the Apostle Paul, who ongoing conversion gave us words like these:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
In his popular book “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations,” Robert Schnase talks about the inner paradigm shift necessary for what he calls “extravagant generosity” to flow from a community of faith. ‘Vibrant, faithful, growing congregations practice extravagant generosity.” He says. “They thrive with the joy of abundance rather than starve with a fear of scarcity. They give joyously, generously, and consistently in ways that enrich the souls of members and strength the ministries of the church.”
Congregations and their leaders who hope to convert from scarcity to abundance must be intentional in offering pathways to this new reality. It is a call for all church leaders to examine their own visions for ministry. We ask ourselves these important questions. Am I modeling abundant optimism? Is my personal viewpoint a part of the joyful and contagious vision our leadership has adopted as its mission statement? If not, will I commit to the spiritual disciplines that will help me grow?
Suzy Yowell is director of the Growing Field, a nonprofit that focuses on building the capacity of historic sacred places. Their goal is to see churches better serve their communities. This process involves identifying the strengths of your members, your building, and your community and challenges us to stop dwelling on what we don’t have and start focusing on what we do have.
Here are some ways that congregations have been awakened to their value:
- Ample green space converted to community gardens, dog parks or places for meditation.
- Fellowship halls with performance stages now used by nonprofit theatre companies raising up young actors
- Underused gymnasiums now resounding with the voices of community sports leagues and charter schools
- Dormant classrooms now providing program space for a county’s service to developmentally delayed children and their parents
- Office spaces converted to nonprofit incubators for their communities.
Imagine the possibilities when a congregation begins to convert their perspective of scarcity to one of abundance. What a joy to see the things that might occur!
Associate for Stewardship
*Excerpts from “Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission.”