One of the unintended consequences of Dignity Serves and other resources that promote an asset-based approach to ministry is a deep uncertainty about what to do. You’ve learned that doing things for people can lead to harmful dependencies and that doing things with people can bring about healthy relationships and lasting change. But now what? Do you just shut down that needs-based ministry and start over? How do you explain the asset-based approach to others in a way that doesn’t offend them or confuse them? And what about when you finally explain it in a way that makes sense but no one seems willing to do anything differently?
These questions can lead to what I would call Asset-Based Paralysis (ABP). You don’t know how to move forward in ways that are aren’t hyper-focused on meeting needs, so you stop moving forward altogether. People have left the ministry or quit their jobs because of ABP. They find it no longer possible to participate in the types of service they have been doing but are not totally sure how to move forward in a new direction. Some have been fired for not being willing to do their job or for being combative with leadership over the best way to help people.
At the root of ABP is fear. It may be fear of failure, doing harm, losing funding, or fear of being disliked, but as that fear grows, we may find ourselves stranded like a boat on a beach when the tide goes out. What will get us sailing again is a deeper faith in God and then applying that faith in honest, practical, small-scale ways that help us love our neighbors as ourselves.
In a series of posts, I'll outline six remedies for ABP. Let’s start with the deepening of one’s faith through the unexpected path of embracing uncertainty.
Remedy 1: Embrace the Uncertainty
One of the most fertile grounds for spiritual growth is uncertainty. Uncertainty feels bad so we salve it with feigned confidence and miss out on the opportunity to go deeper with God. Uncertainty feels so unpleasant, in part, because we’ve been taught that faith looks more like certainty than doubt. But I would disagree. Honest doubt is much closer to faith than a pretense of certainty. Genuinely not knowing what to do is precisely the moment that we have the greatest opportunity to deepen our trust in God. So don’t waste the opportunity, embrace it. We can embrace uncertainty in these ways:
- Admit it – Simply saying the words “I don’t know” out loud can be very difficult for some of us. But it is extremely helpful to do so when it’s the truth. Admitting uncertainty is an act of humility that creates space for God and others to help us figure it out.
- Acknowledge God – Even though you may not know the way forward, God does. And even more importantly, he is with you in your uncertainty. So acknowledge his presence and ask him to reveal himself more fully to you (rather than just asking him to make the uncertainty go away).
- Affirm simple truths – Uncertainty is disconcerting; so affirm a few things you do know. God is love. He loves me. He wants me to love my neighbor as myself. These are simple truths. And if you need a quick refresher on what love looks like, read 1 Corinthians 13.
- Ask others to help – The space created by our own uncertainty allows us to better hear from God and others. And that’s a good thing. Listening is the most important skill in the asset-based paradigm. If we consistently seek the counsel of others, especially from those we are trying to help, we’ll find creative ways forward. Fear grows in isolation. And since fear is the source of ABP, don’t combat it alone. Pray about what to do. Talk about what to do. Move forward.
In the next post, we’ll look at how being honest about the needs we are trying to meet also serves as a remedy for ABP.