It is a truth universally acknowledged that The Princess Bride is one of the greatest movies of all time (if you do not acknowledge this truth, please sit down and re-examine your priorities). There's a great scene (among many) in TPB in which Westley, Fezzik, and Inigo are atop the castle wall looking at the gate that separates them from their goals (revenge, true love, etc.). The castle gate is guarded by 60 men and the trio are working on their strategy. The first step is to list their assets - Westley's brains, Fezzik's strength, Inigo's steel. Despairing of their chances of success, Westley says "If if we only had a wheelbarrow, that would be something." Inigo asks Fezzik, "Where we did we put that wheelbarrow the albino had?" Fezzik replies, "Over the albino, I think," and Westley asks, "Well, why didn't you list that among our assets in the first place?"
The truth is we don't always think enough about our assets - especially when we're in a difficult spot or feel threatened. If things haven't been going well, or we anticipate that they may not, we tend to get into a mindset of scarcity - focusing on what we don't have, rather than on what we do. This has been happening more and more in the church - both (to some extent) in our church and in the Christian church in general. As we hear stories about declines in church attendance, giving, people's identification with any religious group, etc., it's hard not to get a little nervous. And when we get nervous, we start focusing on what's wrong, what we're missing, what we're losing. And when that happens, we start turning inward. We cling to what we do have, even if it's not all that great, because at least we have something. We don't want to let go of things, take risks, or even use what we have because what if it doesn't work? What if things start going even worse? Then where would we be?
I was part of the writing team for the Missional scenario for the future of Decatur First (the one our congregation ended up choosing as what we feel is God's vision for our church). One of the things we talked a lot about as we developed our scenario was something called asset-based community development (ABCD). ABCD is a strategy for developing communities based on their strengths and potentials rather than on their needs (which was the traditional way to approach community development). The Missional group thought this would be a good way for us to approach any mission projects that we were involved in, but as conversation developed, we realized this should be how we approach things within our church as well.
Instead of focusing on our needs and what we don't have and what might be going not so great, what if our first move was to look at our gifts, our strengths, our assets? This congregation is full of gifts that we may not even know about yet. This church has all kinds of assets, in location, facilities, etc., sometimes even in the same places where we traditionally see needs and weaknesses.
This type of approach can transform communities, and I believe it can transform a church too. But it will take some work for us to change our mindset and our language. The good news is that we can start right away, with ourselves. What are your gifts? What are you good at? What do you do so well that you could teach others to do it?
The time is right. Let's get our assets in gear!