More with less
Doing more with less has become a buzz word in so many areas these days. In both the public and private sectors employees are being asked to be more productive with decreasing resources. Efficiency savings have been on the agenda of most companies and institutions. In our unstable fiscal economies growth has had to be produced paradoxically from austerity. Various books on the subject of how to do more with less have targeted diverse activities, ranging from cooking (how to make the most tasty meals from relatively few ingredients) to lifestyles (practical guides for ‘living in simple, sustainable and healthy ways – ways that keep the future of the planet, and the plight of the poor people, in mind’).
The impact of the recession has reminded us of our dependence on God for our provision. Some in our fellowship have been applying unsuccessfully for jobs and have had to pray that first petition in the Lord’s Prayer literally for physical sustenance. Others with uncertain health have needed to make the petition for the continuance of their strength and comfort to get through the day. As a nation, God has, through the various reverses, particularly economic and social, been challenging our reliance on yesterday’s provision for today. The impact of the recession on the lives of so many will probably not be fully known until years to come. So many who have little would never complain about their circumstances. The challenge to self-sufficiency has extended too to the church, particularly to the Church of Scotland, which has haemorrhaged so many members per week while at the same time asking those who remain to redouble their efforts to regain what has been lost.
Sandyford, too, is not immune to this challenge. In the first year of vacancy God has, as ever, surprised us by his goodness and encouragement. However, with the loss of folk who have been at the heart of the work, through death, illness, or through the need to leave Glasgow for employment, He is encouraging us not to rely on past provision but to seek afresh his favour and leading for today.
Reduction of nucleus?
In one sense, our loss is another’s gain, be it heaven or other churches. How do we read these latest providences? Is God reminding us that excess of manna cannot be stored, and of the need to give congregational application to the petition ‘Gives us this day…’? How many churches have grown fat on excess! As in the economic realm, indefinite growth can lead to complacency. In some cases, as history warns, some churches have so forgotten the source of their bounty that they no longer exist today. In our outreach planning we have sought to match aspiration with our capacity to deliver it. Sandyford has never been a large congregation by city church standards. With its mobile population there has been a constant need for renewal. However, the departure of a few folk this summer causes us to reflect on the question ‘what is enough?’ in terms of a nucleus of support for the work we have planned. We realise too that our ‘enough’ might be considered excess by many who read the Congregational Record and who pray regularly for us and who would love to have our particular challenge. Many churches in the United Kingdom and beyond have felt it right when their numbers have reached near capacity for the building in which they worship to send out some of their members, with appropriate provision of ministry, to plant churches elsewhere in needy areas of the city. Lest members become anxious they may be reassured that no such initiative is being contemplated by Sandyford at the moment, particularly in a time of vacancy.
Is God saying to us, as to Gideon of old, that we need to reduce our workforce? God reduced Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300, a strategy that would disorientate most military historians, and which would challenge the twenty-first century’s fetish that ‘Big is beautiful’. Gideon’s army, however, went on to defeat the Midianites, whose forces numbered in excess of 130,000 soldiers. Such divine strategy prevents us from self-adulation and from the temptation to wrest from God the glory which is His alone. Jock Troop, that greatly used Scottish evangelist of the last century, had to learn that ‘God’s glory He will not share with another’. As God said to Gideon, the purposes for asking him to do more with less was ‘in order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her’ (Judges, 7: 2). Is this not a recurrent theme in the Bible and in the history of God’s dealings with His people? As he reminded those returning from exile who would rebuild the temple in Jerusalem:
This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit’, says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah, 4: 6)
The story of Sandyford is not so much about the expertise and acumen of those who have served in the congregation but about the sovereign prowess of their divine leader.
If we are being asked to take on ‘more with less’ it will be another illustration of the paradoxical nature of Christian service. In our own strength, an impossible task. But as A. W. Tozer said, our God is the God of paradoxes, creating situations which seem contradictory but are not:
A real Christian is an odd number. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen; talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see; expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another; empties himself in order to be filled […] goes down in order to get up; is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest and happiest when he feels the worst. He dies so he can live; forsakes in order to have; gives away so he can keep; sees the invisible; hears the inaudible; and knows that which passes knowledge.
Invitation to trust
The loss of key workers could also be an invitation from God to exercise faith with regard to replacements. As in the past, when we have felt that we could not do without certain people – people whom we miss probably more than they would ever realise – God has brought to us people with different gifts who have given a new dimension to the work. God could be asking us to do ‘more with more’.
We are looking forward very much to welcoming back people who have been serving the Lord elsewhere: John Torrens returns in his new capacity as ‘Student Worker’, who will give a fresh impetus to the work among UK students; Robert and Jan Trelogan will, as in their previous temporary leaves of absence from their work in Thailand, contribute in different areas of our outreach; the English through the Bible course will be enhanced by the return of Jenny Wong, who has compiled the course and piloted it in many countries. In addition, Louise Murray will begin her new two-year contract to continue work among international students, and Douglas Humphris, as outreach coordinator, has devised an exciting overarching programme to reach out to those in our immediate parish, and beyond it (details of which were included in the last Congregational Record).
From whatever optic we view the mathematical equations, be it ‘more with less’ or ‘more with more’, what an encouragement to read in so many instances in the Bible of God’s ability to multiply whatever talents we offer Him. Whether we be fewer or more numerous, or feel lost in the woolly formulae set out in this letter by a non-mathematician, let us remind ourselves of God’s ‘Much More’. As the man of God answered Amaziah, albeit in a different context, over the loss of 100 talents paid for Israelite troops which were not used:
The Lord can give you much more than that. (2 Chronicles, 25: 19)
What an encouragement to go forward in faith.
With very best wishes for the summer
Noël Peacock Session ClerkView All Letters