Commentary: New year, new thinking

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Amy Butler, pastor of the Riverside Church in NYC, recently reminded congregational leaders:

“Make it our priority to perpetually reframe the narrative from scarcity to abundance…. When congregations speak in narratives of decline and death, desperation and fear, we are crippling our ability to think in new ways and take action toward the next expression of our lives together.”

Well said. And this needs to be said again and again in every church.

But it’s never easy for churches to imagine something that is beyond their own experience. More often than not, the future we imagine is a slightly idealized version of our past. The solutions we come up with are things we’ve seen work elsewhere or something we’ve tried before with hopes that, with extra effort, will work better this time.

At best, we take the tools we know and the experiences we’ve had and apply them to new problems in front of us. This makes sense and seems to work, except when we’re in situations of adaptive change, in times like today.

One of the routes to move from scarcity to abundance is implementing what educators and business leaders call “design thinking.” It’s a creative, imaginative, innovative, solution-based approach that begins with the end in mind.

For example, when facing today’s challenges, design-thinking churches don’t begin with where they are, what they want to do, what others are doing, or even what problems they have. Instead, they start by asking what kind of impact or outcome they seek, with whom they might join hands and hearts, and, most importantly, whom they want to have that impact on.

Thinking of the end first helps move you from a scarcity to an abundance mindset. Every church should ask: Is our default mode one of abundance or scarcity?

“Abundance thinkers” are described as people who:

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  1. Believe there is always more where that came from, rather than less.
  2. Are happy to share their love and compassion.
  3. Ask themselves, “How can I give more than is expected?”
  4. Operate from a culture of trust and build rapport with others easily.
  5. Embrace an ecumenical approach to kingdom issues.
  6. Welcome collaboration, believing “we” can do far more than “I” ever could, believing the pie is big.
  7. Are optimistic about the future, believing the best is yet to come.
  8. Think big, dream God-sized dreams, embracing risk.
  9. Are thankful and confident.

“Scarcity thinkers”:

  1. Believe there will never be enough.
  2. Are stingy.
  3. Ask themselves, “How can I get by with less than is expected?”
  4. Default to suspicion and find it difficult to build rapport.
  5. Isolate themselves with a kind of “us versus them” mentality.
  6. Resist collaboration believing it makes the pie smaller and them weaker.
  7. Are pessimistic about the future, believing that tough times are ahead.
  8. Think small, avoiding risk.
  9. Are entitled and fearful.

Few churches are ever either/or. We are always a little of both. On a spectrum of abundance to scarcity, churches find themselves moving back and forth. But who doesn’t want church members practicing abundance thinking more often than not?

This reframed narrative begins with new and innovative thinking, especially as we wrestle with our fear of change.

It helps to know Jesus came announcing a new design for thinking too. His message was clear, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It’s about opening your life to God every day. The church soon joined the chorus, “Repent and turn to God.”

We tend to think this call to repent means to “shape up,” leading us to reduce Jesus’ message to a kind of scarcity thinking. Perhaps this year we should see Jesus’ call to repentance as more an invitation to abundant life, a new design for thinking.

Abundance thinking grows out of an interactive life with God. Perhaps Jesus is saying to the 21st century church, “Change the way you have been thinking—a life of intimacy and  abundance with God is now in your midst.”

What a gracious invitation—an offer so good that when Jesus taught it, he had difficulty escaping the crowds! The same can be true for today’s church.

Here’s to a new year, and a new design of thinking, one of abundance and growth.

Dr. Bill Owen is a Congregational Consultant and Coach for CHC after a 32-year pastorate at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Cross Plains, TN, just north of Nashville. Bill is an experienced, certified leadership coach. He also works as a cognitive coach among educators, particularly secondary school teachers with a focus on innovation and personalized learning. He brings these skills and experiences to his work with and love for congregations and ministry staff development. He is a consultant for CHC and the coordinator for CHC-Southcentral.

This article originally appeared on the Center for Healthy Churches blog.


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