No greater theme has led stewardship talk in the past generation than that of “abundance vs. scarcity.” In today’s piece, David Loleng acknowledges the popularity of the trope while seeking to add complexity. How does abundance language implicate cultural themes of conspicuous consumption or prosperity gospel? As an alternative, David suggests a humbler frame for our stewardship themes: enough.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
When Enough is Enough
By Rev. David Loleng
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
“…. and be content with what you have…”
Our culture has convinced us that abundant life is about getting more - more of anything that can be better, newer, faster, and in our hands sooner. The anxious urge to “consume now and pay later” is fed by a sense of scarcity. Advertising preys on these fears; the average person in the USA is bombarded by over 4,000 advertisements each day. Ads often work by implying our lives are inadequate and unfulfilled, illustrating that we somehow need every excess we want. This ubiquitous consumerism is diametrically opposed to the abundant life Jesus reveals (John 10:10).
Forces of our culture’s consumerism have even weaseled their way into our stewardship language and ideas. In a theology of scarcity, we believe there will not be enough for everyone, and doubt that God will provide for us. The scarcity mentality can plunge us into toxic suspicion and bitter competition.
To heal from this scarcity mentality, many people focus on shifting to an abundance mentality. But current forms of this model do not resonate with everyone. There is true scarcity in contemporary society - a scarcity of resources, opportunities, and security - a reality that hits hardest for people in historically exploited communities of color, cities in decline, and emerging adults facing a changed economy. Recognizing that God provides for us out of God’s abundance does not dissolve our struggles. We must also be wary of how abundance mentality can lead to a nuanced form of prosperity gospel, which misleadingly attributes material scarcity to a lack of faith.
As I have talked with a wide range of church leaders about stewardship and generosity, sufficiency has surfaced as a concept distinct from both scarcity and abundance. Lynn Twist, author of The Soul of Money, explains that:
“Sufficiency …is not the same as abundance (abundance is more than we need – it is excess). Sufficiency is precise. It means that things are sufficient, exactly enough.”
Shifting from mindsets of scarcity or out-of-touch abundance, we should explore a mindset and theology of sufficiency. This approach can move us from fear and denial to creative possibilities in relation to our resources.
We find a biblical example of God’s sufficiency in Exodus. God provided daily for the people wandering in the desert, sending manna to eat. The catch was that the manna would spoil after a day, so they could not store it and thus relied on God every day. In Exodus 16:16-18, God instructs the people to measure the manna with a device called an Omer (with a volume of about two quarts) for each person, so that there would be enough for each person.
“…When they measured it with an Omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed (16:18).”
What if we applied this sufficiency mentality to our lives? What if we strived for enough rather than the excess of capturing abundance? And what if the abundance that we might be blessed with could be used for the common good?
Having a sufficiency mindset can lead us to live more simply, to experience more contentment, to live with greater gratitude and generosity, to re-calibrate our lives to what God desires, and to use our resources for God’s purposes, and by extension, the common good. As Lynne Twist goes on to write:
“There is a principle of sufficiency, and it is as follows: When you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, which is what we are all trying to get more of, it frees up immense energy to make a difference with what you have…to be known for what we allocate rather than what we accumulate.”
Maybe such an approach to allocation, to stewardship of the resources available, is what Jesus meant when helping us transform our ideas of abundant life.
For More Information
Rev. David Loleng is the Director of Church Financial Literacy and Leadership at the Presbyterian Foundation (PCUSA). He is the co-author of the three-part Engage (Gospel, Discipleship, Mission) Curriculum and Online training modules. David speaks nationally and has written published essays and articles about evangelism, stewardship, leadership, formation, missional life and culture.
More information about Lynne Twist’s book The Soul of Money (mentioned in the article) can be found online.