Six Remedies for Asset-Based Paralysis (second in a series)

In the previous post, I introduced ABP or asset-based paralysis. Practitioners know the phenomena all too well. ABP is experienced when your fear of doing harm stops you from doing anything.

I’ve identified 6 remedies for ABP. The first was “Embrace the Uncertainty.” Our uncertainty might feel a bit unsettling at times, but it is an absolute must if we are to continue to learn. And we simply cannot serve with dignity without learning. So we embrace uncertainty and experience the joy of learning with someone or a community. This posture also puts us in a position to grow in our dependence on a good God – the capstone of a healthy and meaningful life.

Remedy 2. Meet actual needs
A warning sign that you might be developing ABP is when you find that you can no longer even talk about needs. We do asset-based ministry to meet needs. The distinction is that we are trying to engage the assets of those experiencing a need rather than simply trying to fix an immediate problem. We do this because it is a more sustainable and empowering way to meet needs.

It is just as inaccurate to say that a community (or a person) has only assets as it is to say that a community has only needs. The problem with both is the truncated view, the only, the either/or – the belief that it’s either needs or assets. It is both, of course, but it is the desire to help people, to meet needs, that gets us moving in the first place. So it is absolutely vital that we are trying to meet actual needs. When we find that this is unclear, ABP can result.

I recently had a disagreement with a pastor who wanted to hand out some nice clothes to people in the neighborhood. His outreach minister expressed interest in hearing what I had to say about the initiative and I suggested that they consider charging a small fee for the clothes. The outreach minister was intrigued. The pastor was not. In fact, he was outraged at the thought of profiting off of donated clothes. When I suggested that it is more dignified to buy clothes than to get them for nothing, he was offended by the implication that he did not understand the needs in the community or that his motives were anything but pure.

He used the Bible to make the case for the ministry, saying, “We are to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.” The problem with that assertion was that no one was naked. I have worked in that community for many years and the few times I have seen a naked person, something was seriously wrong. Something that clothes did not fully address. Regardless of the best way to address the need, this pastor’s diagnosis of the need was not accurate. I do not believe he was being deliberately dishonest and as we continued to talk about it, I learned more about how he had come to the conclusion that his congregation should give away some nice clothes.

In their community outreach efforts, the leadership had learned that the reason that people who lived near the church were not coming on Sundays was that they felt like they didn’t have nice enough clothes. The parishioners dress up on Sundays. So the church came up with the plan to have a boutique clothing give away that would remove that barrier for people.

So the church had a desire to grow, which was not a bad thing at all. They also wanted people to feel welcome and comfortable, also not a bad thing. But there were other ways to go about this – a dress down Sunday or a community-focused BBQ where people wear casual clothes to name just two. Another option, could have been to go ahead and set up the clothing boutique but to charge money for the clothes. The church opted for none of the above and scrapped the idea. They had succumbed to ABP.

The community in question has expressed what they do want help with in a recent survey – making the community more beautiful, providing a safe place for youth to congregate between 3pm and 7pm, and more effectively advocating for timely road repair. Any of these ideas would be fruitful for the church to help with as it would demonstrate that the church is listening to the concerns of the community. Co-laboring with the community would facilitate the building of relationships that might even draw people to want to participate in church services.

The key here is meeting actual needs and being honest about whose need you are trying to meet. The church was trying to meet their own need to grow by supplying clothes that would help people fit in with their church culture. That got turned into a story about a community need that wasn't accurate.