Valued Leadership

Cultivating an Abundance Mentality

When I was a young man on the staff of Young Life, a para-church organization dedicated to reaching unchurched teenagers with the message of Jesus Christ, I first heard the concept of an ‘abundance mentality.’   In a divisional meeting of about thirty-five staff members, a few of us younger guys were engaged in a bit of competitive banter about our statistical ‘successes’ (e.g., “We had 100 kids show up at our meeting last week!”; “We’ve got a sure winner for getting kids signed up for the summer camp trip!”…)

Our older and wiser divisional director gently but firmly turned the conversation into a teachable moment. He said, “Those are good things, fellas, but let’s aspire to great things!” We were puzzled. “We serve the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills [Palm 50:10]”… he said… ”do you think he’s impressed by how many more kids one of you reaches than the other?

We looked at each other, feeling a bit chastened, but not yet sure why. He continued, “God calls us to have an abundance mentalityone that causes us to say to each other, ‘How can I help you get 100 kids to show up at your event?’ or ‘How can I show you a great way to get kids signed up for your camp trip?’ Point made: surely the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills is not confined by a scarcity mentality.

Then he added the real gut-check challenge: “Do you think maybe God wants us to care more about our neighbor’s success than our own?”

Wow! That’s something to ponder. And, I’ve been pondering it over the past 30 years of my life since he first issued the challenge. I invite you to as well. Is God really serious about your loving your neighbor as yourself or about laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters or about giving the credit to someone else? And, does He mean it just for our personal lives or does it apply in our work as well?

Whether in youth ministry, on church elder councils, or in the boardrooms and executive suites of our non-profit businesses, we have all experienced the pressures and lessons of life that drive us back to that scarcity mentality.   “There’s only so much money in the plate every Sunday…There are only so many potential clients in our market reach…Our competitors are dipping into our market…Our Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements are shrinking; what services should we cut?…We’ve got some star players on our team; how can we keep them from being recruited by the competition?”

In the midst of these and myriad other pressures, it can be difficult to cultivate an abundance mentality. Valued Leadership rests on four foundational tenets: Character, Collaboration, Culture, and Change. While the challenge of having an abundance mentality may immediately conjure thoughts of collaboration, my own wrestling match with the concept has taken me to the roots of my faith and my own character. Do I really believe that God will provide for my family, my organization, my church? If so, how will I behave to exhibit my love for neighbor? How will I make myself more vulnerable, more transparent, personally and professionally? Am I willing to share my resources without fearing that mine will run out?

When we apply these same questions to our professional and organizational lives, the implications are far-reaching and have deep impact on the culture of our organizations.   They also beg other questions: “Should I expose our key metrics to enable sound industry benchmarking?…Should we invest in developing our best up-and-coming leaders and run the risk of losing them to another organization?…Should we seek the best group health insurance plan and make it truly affordable to our front-line employees and their families?…Should I engage in industry round-tables and share my best ideas?… Should I invite representatives from all of our constituent groups to participate in our planning efforts?

In His infinite wisdom and love for us and with His truly end-in-mind perspective, God has a plan. We all fit into the plan perfectly, without waste or want. To realize this plan, the cultivation of an abundance mentality is important, perhaps critical, and it requires hard work. It requires hard work because it flies in the face of our human brokenness by which we have well-learned a scarcity mentality – to be self-protective, to fear the unknown, and mistrust strangers and outsiders.   An abundance mentality, like so many of God’s lessons, cannot be cultivated alone or in the dark; it requires community – another “C” which we hold high.

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