The Elder as Community Developer
You won’t find Community Developer in the ordination form. Yet as I listen to cultural critics, spiritual directors and numerous other thoughtful people about personal growth there is a persistent reference to role of community.
At present I am reading Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle. The very title gives us a sense of the tension. Today we live in a world in which we can connect with more people over greater distances than ever before. It is also a world in which people have fewer friends. Add to this the distinct nature of online communication, it is not hard to imagine that deep and real communities in which we share living together is a declining phenomena.
Meanwhile, when we speak of spiritual growth, we hear of the need to growth in community. Community worship, communal discernment, community support and other gifts of life together are vital for personal growth. Alcoholics Anonymous, Community of Support and Accountability, accountability partners and many other small communities are essential in the process of change. Worship which shapes are identity and invites gospel transformation gives us vision and encouragement for new life in Christ.
Recently, as I was reading about willpower ( Willpower, Baumeister /Tierney) I thought about the role of good habits in helping us change. The argument was simply this: we have a limited supply of will power, which can be depleted rather quickly by poor nutrition and the presence of persistent temptation. Our culture is not known for nutritional health and the omnipresence presence of temptation (on computers, at check out lines, and in our well stocked cupboards) make it difficult to be strong. But the very things that help us resist temptation then are practices (habits) that are built into family and community life. It is much easier to have the will to go to church if everyone joins you and expects you there. It is much easier to have a family devotional life when the community (Work, school, church, sports) makes it possible to eat together and do devotions together at the table. It is easier to eat well when we are not on the run. The habits of our community (and small communities) effect our ability to choose habits that help us growth in faith, love and hope.
All this makes me think that in our time, one role of church leadership is community development. And the question we need to ask is how we develop communities where the habits of our life support the spiritual transformation we believe God desires in and among us. I don’t have answers but I do think that perhaps we can find them by looking at counter-cultural communities (the New Monastics in our time) and community developers in the third world (CRWRC folk). After all transforming communities in Christ does require that we spend time thinking about the practices of community development.