Do More with Less – by Eric Law
When I was young my family always had guests for dinner. On any given day, there might be twelve to fifteen people at the dinner table. Dinner was a time of joyful sharing of food and stories. I thought we were quite wealthy, feeding so many people every night. Only when I was older, while talking to my mother about the good old days, did I find out that we were not rich at all. My mother told me that some days she only had three dollars to feed fifteen people. How could that be? I could not remember a day when there was not enough food! What my mother did with three dollars was a miracle in itself. If you asked her how she did it, she would tell you how she determined what to buy in what season and, more importantly, her techniques in bargaining. But I think there is more to this miracle than just knowing what to buy and how to bargain. Not only was everyone around the table filled every night; there were always leftovers. I believe the way we dealt with the leftovers at the dinner table is indicative of how this miracle of doing “more with less” was accomplished.
Toward the end of dinner, there was always something left on a plate in the middle of the table. Everyone would be staring at it, especially when it was a piece of meat, which was an occasional, special treat. But no one would make a move to take it. Then someone would say, “Why don’t you take it, Grandma? You are the oldest.” But my grandma would say, “No, I’ve been eating this stuff all my life. Give it to the little one. He’s the youngest and needs the nourishment to grow up to be big and strong.” Now all eyes were on me – the youngest. But I, who also learned this ritual, would say, “No, not me. I am completely full because I have the smallest stomach. Give it to my older brother. He has an examination at school tomorrow. He needs it so he can do well.” My oldest brother would say, “No, not me. Give it to my sister. She has a piano lesson tomorrow . . .” The ritual would go on around the table; each person would find an excuse not to take the leftover piece of food. While we offered it to each other, we also affirmed each other’s worthiness in the family. As a result, the piece of meat would sit in the middle of the table, destined to be left over, to be transformed into a new delicious dish the next day. The leftovers became a symbol of our appreciation of each other’s worth. This leftover piece of food became a sign of the abundance we shared –we can do more with less. (I first told this story of my childhood dinner table in my book Inclusion)
At the dinner table of my childhood, I learned a very important life lesson, which has become part of the spirituality I strive to live out. The lesson was very different from a more popular spirituality based on scarcity, which drives us to take and keep and to have more than the other. The spirituality I learned at my dinner table was a different twist on modernism’s credo: Less Is More. (This credo is attributed to Ludwig Mies va de Rohd.) By insisting on having less than the other, we learn to appreciate more of each other’s worth. Furthermore, I learned from my childhood dinner table, the new credo: Do More with Less. (This one is attributed to R. Buckminister Fuller.) The dynamics of passing the “leftover” around generating a spirit of appreciation and affirmation did so much more than fighting over the last piece of meat, as a fear-of-scarcity-minded group would do.
For me, this radical value – it is better to have less than the other – behind the leftover ritual is the key to stewardship that can unclog the blockage of the flow of resources in our churches and in our communities. In order to practice this spirituality, people in our communities must believe in the abundance that comes from giving. If everyone in your community gives until he or she has less, it generates a dynamic that will keep everyone giving and receiving. Eventually what you give away will actually return to you. Once people realize that giving is not a one-time “losing” game, but part of a dynamic process that keeps resources flowing in our community, they will have the courage to give generously. To demonstrate how this works, here is an exercise you can do with any group in your various communities to show how “do more with less” can work.
Size of group: 8-25 participants.
Material needed: 100 notecards.
~ Divide the notecards into 4 piles of 25 cards.
~ Give four participants 25 cards each. Explain that each card represent a kind of currency. They could be money, time, talent, relationship, etc.
~ Project or post in large print on the wall the following quote:
It is better to have less than the other
~ Explain the rule of this simulation as follows: The four participants who have the cards are rich with resources. If we live the spirituality of scarcity, most of us would want to keep what we have. In that case, nothing will happen – no movement, no flow of currencies. The four resource rich persons might decide to trade with each other but there will be no engagement with those who had nothing. What if the new rule for this community is: It is better to have less than the other? What would happen? Can you imagine that? For the four of you who have, as you encounter another who has none, what would you do with this new spirituality? The one with 25 cards would give at least 13 cards away to another participant who has none. Let’s try that. Now if everyone in this community is committed to live out this new spirituality, what will happen?
~ Give the group time experience this. Observe what happens. The cards will be distributed to everyone in the room. Those who gave away their cards initially will eventually and very quickly get some cards back. The process will evolve into an endless dynamics of giving and receiving. This is what doing more with less looks like.
~ After some time, stop the simulation and invite participants to complete the sentences:
– I noticed . . .
– I wonder . . .
~ After participants have shared what they noticed and wondered about, engage them in a conversation on stewardship. Invite participants to also imagine the cards in this exercise as other kinds of currency in addition to money, such as time, talent, relationship, leadership, etc. What does this exercise teach us about sustainability?
To learn about the concept of how currencies should flow, consider coming to the training course: Holy Currencies – Conversation on Money and Sustainable Ministries (August 13- March 17, 2012 in the Seattle Area) This course explores the cycle of blessings that involves 6 currencies – money, time/place, gracious leadership, relationship, truth and wellness. Learning how these currencies flow are essential for creating a missional and sustainable ministry. Click http://www.kscopeinstitute.org/winter_institute.html to get more information.
The Rev. Eric H. F. Law is the founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute, which offers resources and training for intercultural competency, congregational development and stewardship. He is also writes a weekly blog: The Sustainist-Spirituality for Sustainable Communities in a Networked World. http://ehflaw.typepad.com/
Currency of Relationship – by Eric Law
A church was facing a mid-year $10,000 budget shortfall. This was not because the church had not been doing missional ministries. In fact, they were serving the neighborhood with many innovative projects. During the coffee hour that Sunday, the pastor asked those gathered to bring out their phones, look through their directories and select 5 friends who were not members of the church. The church members were invited to call the 5 people right there, describe the wonderful ministries that the church was doing in the community – how they spoke the truth, built leadership and created wellness.Then, they were to ask them for a donation between $50 and $500. Lets do some math here. If 25 church members got 4 out of 5 people they called to give an average of $100, they would have raised $10,000. And indeed, within half an hour, they accomplished their goal.
Instead of asking how much money they had which then determined what ministries they could do or could not do, they asked how many relationships they have first. Since they were doing ministries that created wellness, spoke the truth and developed leadership in the community, the people with whom they had real relationships gladly contributed financially to support the ministries of the church even though they were not members.
So, money is not the primary issue in most unsustainable churches. When a church is struggling with financial issues and does not seem to be able to solve it, it usually means that their relationship currency is deficient. In the cycle of blessings I proposed in the last article I wrote for TENS, amongst the 6 currencies, I would identify the currency of relationship as the most important to explore and understand if the church is to move toward missional sustainability. If your church has a stewardship program for building relationships, not only will you not have any financial trouble, the network of relationships can become a platform for other essential currencies such as wellness, truth, and leadership.
Currency of relationship is the internal and external networks of mutually respectful connections that leaders and members of the church have. Internal connections include constructive relationships among members, area churches of the same affiliation, area denominational organization and national and international denominational structures. External connections include constructive relationships with non-members, people with resources and people in needs in the community, civic community leaders, ecumenical and interfaith partners, community and civic organizations, and local businesses.
So take an inventory of the relationships you and the members of your church have –internally and externally. You will discover where you are deficient in your relational currency. Develop a stewardship plan to establish new mutually respectful relationships outward in places where you are lacking. Also, develop a stewardship plan to develop your internal relational currency by strengthening existing relationships within your church so that your church community can work together toward creating wellness and speaking the truth inside and outside your church.
Here is an exercise you can do to explore your currency of relationship:
- Invite church members to consciously build respectful relationships with 3 peoplein the community this week – for example, get to know the gas station attendant, head librarian, postage worker, school superintendent, fire chief, police chief, corner grocery store owner, janitor at the school, homeless person at your free-lunch program, head of a major corporation in your community, teacher in the local college, etc.
- Gather the community to share experiences of attempting to start relationships in the community. Share the community concerns and issues they heard.
- Instead of offering just money during church worship, church members are invited to write the names of the people with whom they had established relationships on a piece of paper and put that in the offering plate as well. During prayer time, the community is invited to pray for each one of the persons named.
Our next 5-day intensive training institute on Holy Currencies is August 13-17, 2012 in the Seattle, WA area. Click http://www.kscopeinstitute.org/northwest.html to get more information.
The Rev. Eric H. F. Law is the founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute (www.kscopeinstitute.org), which offers resources and training for intercultural competency, congregational development and stewardship. He also writes a weekly blog called The Sustainist – http://ehflaw.typepad.com/blog/
Currencies Must Flow – by Eric Law
Best Practices, Personal Financial Planning
I grew up with a Chinese saying: Water is Money. I often heard it as a joke, especially when it was raining – the rain became a wish or a symbol of financial abundance. In spoken Cantonese, I also heard people use the word “water” in place of money. Perhaps, we should think of the currency of money like water – it should move and flow. During summertime, I made sure that there were no pools of stagnant water around the house because they would be a breeding environment for mosquitos and other insects that might carry diseases. When water doesn’t flow, it becomes opportunities for destructive things to grow. In other words, it turns rotten. I would say the same thing goes for money: when it is not flowing, or when we hold on to it, it turns rotten.
In recent years, we witnessed not only the stagnation of money, but also the use of money in exchange of destructive and divisive causes. This is an election year. I am always amazed at how much money has been poured into campaigns for the different candidates. For example, in 2010, Meg Whitman, the candidate for the Governor of California, reportedly spent 144 million dollars on her campaign. I live in California and I remembered being bombarded by negative ads from her over and over again in all the major TV channels. We are talking about 144 million dollars; much of it went to buying time on TV for negative divisive ads! Imagine what we can do with 144 million dollars for constructive, life-giving, relationship building, truth-telling efforts! How about helping 1440 families to keep their homes, supporting 144 California schools, empowering 144 sustainable communities, creating 14,400 jobs, job training programs for 14,400 people! I am sure if Ms. Whitman had done any of these constructive things with her money, she might even have gotten the votes she needed to become the Governor of California!
So, we have a choice in using the currency of money. We can choose to hold on to it and let it turn rotten; we can choose to use it for divisive and destructive causes; or we can choose to let it flow in life-giving, truth-telling, relationship-building, community-enhancing ways.
What are your experiences with money as a currency? Has your money moved and flowed in constructive life-giving ways? What has your money been “flowed” into? That is, what blessings has your money transformed into for yourselves, your families and your communities?
Here is a reflection you can invite your community members to do to recapture how money has flowed into blessings for them in the past:
1. Recall an earlier time in your life when money was flowing in a way that gave blessings. It could be a story or experience in which your parents, or relatives, or friends, or elders had used money in a way that develops relationship, tells the truth, creates wellness, builds up the community, etc.
- Where were you?
- Who was there?
- What were you doing?
- Where did the money come from?
- What blessings did the money exchange into?
- Who or what group was enriched?
- What long-term benefits did this create?
2. What did you learn in this reflection about money?
3. How does this experience impact the way you use money today? Personally and for ministry?
To learn about the concept of how currencies should flow, consider coming to the training course: Holy Currencies – Conversation on Money and Sustainable Ministries (February 27- March 2, 2012, Los Angeles) This course explores the cycle of blessings that involves 6 currencies – money, time/place, gracious leadership, relationship, truth and wellness. Learning how these currencies flow are essential for creating a missional and sustainable ministry. Click http://www.kscopeinstitute.org/winter_institute.html to get more information.
The Rev. Eric H. F. Law is the founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute, which offers resources and training for intercultural competency, congregational development and stewardship.
Finding the Optimal Level of Conflict – by David R. Brubaker
Every congregation experiences conflict, even though each one does so in unique ways. The sources of conflict may vary from the micro to the macro—from intrapersonal pathologies to personality differences to globalization forces—but over time they are inescapable. Various studies have shown that organizational leaders and managers spend up to 25 percent of their time managing conflict. Experienced pastors know that during times of crisis, conflict management duties can become all-consuming.
Although many members assume that all congregational conflicts emerge from personality differences or communication problems, other significant sources are often at work within the system itself. These include the structure, culture, and leadership of the organization. However, conflict can result not just from changes in the structure, culture, and environment but also from other systemic realities within those three areas.
Conflict can arise out of the congregational structure from one of several causes. First, conflict results when power is overly centralized and those with less power attempt to shift the power imbalance. Second, roles can be so poorly defined that overlapping and thus contested responsibilities lead to tension and conflict. Third, the formal and the informal social structure can be so divergent that conflict emerges from differing perceptions of who really has authority. Leaders who notice patterns in the interpersonal conflicts in their congregation will want to consider these possible structural causes.
An organization’s culture can be another underlying source of conflict, particularly its most visible expression—the worship service. The most common conflict arises when newer congregational members encounter an entrenched organizational culture that they do not share. The conflicts that result tend to be framed by both groups in terms of right and wrong behavior, as culture supplies the values and norms that help us determine what behavior is appropriate or inappropriate. If a pastor or other staff person hired from outside the congregation is perceived to be acting in ways that are counter to the congregation’s cultural values, conflict is particularly likely and tends to be acute. And when an outside leader and an inside culture clash, culture normally wins.
Finally, the multiple environments in which a congregation is nested also provide the potential for multiple sources of conflict. This is the reason why “town/gown” conflicts (between communities and the colleges or universities they host) are so common; academic cultures that value debate and progressive thinking are likely to be in tension with environments that value harmony and traditional values.
Although conflict is inevitable, many scholars and practitioners believe that any organization may have an optimal level of conflict. Some disagreement and conflict provides energy and generates ideas, but too much conflict becomes destructive. When an organization has too little conflict, it may need to be encouraged, and when an organization has too much conflict, it may need to be reduced. In the middle of this curve, however, lies an optimal level of conflict where most organizations seem to thrive. Stirring the conflict pot may be needed in some situations, but when the pot starts to boil over, a conflict reduction strategy may be needed.
Diagnosing the level of conflict and seeking outside assistance at higher levels constitutes the intervention end of the conflict management spectrum. At the prevention end lie opportunities for congregational leaders to create a conflict-healthy system where disagreement is welcomed and destructive conflict doesn’t take root. A conflict-healthy system includes both individual behaviors and congregational mechanisms to manage conflict. It begins with the recognition that leaders set the tone regarding conflict management in their congregations, along with many other behavioral norms.
An organization’s culture matters more than its structure. Therefore, while congregational leaders may be able to create a mediation program or an open-door policy, the greater challenge will likely be changing the conflict culture sufficiently so that congregational members will naturally seek out and use interest-based methods of conflict resolution rather than only choosing flight or fight.
Culture changes when behaviors and assumptions change, and leaders’ behaviors and assumptions matter most of all. Therefore, leaders who learn to know the system, build a supporting coalition, and model the desired changes are affecting the culture of their congregations. The culture may at first resist, but leaders’ persistence in modeling the desired assumptions and behaviors will over time change the conflict culture—the norms and behaviors around conflict in your congregation. Managing conflict starts with managing oneself. Consider the conflict culture that you would like to have in your congregation, then start behaving as if that culture has already arrived. Culture change is never easy, and it is often painful. But it is possible.
A compelling example of leaders’ turning conflict into opportunity for structural and cultural change is found in the first seven verses of Acts 6. The idyllic description of the first Christian community, recorded in Acts 2:42–47 and Acts 4:32–37 is soon marred by incidents of deception in Acts 5:1–11 and internal conflict in Acts 6:1–7. While the sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira—who attempted to deceive the apostles about the extent of their generosity—are shocking, the conflict recorded in Acts 6 sounds more familiar to our ears. One group murmured (or complained) against another group, and leaders intervened to resolve the conflict.
The complaints came from the Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jews and were directed against the Aramaic-speaking Jews. Most scholars agree that the Aramaic-speaking Jews were in the majority of the early Christian movement and included Jesus’s disciples—now called apostles. The identified issue for the minority group was that their “widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1)—a compelling allegation in a society where care for widows and orphans was part of the Mosaic Law.
The twelve apostles could have ignored these allegations, ordered the minority group to stop griping, or issued a decree that all widows would henceforth be fed equal portions. Instead, they convened a meeting of all the disciples and self-defined by clarifying their primary role in the community. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2). They then gave the problem back to the group that originally complained, suggesting that they choose seven individuals “full of the Spirit and wisdom” to care for the feeding of widows (v. 3). Fortunately, the proposal “pleased the whole group” (v. 5), and they chose seven men, all of whom had Greek names–and thus were likely from the group that originally brought the complaint.
It is instructive to note that this passage begins and ends with church growth. The first verse of chapter 6 records that “in those days . . . the number of disciples was increasing,” while the last verse of this section concludes that “the word of God spread” and “a large number of [Jewish] priests became obedient to the faith” (v. 7). This is thus a story about a conflict, nested in a story about growth and change. This fascinating, if brief, account of the first recorded church conflict offers at least three significant learnings.
First, leaders need to move toward conflict, not away from it. Leaders who learn to move toward conflict discover that they have opportunities to resolve issues when those issues are small, rather than attempting to fight fires when they are nearly out of control.
Second, the identified issue is almost never the real issue. The allegation from the Greek-speaking minority that their “widows were being overlooked” in the daily food distribution was indeed a compelling one, but it likely was a proxy for a deeper feeling of powerlessness and alienation among the Hellenist members of the early church. All the significant leadership positions (apostles) were held by the Aramaic-speaking majority, and the minority did not know how to exercise their voice other than through “murmuring.”
Third, involve the “complainers” in solving their identified problems. Note that the apostles did not agree to take care of the problem that had been identified. Rather, they recruited members of the murmuring minority to address the problem. This outcome actually created a new role in the church—that of deacon.
Conflict is often a crisis, but it is also an opportunity. Much depends on our attitude toward conflict. If we expect it to be destructive and awful, it probably will be. But if we anticipate that the conflict may instead be an opportunity for genuine change, we may experience transformation. As Ron Kraybill, the founding director of Mennonite Conciliation Service, has said, conflict may be “an arena of revelation,” a time when we hear God’s voice as we never have before.David Brubaker is a seminar leader with Andover Newton Theological Seminary, Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations.