Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Asset-Based Mission Is a Potluck

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

In the United States, many people will be gathering with family and friends tomorrow to share food for Thanksgiving. In some of these gatherings, one person or one host family will have done the cooking and will provide that food to others. But in many other gatherings, every participant will bring a dish or two to share with others -- the host cooking the turkey, perhaps, but someone else bringing the cranberry sauce, another person bringing a casserole or vegetable dish, another bringing the pie, and so on.

Of course, for many United Methodists in the United States, this model of shared food is a hallmark of church culture in the form of the potluck. While potlucks are not exclusively a church phenomenon, they are a staple of church dinners throughout much of the country. Their popularity likely comes from their simplicity and equality: Even a potluck in which participants are assigned a genre of dish by last name ("A through H bring a salad; I through R a main course; and S through Z dessert."), they are easy to organize and allow all participants to contribute something according to their gifts.

It is this last feature that makes potlucks a good metaphor for asset-based mission practice. An asset-based approach to mission assumes that all people have assets or gifts that they can contribute to the work of God's mission, and such an approach expects that all people will contribute those gifts. This is analogous to the potluck assumption that everyone can and will bring some sort of food to contribute to the meal.

Asset-based approaches to mission also recognize that everyone's gifts for mission are distinctive. Not everyone is expected to contribute the same thing to the mission project. Each is expected to contribute their best and their unique strengths. A good potluck depends upon everyone (or almost everyone) bringing a different gift. Variety is the strength of potlucks, and if you don't make a very good chili, that is okay. Someone else will make the chili, and you can make whatever it is you are good at.

Asset-based approaches to mission not only assume that everyone has something to give in mission; they assume that everyone can be mutually blessed by mission. Mission is not from one group to another. Mission is the work of God redeeming all. Just as everyone contributes to a potluck, everyone eats at a potluck. A potluck is not a meal that one group feeds another but does not partake in.

Asset-based mission does not try to quantify or compare what each partner is able to bring to the work of mission. Contributions reflect the abilities of the partners; benefits reflect the needs. There is usually not an elaborate cost-benefit calculation to make sure that the two are always equal. People bring as much as they can or want to a potluck and eat as much as they are hungry for. The two do not need to be the same amount.

In this way, asset-based mission is based on a presumption of abundance. There is less worrying about whether there will be enough to engage in God's mission. Instead, there is trust that God will provide what is necessary for God's work. At a good potluck, while individual dishes run out, everyone can eat their fill, and there is almost always more than enough to go around.

I hope those readers in the United States will enjoy their Thanksgiving dinners tomorrow. And I hope, as you are passing and sharing food, that you will spend a moment to think about how God calls us to share with one another in God's mission.

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