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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

Fear, Perspectives, and Unsticking Thinking

I've started life over several times, and I'm ready to do it again if need be. 

The other day I was reading a blog post from one of my favorite personal finance bloggers. He performed the trick of what I like to call "thinking backward." His audience is often people who want to make "good" into "great." He also has people just starting in personal wealth. 

When it comes to personal finance, there's a lot of fear out there. There's also a lot of ignorance, and a few charlatans too. For some of us, it takes time to wrap our heads around. There's a learning curve, no doubt about it, and finding trustworthy people to guide us is valuable. Likewise, finding a community of others on the same path is priceless. 

This blogger wrote a terrific article called, "If I woke up broke*." It's a few years old, but that doesn't matter. What matters is, he took the greatest fear and addressed it. He spoke to the newest people interested in beginning their financial journey. 

Why is this important to shrinking mainline churches? Because we've been expressing our fears among ourselves for years, and now we're faced with a crisis. Because we're in the middle of something that might actually have dire consequences for our congregations. And most especially because human beings never think well when they're afraid. Decision-making from fear-feeling is always a bad idea. 

What if 80% of our churches woke up tomorrow broke? What if we woke up without a dime in our pockets, zero assets, and we couldn't pay anyone a salary and couldn't pay our bills? 

There's another popular blogger who talks about something he calls a "fear setting exercise.**" He examines the question, "what's the worst that could happen?" 

Most of us will never dig deep into the "what's the worst that could happen" question. Shoot, most of us knock wood when we accidentally ask the question. 

But let's ask it. Let's unstick our thinking. Let's think backward. 

It requires a bit of imagination. Not everyone is great at this. I'm told that it's like learning how to draw - practice makes perfect. Frankly, I've practiced drawing for years, and I still need a ruler to draw a stick figure. So don't worry too much if you feel imaginatively untalented. Just do what you can.

Let's see… if we were one of the 80% of congregations that woke up broke tomorrow, what would that be like? 

First, I think a lot of decisions would be made for us. If we couldn't pay our bills and our annual budget was immediately transformed into a birdcage liner, we would remove ourselves from our contractual obligations. It would be horrible, but we wouldn't have much choice. 

Second, we'd be "broke" because we have nothing to contribute. That means our own lives have been turned upside-down. Our personal coffers are empty. Maybe we can't even feed and house ourselves. The natural thing to do then, because we are the community, is to find a way to find food and housing for those among us who need it. If we have a spare bedroom, we open it up. Where once we sat next to each other in a pew, we sit next to each other at our shared dining room table. And don't think for a minute that it will be easy. After the first few weeks, we'll begin acting like a family, and there will be conflicts. But family we are, and so we'll figure it out. 

Third, we continue church. Somehow. We figure out a way to worship and learn and love. We figure out a way to meet safely, even if it still needs to be online for a while. 

And then? From here, there are a million ideas we could try. Here's one thing I think:

We decide how to ensure each of our congregation has their basic needs met. Maybe we buy an old rambling house with a lot of bedrooms and start sharing space. Maybe we gather in a parking lot with the produce from our victory gardens and spread our wealth. 

Perhaps we decide to build the church without a church building - at least for a little while. Maybe we encourage each other to study hard and take up some of the work our pastor/priest used to do. Of course, we make sure our pastor/priest finds additional employment or supports them in every way we can. 

How do you feel now? Addressing our greatest fears and having a plan - one that will work! - feels good. 

If your congregation woke up broke tomorrow, how would you feel? What would be your reactions and feelings? What would be your plan? How would you welcome and rejoice in the Holy Spirit's power doing a "new thing" through you?

I pray every day none of our churches face such challenges. But in case the worst happens, I am not afraid. I hope that when we face our fears, we will meet all of our challenges fearlessly with faith in the Holy Spirit's power. 


Photo by Aubrey Rose Odom on Unsplash

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