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Multiplying gifts

When we start from a perspective of abundance, our blessings become clear and our work less daunting, writes Teri McDowell Ott.

In Mark 6:30, the disciples gather around Jesus to report “all that they had done and taught.”  They’d been busy, and Jesus, God bless him, invited these weary disciples to get some well-deserved rest. But before they get to their resting place, a hungry crowd appears that Jesus wants them to feed.

We can probably relate to the disciples’ resistance.

We can’t feed these people, Jesus, because we don’t have enough money. We must fix the church’s heat pump and replace the sanctuary roof.

We can’t feed these people, Jesus, because we don’t have the staff capacity. I mean, we’re just a tiny band of fishermen.

We can’t feed these people, Jesus, because we have no established protocol. There’s just no way to do this work decently and in order. Is it even part of our mission?

Oftentimes, we think of all the reasons we can’t do something before we give time and attention to considering whether we can.

The church of Jesus Christ is ill-served if we approach our ministry from a place of “not enough.” Anxious, fearful systems – operating from the perspective of scarcity – become inflexible and brittle, and eventually collapse.

Jesus asks: How many loaves do you have? Naming the gifts God has given us to share is a helpful reframing as we consider the future of the church.

I’ve preached on Mark 6 so often you’d think I’d be unwavering in practicing its wisdom. But the fear of scarcity is a paralyzing force for me, too. Just the other day, Outlook staff were stunned to learn that the faith-based publication Geez magazine had shut down. The financial pressure of sustaining an independent, reader-supported publication tempts me to fight for and hoard all the resources I can.

A friend recently gifted me Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar. Assembling a good team, Catmull writes, is more important than individual talent or brilliant ideas. Even the most talented people can form an ineffective team if they are mismatched, or if the culture doesn’t support creativity and candor in giving honest feedback. An effective team feels safe raising ideas, asking questions and following curiosities, even if they lead nowhere.

We have an exceptional team here at the Outlook — people I am blessed to work alongside, and a board of directors that supports our creative and Christ-centered ministry. Recently, I led our staff in a brainstorming discussion: Considering all that we have, how can we use our gifts to creatively meet the needs of Christ’s church? What followed was inspiring. Managing editor Dartinia Hull wondered if we could do some sort of “flipped” issue of our magazine. Office manager Alfred Walker chimed in, remembering an old “flipped” issue of MAD magazine, with one cover celebrating Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, and the “flipped” cover on the back celebrating JFK’s. Social media producer Jesy Littlejohn suggested a “choose your own adventure” issue introducing readers to different theological perspectives. Digital content editor Rose Schrott Taylor noted that not everyone expresses their faith through writing: could we put out a call for non-verbal submissions? Photography? Music? Short videos? We ended our conversation excited and energized, ready to try new ideas.

I’m grateful for this team of creative, passionate colleagues who keep me from paralyzing myself (and the Outlook) with scarcity fears. I’m also grateful for the community of faith that supports our ministry — not only with financial gifts, but with loaves that multiply when put to good use: ideas, experiences, theological and biblical studies, thoughtful commentary on complex social and political issues. And I’m grateful for the God from whom all great ideas, teams and resources for ministry flow.

How many loaves do we have? When we start from this perspective of abundance, our blessings become clear and the work less daunting. God is our greatest innovator. And Jesus guides us in shaping a most faithful team.