Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Sermon. August 2, 2020
Rev. John Steitz
Faith – rooted community organizing approaches the task of organizing in a community with an Outward Mindset. Rather than begin by asking, “how can we get more people involved in our campaign or issue” the first question is “how can we develop a listening campaign?”
At the core of a listening campaign is the relational meeting, also called a one-to-one (1-1). A relational meeting is a short conversation where the organizer asks a series of Incisive Questions to try to discover the core problems a person faces, and if that person has the drive and connections to work to address the problem.
A listening campaign will involve hundreds and even thousands of relational meetings. Therefore, one of the first tasks is to train a team of people willing to engage in these relational meetings. This is often done by involving leaders from several congregations.
As hundreds and more people are engaged in the listening campaign, patterns emerge as problems common to many become clear. Also, the people conducting lots of relational meetings are building relationships and developing leadership skills. The listening campaign also identifies people who interested in actually doing something about the common problem. And it identifies the people who are highly connected and have influence in the community.
The faith – rooted organizing group then brings together the congregational leaders, the community influencers who want to work on the problem, and hundreds or thousands of community people, and together they vote to support a campaign to address the problem.
Contrast this with an action group that tries to get community people involved on the campaign they have already decided on. This is an Inward Mindset approach, even if the campaign is focused on a community or global problem.
The Outward Mindset of the faith-rooted organizing approach is much more likely to mobilize a community. By listening to the real, felt concerns of the people, and engaging them in solving these issues, the Outward Mindset sees what remains hidden when we use an Inward Mindset.
At one congregation I served the leadership wanted to increase the number of young families who were active in the church. Leaders wanted to share all the things that were already happening at the church in the hope that something on this list would attract the interest of young families.
We already had a number of young families who were marginally connected to the church. I suggested an alternative approach. Why not gather the young families together for a picnic and after eating ask the young adults themselves what they saw as their needs and what they would like the church to offer.
We set a date three months in advance and reached out to each family through a variety of channels. By the time the picnic took place we were confident that every family knew about the event and we knew many would show up. We also got the youth group involved. The youth played with the children while we had a large listening session with the parents.
The picnic was very well attended and our listening session identified three areas that young parents saw as needs. None of these were even on the radar of the leaders before we listened. Now that we saw the need, all three were implemented within a week.
One of the things we did was start a “Soul Café” group for the parents. Eventually a new contemporary worship service emerged out of the Soul Café group. Much of the congregation’s vitality in the coming half decade was rooted in the picnic listening session that summer afternoon.
Instead of an Inward Mindset: here is what we have to offer, we shared an Outward Mindset: tell us what you need. That made all the difference.
Jesus is told about the execution of John the Baptist. He goes by boat to a deserted place. He is in the wilderness, to grieve and for safety. But crowds travel by foot to seek him out. Jesus has compassion for them and cures the sick.
As it grows late the disciples urge Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they can go into nearby villages and buy food for themselves. Jesus replies that those gathered need not go away. He tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.”
Jesus has an Outward Mindset, seeing the crowd and acknowledging their need. The disciples have an Inward Mindset, acknowledging the crowd’s need to get food, but focused on what they see as a lack of resources and ability to feed the crowd.
Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish that the twelve disciples have between them, blesses and breaks the bread, and offers it to the crowd. As the food is shared, all have enough to eat, there are twelve baskets of leftovers, and 5000 men, plus women and children are feed.
Some may say that Jesus, by miracle, was able to transform a few loaves and fishes into a feast for many thousands. Some will say that Jesus’ act of sharing inspired everyone to share what they had brought with them, and in so doing, everyone is fed. After all, the twelve disciples won’t have been the only ones to pack some food for the journey.
What I see happening is a mindset shift. When we are focused on our Inward Mindset we are only aware of the resources we have. And these resources seem very inadequate. We need to take care of ourselves and our own. Let others fend for themselves.
When we focus our attention on an Outward Mindset we discover resources we didn’t know existed. With an Outward Mindset we find that rather than scarcity there is abundance. There is an abundance of gifts to share.
An organizer can’t do a listening campaign alone. Holding hundreds of relational meetings requires empowering dozens and dozens of people. Hundreds of people if you seek to listen to thousands.
A few fish and loaves of bread are not enough to feed thousands by themselves. They are however enough to spark the Outward Mindset that inspires sharing and the abundance of resources an Inward Mindset can’t even imagine.
With an Outward Mindset we see the needs before us in a new light, and we discover an abundance of gifts within the gathered collective to do the work God is calling us to do. Amen.