Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Four Practices that Make or Break Community

I was privileged to be part of a group that explored these practices with Dr. Christine Pohl

FELLOWSHIP OF THE PRACTICES. I was privileged to be part of a small group of pastors, social action practitioners, and seminary professors who met together over four years in an exploration of what teacher/author Christine Pohl calls "four practices that make or break community." Our Pastors In Community group was hosted by Apostles' Anglican Church of Lexington, Kentucky and funded by Lilly Endowment's Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative.

MAKING MORE ROOM. Dr. Christine Pohl, Professor of Ethics at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, broke wonderfully refreshing and deep ground with her book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Eerdmans). It resonated with my heart and I wove its principles and practices into our reboot of Horizon House, a homeless day center near downtown Indianapolis. Since then, Christine has been exploring the principles and practices that make community possible, as well as the deformations of these principles and practices that prevent, distort, or destroy authentic community. These principles and practices are fully explored in Living Into Community (Eerdmans, 2011).

SO BASIC THEY'RE OVERLOOKED. The four practices that make or break community, stated by Pohl, are: gratitude, truth-telling, promise-keeping, and hospitality. These four practices are so basic we are likely to overlook them in search of something more "spiritual" or market-sexy. Communities and relationships that flourish are seasoned with gratitude in multiple expressions at multiple levels. Simple and profound truth-telling is a hallmark of a healthy community, laying the groundwork for extensive trust. Promises are made and kept, sometimes in spite of difficulties and hardships, that sustain and under gird vitality. Hospitality is the oft-repeated practice that turns strangers into friends and a mere organization into a community of influential care.

DEFORMATION OF THE PRACTICES. Remove any one or a combination of these practices from community formation or the life of a group of people who strive to be faithful to each other in light of grace and in the hope of the Kingdom, and you have a sad shadow of what is intended and completely possible. The deformations are tragic--instead of gratitude, many practice grumbling and criticism; instead of truth-telling, deception; instead of promise-keeping, shallow commitment and betrayal; instead of hospitality, exclusivism and selfishness beneath a thin veneer of "welcome all." These deformations can be identified, challenged, and changed--the sooner the better--for the sake of sustaining and renewing community vitality and purpose.

THOROUGH, FLESHED-OUT INPUT. These four practices are the focus of Living Into Community, a work our Pastors In Community group had a significant role in shaping and fleshing out over the four years in our diverse ministry, teaching, and social service and social action arenas across the country. We were not a group of experts; we were frail, sometimes faltering people who shared a common hunger for authentic and renewed community. We explored each practice in depth, sought the best expressions of each, and reflected significantly on the boundaries, limits, and struggles of each. This is not "four easy ways to create community." It is, rather, an honest grappling with and seasoned recommendations of four practices without which any attempt at community is certain to morph into something other than community. I think the finished product is a rich resource for those who seriously seek to encourage and sustain authentic community.

Learn more about or purchase Living Into Community by Christine Pohl

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