Living out of abundance

The Rev. Mike Mather talks with the youth during a service at Broadway United Methodist Church. Photos by Kelly Wilkinson

A church learns that when it stops asking about a community’s needs and begins asking about its gifts, people learn that what we need is already here.

“Abundance and scarcity” has become a refrain among Christian institutional leaders in recent years.

The twin themes are rooted both in what we know to be the promise of God’s rich abundance in our lives, callings and places of work and in the reality we know of shrinking budgets, dwindling resources and staff cutbacks.

At events I lead and events I attend, I hear the question, “How can I change our institution’s mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance?” During a cohort of Foundations of Christian Leadership this past year, one young denominational leader from a national office asked, “How can I teach our pastors to think in terms of abundance when I don’t have time to do so because our own office staff has been so greatly reduced?”

How many of us are able to actually live out the faithful calling of abundance and confidence in God’s ability to provide, in which our faith asks us to dwell?

At a recent gathering of Christian institutional leaders, Michael Mather, pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, told stories of how he lives out of the abundance he professes.

He described how a parishioner at his former church in South Bend once remarked that since the spirit descended on everyone at Pentecost, everyone should have something to give. Mather took that teaching back to the church food pantry, where homeless and other hungry people were being given a survey to see how poor they were, how needy, and how many in their families were unemployed.

With abundance in mind, Mather created a new survey with questions such as, “What three things do you do well enough that you can you teach someone else?” The results were game-changing.

Adele wrote that she was a good cook. “Prove it!” challenged Mather. “Bake me a dozen of your best cookies and bring them to my office tomorrow morning.” She did, and they were delicious. Mather asked her to cook lunch in the church’s kitchen for the custodian, the secretary and the pastor. She did, again with spectacular results.

After Adele cooked several similar meals for the church, Mather told the Chamber of Commerce that, yes, they could hold their meeting at the church -- if they used the church’s caterer! He spent $20 on 1,000 business cards for Adele, and she cooked such a good lunch for 70 of the business and civic leaders of the community that they all asked for her business cards.

Adele now owns her own restaurant in Indianapolis. “Now, if we had asked her when she showed up, ‘Tell us how poor you are,’ we would have all missed a lot of great food,” Mather says.

Mather is writing a book full of similar stories about what can happen when we actually live out of God’s abundance and into the belief that even people who have no money have gifts to give.

In his poem “What We Need Is Here,” poet and activist Wendell Berry writes, “And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.” Mather has found a way to live out of his belief that what we need is here, provided by an abundant God.