on building healthy community…

Rick Ivey, a friend and fellow pastor/blogger, is thinking about building Christian community. Of course, an approach that is en vogue now (and has been for a little while, and will continue to be) is a business/management approach. But one of the people he’s reading challenges the assumption that a faithful analog to church community comes from the business world. Instead, the author offers an environmental analogy. Rick summarizes it like this:

He suggests that creating community is more akin to creating a garden or forest than it is a simple A + B = C event. Working with that premise he suggests that a healthy community system requires environmentalist more than it does a manager or a director.

In a follow-up post, Rick works the analogy further in a parable of sorts about how some practices in the name of preservation actually threaten the health of an ecosystem. Can’t you feel the comparative significance for the church coming? It’s a short, quick read–check it out.

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3 thoughts on “on building healthy community…

  1. Change of any kind is hard work. Change of any kind involves saying NO.

    When plant a garden, I usually have to say NO to whatever was previously on the site where I want the garden. I have to continually say NO to the weeds that want to choke it and the insects that want to devour it.

    Of course the difficulty of thinking in terms of a garden instead of an ecosystem, is that the latter is larger. Gardens usually have a more definite – perhaps abrupt – contrast with their environments.

    If business models are based on working with people, and horticultural models are based on working with plants, I’d think, in general, business models would be more helpful – since we’re building community with people, not plants. The horticultural models are helpful, however, in correcting reductionistic business models that squeeze the humanity out of people and treat people and processes as mere abstractions.

    But then maybe I just got up too early this morning.

  2. Thanks, Richard, for the comments here. As usual, good stuff.

    I would press on the point about business models vs. horticultural models in the last paragraph.

    While business models are based on working with people and horticultural models are based on working with plants, the part about our aim being building community with people vs. plants doesn’t quite seem to follow since the aim of business models is not to build community. Building and nurturing healthy communities seems to have some similarities with nurturing healthy forests given the way each part functions within and contributes to the health of the others. Seems not unlike the analogy of the body that Paul employed.

    But the aim of (for-profit) businesses (most often the type that our books are based on) is to turn a profit on goods and services offered. Now, we can critically engage and learn from the business model in how we pursue the mission of the church. But the critique of the business model, and overly depending on it, is that it is not geared towards building and nurturing community.

  3. I read a Herb Kelleher quote the other day. “The customer is not always right.” He was speaking against the notion that Southwest employees should be used to satisfy the whims of customers (my language for the problem). The model of business USING its people to make money does seem to be a disqualifier for usefulness as a ministry model.

    Of course, when I plant a vegetable garden I am mostly utilitarian. I want to USE the vegetables in the garden for the benefit of myself and other eaters. I haven’t given a thought to the benefit of the squash or tomato plants qua plants.

    Forests are another matter entirely. While to some forests are things to be used – timber, pulp wood, etc., I think of forests as habitats – for humans, animals and even for the trees that live there. While I have trouble of thinking of a squash plant as an end in itself, I have no trouble at all thinking of a tree as an end in itself. That’s why I’m pained when I go some place and see trees butchered.

    When we’re “building and nurturing community” it seems to me that we’re at a place where we can see that community and its inhabitants as to at least some degree ends in themselves. The individual is not there as a means to an end. The community itself is not there (merely) as a means to an end, say having a good time or my being sanctified. The community is a good in itself.

    While it is definitely a good thing to treat people and some things (trees, communities) as ends in themselves, we clearly also use things – and sometimes those things we use are people (or trees). I’m happy to use a tree for shade. I’m happy to use a forest for my enjoyment. I’m happy to use (employ) the skills of a human to reach some end outside that human. I’m even happy for someone else to use my skills to reach some end (like the AC wants to use our skills to build healthy, growing churches). If if using things/people for purposed beyond them is all we have or experience we’re in trouble.

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