We offer an invitation and challenge for ordinary leaders to shift from a mindset of scarcity and decline to a mindset of abundance and renewal. Easier said than done!
This shift requires a program of learning and training. Thankfully, we have an example in the rural prophet and teacher Jesus of Nazareth. In particular, the story of Jesus feeding the multitude (i.e. Mark 6) provides a pathway of practices that illustrates and demonstrates the way of abundant life in a rural region.
More about the practices:
The Practice of Retreat: It all started with a retreat. Retreats were part of Jesus’ rhythm and his example demonstrates the principle that renewed leaders renew communities. Since we live in the country, it’s easy for rural folks to assume we don’t need retreats. But “strategic withdrawal” is a critical practice for doing deep work, breaking imaginative gridlock, and receiving Christ’s restorative touch.
The Practice of Discernment: Their retreat was interrupted by the crowds and Jesus had to decide whether he was called to move toward or away from the crowds. The practice of discernment helps us attend to the movements of our inner life and determine what work is ours and what is not.
The Practice of Stability: The disciples wanted to send the people away but Jesus called upon them to stay put and stay present, assuring them that the responsibility, resources, and relationships were all there and all theirs. Renewal requires that we commit to a place and people and not flee when we feel the spirit of scarcity or the spiritual temptation of acedia.
The Practice of Inventory: While the disciples focused on what was absent, Jesus invited them to take an inventory of what was present. We recover a spirit of abundance when we notice and name the gifts and assets around us. This involves a shift from a deficit-based approach to an asset-based approach to community renewal.
The Practice of Imagination: Jesus asked the disciples to bring the loaves to him and open themselves to the possibilities of God’s Spirit. Though change can be hard for rural communities, renewal requires a grieving of the old and an embrace of a new, negotiated future.
The Practice of Organizing: Jesus instructed the disciples to organize the mass of people into smaller groups, thereby transforming a crowd into a community (or collection of communities). The work of renewal involves creating community by organizing groups and gatherings in which connections and associations are formed.
The Practice of Hospitality: Jesus performed the ritual and relational roles of a host in this story and modeled this role elsewhere through his practice of open table fellowship and the Eucharist. This “prophetic picnic” revealed the welcoming heart of God and the possibilities of restored and reconciled fellowship.
The Practice of Grounding: Jesus instructed the people to sit down in the “green grass.” This is more than a throwaway detail; there is something about reconnecting with the Earth and settling into the present moment and present place that helps us release our anxiety and see the abundance of God’s world.
The Practice of Gratitude: Jesus lifted up the gathered gifts and gave thanks. The practice of gratitude awakens us to the grace and goodness around us, teaching us to see the abundance of beauty and love we couldn’t see before. Rural folks are often skilled at cherishing the small, simple gifts of life and they can build on this practice to change the prevailing story of scarcity and polarization in their community to one of abundance and connectedness.
The Practice of Generosity: Jesus was free to give the food away to the group without fear. And he was free to receive the food from the young child. New visions and ventures open to us when we live with open hands, ready to release or receive. Generosity of spirit and resources creates abundance and makes miracles possible, even in small towns and rural regions.
The Practice of Solidarity: The miracle was not only the abundance but the shared abundance. In this parable of shalom, everyone had more than enough and “all were satisfied.” Abundance can only be recovered if we practice solidarity across differences. One of the benefits of small town life is the intimate knowledge of our neighbors; we notice when people are absent. We can use this to gossip and divide or we can leverage that knowledge to promote personal empowerment and intentional inclusion.
The Practice of Memory: Jesus asked the disciples to collect the leftovers. Leftovers remind us of what we experienced at the last meal or party. Abundant life requires a good memory and markers that remind us of past miracles.
Want to go deeper? Schedule a workshop or teaching visit.
And watch for Andy’s book Recovering Abundance, scheduled to publish in 2021!