by Melissa Spas
Anglican theologian David Ford says that “…coping with God and God’s generosity…” is at the heart of practicing the Christian faith.1 I am struck by the powerful inversion that happens in my imagination when I consider religious practice in this light. The work of faithful stewardship is not about scraping up some meager offering, or worrying about how to close the gap in a deficit budget, but the task is to make sense of the abundant generosity of God to God’s people, in every imaginable way.
Earlier this month a group of past ECRF participants gathered in Austin, Texas to talk about the ways in which congregations learn and practice abundance. One theme in our time together was the ability to identify a wider range of assets available to a congregation seeking to advance their mission. Of course, we talked about money and financial assets.
However, we also shared about the skills and capacity of volunteers and staff; the facilities and equipment we own or have access to; our current activities, knowledge, and network; and about the reputation that allows a congregation to experiment. We were so grateful to have leaders of several innovative initiatives in and around Austin join us and share about the way that they were able to recognize and celebrate the assets of their community. These initiatives have been particularly successful in engaging young adults and others who are too often seen as in need of resourcing rather than as asset-rich themselves, and they painted a compelling picture of how an abundant imagination puts us in the position of coping with God’s generosity in generative and exciting ways.
The self-described “wrangler” of this group, called The 787 Collective, is Martha Lynn Coon, Director of Congregational Innovation at Austin Seminary. She shared with us about Sidney Williams’ F.I.S.H. model for taking stock of capital resources, and identifying what a faith community already has in a variety of ways. Williams addresses “Faith capital”, “Intellectual capital”, “Social capital” and “Human capital” in order to “develop transformational ministries that have a real impact on the community, exercise good stewardship, and reward the commitment to doing ministry differently.”2 About her ministry and work, Martha Lynn says:
“We’ve spent the last three years listening to the lives of young adults and watching how the Spirit is moving within the congregations that constitute The 787 Collective, calling them forward in new and creative ways to engage younger populations and further God’s renewing working in the Church.
Time and again we’ve witnessed abundance in situations that first seemed scarce. The faith capital, intellectual capital, social capital and human capital that we explored with the Lake Institute are sometimes overlooked resources in congregational life, but exploring new ways to grow and share these types of capital calls us closer to the mission of the Church and provides the potential for significant impact in the lives of both congregations and young adults.”
A new lens for identifying and understanding assets, resources, and money itself can allow us to shine a light on all the capacity in and around us. The questions we ask and the assumptions that we bring will make it easier or harder for us to account for all that we have to work with in ministry and religious life. How do we cope with God’s generosity? What does it take to become resourceful wranglers of the abundance we find in our work and in the world?
1 Ford, D. (2005). Living in Praise: Worshipping and Knowing God. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Insights, a bi-weekly e-newsletter, is a resource for the religious community and fundraisers of faith-based organizations that provides:
- Reflections on important developments in the field of faith and giving
- Recommended books, studies and articles
- Upcoming Lake Institute events