Seeing Past Scarcity: Confessions of a Recovering Scarcity Viewer
by Andrew Morton, Assistant Pastor, Warsaw Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Warsaw, Indiana
While reflecting on Indiana’s economy, I have been struck by how often the economic principle of scarcity keeps coming up in discussions on leadership and pastoral imagination. This notion of scarcity can be defined as “the deep belief that no matter how much we have, it is not enough.”This mindset conceives of resources in terms of a zero-sum competition for survival, and it has a way of burrowing deep into the way we approach our lives and our work.
This reality was driven home when one of the presenters, a talented individual who works tirelessly for the well-being of his community, made the frank admission that his community is in competition with other communities, and that the success of one community comes at the expense of the others.
From a human standpoint, this is common sense. Our economic system is built upon the bedrock assumption that resources—whether people, goods, time, funds, or raw materials—are finite. If certain resources are allocated to one area, then the pool of available resources has been diminished. Our world operates on the principle of supply and demand. Scarcity is an inescapable reality that defines the way humanity goes about its existence.
The mindset of scarcity enjoys a privileged position, not just in the marketplace, but also in our churches. From a human standpoint, the vitality of congregational ministry depends on the availability of money, time, volunteers, and energy—all of which appear to be in short supply. It’s not surprising, then, that church leaders can easily fall prey to viewing their ministries through the lens of scarcity.
One of the effects of this scarcity mindset that I’ve observed in my context is a decline in a culture of dreaming—of imagining the ministry possibilities around us and eagerly pursuing innovation in the way we approach our tasks. Instead, a mindset of scarcity—of funds, volunteers, energy, etc.—corrals us into a way of approaching ministry that is more reactionary than visionary, more survivalist than missional, more safe than sacred.
Despite the best of intentions, I confess that my tendency is to drift toward a sort of functional atheism in which I attempt to do the Lord’s work with merely human tools. The ease with which a mindset of scarcity takes hold of me reveals my deeper struggle to see beyond the ordinary into the realm of God’s divine program for the world and His all-sufficient means of bringing His ambitions to fruition.
God invites us to feast our eyes upon this greater vision. As Paul exhorts the Roman believers in Romans 12:2, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. One way that I find my mind is being currently renewed is through Christ’s invitation to think in terms of abundance rather than scarcity. To approach life and ministry through the lens of abundance is “to believe that we have enough…even in the wilderness of an uncertain future.”As the account of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand continues to remind me, God delights to reveal His abundance in the places where we least expect it. The more I allow this reality to take root in my heart and mind, the more I will be equipped to embrace the challenges of ministry with renewed eagerness, confidence, and a capacity to dream expectant dreams of God’s work in my church and community.
Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, and John McKnight, An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture(Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2016), 2.
Block, Brueggemann, and McKnight, 9.
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