Called to imagine

"Rather than deny our own capacity to help, let us explore the resources we have and imagine new ways we might meet the needs before us."

Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself because I don’t have what I need to do the ministry I want, I turn to the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand for a reality check.

In Mark’s version of this story, I’m struck by all the reasons (many of which were valid) the disciples offer Jesus as to why they could not feed the hungry crowd of people pressing in on them. Their first-century reasons easily translate to today:

We can’t feed these people, Jesus, we don’t have enough money. What donor would give us two hundred denarii to buy enough bread for this crowd?

We can’t feed these people, Jesus, we don’t have the resources. Bread and fish are already in short
supply, and you want to exhaust our resources with just one meal?

We can’t feed these people, Jesus, we don’t have the appropriate personnel. We’re a tiny band of fishermen. We don’t even share a secretary.

We can’t feed these people, Jesus, we just don’t have the energy for one more thing.

Often our reaction to what God asks of us is to think of all the reasons we can’t before considering whether we can. Our obstacles and challenges are, of course, valid. They will eventually need to be addressed. But it seems that Jesus would advise us to first consider all that we have … before considering all that we do not. “How many loaves have you?” Jesus asks in Mark 6:38 because the disciples haven’t thought to ask this question themselves. What do you have? Who do you have? How might you begin to consider meeting the need before you with available resources?

With stewardship season upon us, I’ve invited contributors to this issue who are reconsidering what the church has and how our resources can best be invested in Christian ministry. Mark Elsdon’s work and writing reimagine the good we can do through faith-based investing. Amy Butler shares the story of her investment fund, Invested Faith, which accepts the assets of closed churches and then reinvests them in faith-based social entrepreneurs. John Cleghorn spent his summer researching and writing about faith communities that have built affordable housing on their property. They are all part of a growing conversation among faith-based, entrepreneurial leaders who, recognizing all the church has, are creatively meeting needs through new ministries.

Lately, I’ve been returning to the work of adrianne maree brown for inspiration and hope. Her book Emergent Strategy gets me dreaming about all that is possible, even in the face of all that is overwhelming. Brown calls upon our imagination as one of our greatest resources, asking, “When we imagine the world we want to shift towards, are we dreaming of being the winners of the future? Or are we dreaming of a world where winning is no longer necessary because there are no enemies?”

As I consider the future of the church, brown’s questions give me pause. Are we so afraid of losing all we have that we can’t imagine and act on bold new approaches to ministry? Will we hold onto our assets, to our deaths? Or can we practice the radical resurrection theology we profess? Brown insists we have all we need – time, energy, money – to put into creative solutions for our continuance on this planet. What we lack, she writes, is will. I might add courage.

I hear a repeated lament from the entrepreneurs and innovators among us. They feel isolated and lonely, pushed to the margins for their “idealism” and tagged with dismissive labels like “not real ministry” when they dare to venture into new territory, often laboring outside the four walls of the church. Yet, we are all called to imagine a world where winning is no longer necessary; a meal where all are fed with what we have. Rather than deny our own capacity to help, let us explore the resources we have and imagine new ways we might meet the needs before us. I pray this issue helps us all step into this hope-filled vision.