The Elder as Community Developer

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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.  

Posted in: Elders; Blog Photo courtesy of Fernando - http://www.flickr.com/photos/fernand0/6543057813/in/photostream/ Image: See Credit

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Comments

Great thoughts Neil! I like your take on being disicplined in community. It is amazing how communities inspire individuals to do things they would not do on their own or by mere will power. When I became a Christian it was easy to attend church and get connected in community because I had people aroud me to encourage me in these things.

Thanks!

You are right Neil that community development in the sense you indicate has a huge influence on the potential both to grow in faith and to live a faithful life.   Whether it is the things we talk about, or the places we go to, or the types of daily work we do, or our sabbath observance, or the willingness to place bible study or mission trips above professional or amateur sports in importance and priority, the way our community operates can affect us.  On the other hand, I sometimes hear people blame community (or "society") for the behaviour of christians.   I would suggest that every leader, as well as every follower, is responsible for community within that society.   And when communities are dedicated to following Christ, that will impact and influence the world, rather than the world influencing christians in deleterious ways.   Good habits and customs can help us to serve our Lord and Saviour better.  

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