We've drawn on Peter Block's wonderful book Abundant Community - we'll use the broad model he sets out as a framework for this discussion. Here's the slides we used on the day. The discussion follows. Enjoy.
First a quiz: how many of these logos can you recognise?
Which do we know better? Why?
Peter Block has some great thoughts on how...but first:
"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness...'" - Genesis 1:26
"The Lord appeared to Abraham...while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby..." - Genesis 18:1-2
What do you notice?
When I read these passages I'm always struck by the idea that God IS community. He lives in a plural state. The concept of the trinity isn't just some theological division of labour...it's God's essence. He is communal by nature. We are intended to experience that same richness in life together - in fact it was the very last thing Jesus prayed for before he ascended to heaven (John 17 - at least it was the last recorded prayer of his we have).
So how do we do it - how do we nurture community together in today's society?
Control is almost always based in fear - whereas convening is based in trust. We try to control others when we fear they might not do what we want and that things might not go how we'd like them to. Letting go of that control is one of the first signs of trust. It's easier said than done.
As you engage those around you and begin to forge relationships together, are you prepared to let go of your expectations, ambitions, and comfort zones and serve instead?
Jesus did this himself - and by not attempting to control the situation around him he allowed the father's will to be done instead of his own. The ideas are simple, the practice is hard!
It's counter-cultural on every level. Precisely the sort of thing Romans 12:2 encourages:
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
Is it possible that we sometimes lack community in our environments because our own leadership styles mimic those of the world around us? We can change that. Have a go in your own life.
Where can you release control in your relationships?
Is the space we live in, or meet in, or use together a welcoming one? It doesn't need to be fancy: it just needs to have heart. Have a look at the spaces you use in your relationships - are the warm or cold? Inviting or clinical? Human or sterile? Bright or muted? Friendly or intimidating?
If they're not inviting, what changes could you make? How could you remove barriers?
Community and real intimacy together need nurture and the physical environment is a big part of that. Take a moment to reflect on the spaces you use:
- Where do they serve you and others well?
- Where (and how) could they use improving?
Have a go and see what different it makes!
Block's 6 key ingredients for community are:
The first two are about inviting others to be part of the vision - the possibility - we are committing to achieving. It sounds easy but it means choosing to make the success of our vision dependent on the input and contribution of others. Choosing to make ourselves vulnerable, make ourselves dependent on others. That requires us to let go of control again.
Think about how you're building your life - where have you invited others in?
Are you willingly depending on others and working towards a shared possibility or have you begun insulating your life and dreams from others, buying into the consumerist dream of individual fulfiment?
You can unplug from that matrix by choosing to invite others again. Choosing to trust your neighbour.
And the interesting thing Peter Block observes about possibility is it is more than just problem solving (trying to make an irritating or painful circumstance disappear from our lives) - it is committing to the dream of a future vision as a community and working to bring that possibility into being.
Ownership is about all of us stepping up to the responsibility of stewarding the lives we have been given together. In large part, we create the lives we have - we often can't choose our circumstances but we can always choose how we respond to them, and those choices create more ripples than we realise. When we stop blaming others, we begin to step into the power God has given us to create and live in his image. If there's crime in our community, it's at least to some degree because we allow it. If there's loneliness and isolation in our community, it's in part because we allow it. And if we aren't aware of the loneliness in our neighbourhood, then we're allowing it by our ignorance and choosing not to know our neighbour.
As Shane Claiborne has so wonderfully said in his awesome book Iresistable Revolution:
"The problem isn't that [we] don't care about the poor; it's that [we] don't know the poor."
Let's take ownership of that and let's create some change.
A key element of creating ownership in a shared vision together is one of the hardest: Dissent.
Dissent is about not only allowing, but welcoming, disagreement. Inviting others to disagree with us and to dialogue with us over the difference. How often have you been in an environment that welcomes dissent? Have you ever been in an environment that welcomes dissent?
But if dissent isn't welcome, if it isn't possible to disagree, then we're not free and the 'welcome' we've been given isn't unconditional. Peter Block says it this way:
It is purchased at too small a price to give it value. Dissent honours diversity and identity.
Dissent is too often seen as disloyalty or negativity, rebellion.
This is a corruption of hospitality and friendship. It makes love conditional."
Commitment is the opposite of coercion. By allowing dissent, we allow the possibility that others may choose not to commit to our vision with us. And by being allowed to dissent and still choosing to commit to the endeavour we begin to steward our own lives, free of coercion, but voluntarily choosing to commit to a cause together. That's incredibly powerful - that is how change happens.
"As long as our promise depends on the actions of others, it is not a commitment. It is a deal, a contract."
- Peter Block, Abundant Community.
The kingdom of God is built on commitments, promises, and 'covenant.' These things outlast the self interest and individualism of contracts.
As we begin to live and work this way together, what we are inviting people to bring to the journey is their gifts. Consumerism tends to define people by their need and what they lack. The kingdom of heaven holds us accountable for what we do with the gifts we have. The fact that this is such a recurring theme in scripture reinforces the assumption that all have something society needs us to bring to the table.
What are you doing to express and extend your gifts?
How are others benefitting from what's been given to you?
What can you do to create opportunities for others to contribute their gifts to the world around us?
Remember, God introduces himself as "I am that I am."
That is anything but a statement of deficiency. He is what he is. We're created in his image - we are what we are, and we need to bring that to society. We'll be held accountable for how well we do that at the end of our lives.
Let's own that together and invite others to do the same as we learn to see them through the eyes of gifts and abilities, inviting them to commit to the possibility of real community together and welcoming their input - and even their dissent - along the way.
It will be an amazing ride if we're up for it.