It Takes a Spider to Repair its Own Web

broken web

When we see someone in significant need it is very natural for us, as compassionate human beings, to want to try to quickly and efficiently meet that need.

There are times when this is an entirely appropriate and helpful response- in light of a natural disaster for example.  Certainly the epistle of James commends us:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? -James 2:15,16

People experiencing poverty, marginalising circumstances and disadvantage tell us that constantly being “provided for” (with no hope of eventually becoming the provider) is both demoralising and dehumanising.

As one mother told me: It is very easy, when you are constantly on the receiving end of “help”, to begin to believe that you are less valuable that the person giving the aid.

As Christians, who believe in the inerrant value of all people as image-bearers of God, we should be horrified to think that what we believed we were doing out of  compassion has actually resulting in a person feeling less valuable.

So how then DO we respond to people presenting with significant need?

Taking an asset based approach towards community development does not require us to deny needs.  When working with people experiencing poverty, marginalisation and disadvantage the “needs” will quickly present themselves.  By starting from a position of affirming a person’s gifts, dignity and capacity to “repair their own web” we can start to see them as God does; helping us to overcome any sense of superiority and ensuring they also have a sense of equality in the relationship.

As I said at the front, there will be times when an individual or community do not have sufficient assets to address all of their needs.  And when such needs are pressing then it may be appropriate to provide external resources.

It is crucial that such outside resources do not undermine the willingness or the ability of the poor individual or community to be stewards of their own gifts and resources.
-Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert; When Helping Hurts

I think the word “willingness” here is really important.  Constant provision or simply the corrosive power of constant stress/trauma can undermine not only an individual’s ability to find the assets to meet their needs but also their willingness to do so.

This makes the work of calling out of a person’s gifts, talents and assets even more significant because the work we are doing is restorative not only of their fiscal but also their spiritual resolve.

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3 Tips for celebrating community development in your Church

young-woman-praying-in-church

Many of the people I engage with who work/volunteer in community development with a Church speak of feeling isolated and often like second-class citizens within the life of the congregation.

Pastors and leaders are often really good at giving permission for community development endeavors for those who are passionate about this work in the Church.  I would like to suggest, however, that giving permission does not equate to blessing.

For this reason I thought I would suggest 3 simple ways of supporting your community development workers to feel like they are central to the life and ministry of your congregation:

  1. Ask what celebrating this ministry would look like. 
    Make a practice of regularly asking those who support and coordinate your community ministry what is needed for them to feel like this ministry is a vital and celebrated ministry of this congregation.  Of course don’t just ask- follow through.
  2. Change your language.
    A pastor I know has described it like this: when a new child is born to a family the language and appearance of the family changes (all future family photos include the new baby; future family cards are signed including the new babies’ name etc).  So too when a new ministry is birthed from a Church the language and appearance of the Church should also be altered to include this significant new member.  Be conscious then that your Church publications, your visuals, your spoken communication reflect this ministry.
  3. Consider the titles you afford
    If all of your other ministry leaders (children, youth, pastoral care) are given a certain title then by giving your community ministry leader a different title you are communicating that they have a different (and lesser) value in the life of the Church.

I hope these little tips can help Pastors and church leaders to feel more empowered to celebrate community ministries and those who lead them.

Are you in community ministry and feeling isolated in your Church setting (or alternatively are you feeling highly celebrated)?  How else would you like to be supported by your senior leadership?

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Why size shouldn’t matter in Community Ministry

Having spent the last month traveling around Baptist Churches in South Australia I have seen an array of ways in which Churches engage with their local communities and it has confirmed what I have suspected for a while.

When it comes to authentic community engagement: size does NOT matter.

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BIG IS GOOD:
One of the strengths that larger community-minded churches are able lend to community development is what one pastor referred to this week as a “raft” of services.  This raft approach provides community participants an array of entry points and support services.  This allows the congregation to respond to community strengths and needs in a way that is flexible and responsive to the individual.  Because of the volunteer-power (and often fiscal resources) available in larger churches there is often a lot going on it one place creating a community of services through which people can be referred and engaged.  If a large church sees an opportunity they are often well placed to take it up. This can be a great thing but can also tempt such churches to try to short-cut good slow community development and instead lean heavily on programmatic approaches and
needs-based services.

Seeing these multifaceted community ministries (you know the ones that require an A4 page to list all the programs on offer) can be daunting to smaller congregations.

It can seem to smaller churches that they are hamstrung by size. They may be able to prove one service or meet one need but not all needs and they are always struggling to find volunteers to staff programs (and often these volunteers are older and/or weary)

Taking a strength based approach to our community ministry however allows us to be less focused on programs and more intentional with culture (and culture can exist in any group no matter the size).

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SMALL IS GOOD:
My encouragement to smaller churches is; instead of focusing on what is missing (eg. we need younger people with more energy to do the more active work) focus on where you strengths are and how members of your congregations can they be empowered and blessed to lead from their strengths.  For example we often think having an older congregation is a weakness, but what if it is a strength?

While a larger Church might feel self-sustaining; a smaller group might see the opportunity  to take a more collaborative approach- to get out into the community and find partners with whom they can contribute.  This less silo-ed approach is ultimately more conducive to long term community development.

Smaller Churches stumble when they believe that they must meet all the needs of their community.  Alternatively they have the opportunity to resist the temptation to meet need and instead find and work within those pockets of strength and resilience already present within the community.

 

So whether you community is large or small can I encourage you to go out these, find where the Spirit of God is already at work- be brave and be courageous!

 

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Different ways people best engage with Community Development

what are you best at?

When seeking to engage with our local communities using an asset based approach it is often very helpful to first apply that strength based lens to our congregations.  Asking powerful questions to draw out what assets, passions and gifts we have ourselves.  There are two significant reasons for this:

  1. Where our place of strength meets a place of strength in our local community we have found a great starting point for connection (a bright spot)
  2. When people are working from a point of strength they will do so with greater drive, energy and love.

To this end I think it is fair to say that in any group of people there will be people who engage with community engagement/development in a different ways and all are useful.  All are MOST useful when engaged in the way that best inspires them.  This is reflective of our understanding of the Church as a body made up of many parts, all of which work together to enhance and compliment one another.

The most helpful way that I personally have come to think of these strength-groups in community development is as:

Co-imagine-rs – those who set the vision and ensure that people stay true to that original dream.  These people are those who like to re articulate a lot and can be a little frustrating to others because these seem to just keep banging on about the same thing all the time.  These people are very helpful because, if well utilised, they stop mission-drift and, if given the right language and tools, can keep people inspired.

Co-designers – those dreamers and creative types who are really good at thinking outside-of-the-box and leading teams- often these will be those in key leadership.  These people might be frustrating because they can’t seem to stay on one task or idea but always want to do something new or differently.

Co-creators- the do-ers. They may not seem to cast vision and may even get frustrated with those who do keep banging on about vision because they just want to “get on with it”.  Alternatively they might just be the “foot soldier” type who stick their hands up to bake scones every morning tea and never seem to tire of it (but must always be given the appreciation they deserve for this tireless work ethic).

Community Conduits- those who seem disinterested or even uninterested, who just don’t stick their hands up for anything and/or who actively seem to sit on their hands.  Most of the time these people are this way because this community is not their primary community or primary focus.  While often the frustration of these projects with the right inspiration from the other groups these people will be the sales people of the work you are doing to a wider audience within their primary communities and focus areas (often without you even knowing it).

When drawing out these strengths I am often inclined to start at the top of that list and work my way down- to find those who are best at casting vision, at setting a course and most of all of selling that vision to others.  To work (probably using a circle council style gathering) to get them around a vision that inspires them and then get them to articulate who might be the creative people to put the legs (and “legs” don’t have to be programs, just action) on how to outwork that vision (for example using some open space) and then get those creative people to recruit their workers while sharing the story well and often with the wider community so as to inspire those community conduits.

 

Hope that’s of help and credit to Richard Harmer who has helped a lot of my thinking in this area.

If you would like a further conversation on how this might play out in your community please feel free to contact me at Baptist Care SA (jhubbard@baptistcaresa.org.au)

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Faith in Action (in the second half of 2014)

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Last week Peter and I had a long conversations about our favourite moments in the Faith in Action initiative.  Two things stood out as working really well – visiting churches and the longer workshops.  We have decided to run with these themes in the second half of this year.

Visiting Churches

Earlier in the year we were invited to visit Blackwood Uniting Church and talked to their leaders about the community development tools which they may not have considered as part of their ministry.  Our thoughts were blogged here:

Joanna and I would really like to do more of this.  But to do more we need to be invited.   So here is our offer to you.  If you wanted a long conversation about your place and the principles which you might draw on from ABCD then Peter and I would love to visit.  All care and no obligation to take our advice.  Think of it as a free community church health check!

Longer Workshops

In February Richard Harmer hosted a workshop which reopened a conversation about Domestic Violence.  This all day workshop drew a new group together to look at domestic violence through an assets based community development lens.
http://faithinaction.net.au/2014/02/theory-u-and-dv/  It was inspiring and created a group which is still ongoing.

We would like to do more of this.  More one day or one and a half day workshops with Richard Harmer,  Peter Kenyon and others who good at opening up the community development space with creativity and intention.

Calendar Changes

So the workshop scheduled for next week International aid to our place” has been rescheduled and reworked into a Longer Workshop on Friday 28th November where will have more time and a larger group to dig into the place of international aid and refugees.

Revised 2014 Calendar

Peter and I are reworking the second half of the year calendar to fit with our ‘Visiting Churches’ and ‘Longer Workshops’ approach.  I expect it will be posted by 8th July 2014.

 

Keep in touch

Peter and Joanna

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A Great Blog on Independence as False Gospel (by Joy Bennett)

Thanks to my good friend Mandy for sharing with me this post from Joy Bennett who has captured a lot better what I was musing on a couple of weeks ago about prevalent theologies of personal independence:

Independence: the False Gospel Destroying American Christianity by Joy Bennett

Joy-circle

Obviously her article is written from an American perspective but I do think we are suffering from much of the same fiercely damaging independence in Australia (especially with our growing political language of “lifters” and “leaners”).

The idea of asset based community development is not to create additional programs to “prop-up” the poor and disadvantaged in our communities but rather to create communities of inter-dependence in which our mutual strengths and mutual weaknesses enrich us all or, as Joy puts it:

“God didn’t create us to be self-sufficient. He created us to live together, to complement each other’s weaknesses with our strengths, and allow their strengths to complement our weaknesses.”

This is not a radically socialist thought but one echoed by the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr:

“All this is simply to say that all life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. As long as there is poverty in this world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people cannot expect to live more than twenty or thirty years, no man can be totally healthy, even if he just got a clean bill of health from the finest clinic in America. Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

And indeed by the Apostle Paul:

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. (Selected verses from 1 Corinthians 12, The Message)

 

I encourage you to check out Joy’s post and hope it can be as encouraging to you as it was to me.

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5 Tips for Successful Collaboration between Agencies & Churches

talking-heads

I have always been terrible at learning new languages. I blame mild dyslexia but my attempts at both modern and ancient languages to date have been less than inspiring. Yet in a strange way I seem to have, by immersion, become unknowingly bi-lingual. That is by sitting in both Church ministry positions and in Church Care Agencies I have come to have a great appreciation for both but an equal appreciation for the fact that we don’t always speak the same language.

Both are desiring the outworking of the Kingdom of God- to see justice done, to extend mercy and to see people experience abundant life. We therefore should find collaboration easy. The language we use and the means that we prefer, however, often frustrates communicants to the point they retreat to their preferred worlds and dismiss the other out of hand.

My new role is in many ways about bridging this gap and so I thought one helpful way to begin would be to provide some tips from my experiences of successful collaborative action.

So here are 5 of my top tips for building good relationships and communicating well between Churches and agencies:

  1. Centralise around a common purpose. Find an end goal to which all parties can be inspired and excited to work towards. Issues of justice, compassion, and human flourishing are all common motivations. (eg. a common purpose may be working towards a more connected local community- thereby reducing social isolation.) Continuing to draw from, refer back to and centralise conversations around this common purpose as you move forward will support the growth of the relationship.
  2. Find common language. As I have hinted at above- almost as significant as finding common purpose is finding common language. Be willing to lay down unhelpful language. While certain words might be significant to how you understand your organisation’s mission they may not always be helpful. The unhelpfulness of certain words to this specific conversation does not dismiss their significance. Being sensitive to how people are responding to/understanding certain words and being willing to modify language (without sacrificing meaning) is true humility!
  3. Articulate clear expectations and outcomes. I appreciate that Churches often want to avoid hard measurements because they sound too clinical. Agencies, on the other hand are hardwired towards data. I can appreciate both positions (I once had a sign above my desk that said “In God I trust everyone else will have to bring me data”). Regardless of your preference can I encourage you that having some agreed ways of measuring success (of knowing if you are making a difference) can be incredibly encouraging for participants and Churches. The data should serve the people not the other way around. It’s important, then, to find suitable ways of measuring this that do not unnecessarily encumber outworking the central purpose.
  4. Commit to celebrate different means and create space for them. There is not one right path. Until we can learn to celebrate that both Churches and Agencies contribute something irreplaceable and unique to the betterment of the community and indeed the furthering of the Kingdom of God, we can not work together. Just as a body has many parts; so different means of supporting our community must be celebrated. Continue to centre on the common purpose but allow all partners to contribute their unique means of coming at that end goal.
  5. Most importantly of all: Commit to open and continuous communication. Focus on using communication to building trust, assuring mutual objectives and above all encouragement of each other. Don’t be surprised when this is a challenge to begin with particularly if there seems to be a tug-of-war over control. It is important that as trust is built opportunities are given for each groups cards/concerns to be laid on the table. We can’t truly collaborate and move forward until we trust each other enough to air our concerns. Common concerns may be:

    “we are concerned that the agency only cares about the social and not about the spiritual”;
    “that the fact that the agency receives money from the government will prevent them from supporting us in our primary purposes as a Church”;
    “that the Church may not have the right regularly systems in place to ensure the protection of our most vulnerable clients”

    … whatever the concerns are we can only get past them once we have articulated them. We can only articulate them once we have built the trust to know that, by articulating them we are not going to irrevocable offend the other party and destroy the potential partnership.

Have you engaged in successful collaborative projects between an agency and a Church congregation? What made these successful? What challenges did you experience? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

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