the weblog of Alan Knox

Thoughts on community development

Posted by on Apr 2, 2009 in community, discipleship, fellowship | 8 comments

There was a reason for my two previous posts: “Speaking and Serving” and “Local and Itinerant“. The reason was to get to this post. In this post, I am going to talk about community development – specifically, Christian community development.

We see several Christian communities in the New Testament. Similarly, I think we see patterns for Christian community development. In fact, I suggest that we see four different groups working together to develop a single Christian community.

Itinerant Leadership
In Scripture, Christian community often begins with someone bringing the gospel into an area for the first time. These itinerant workers would move from place to place in order to announce the good news of the kingdom of God. As people became interested in their message, they would gather these people together in order to teach, serve, and help them develop into a Christian community. However, this was not the only reason for itinerant leaders. Often these leaders would return to an area specifically to strengthen a community, to help a community recognize their leaders, or to deal with community problems. But, while these itinerant leaders were very important for community development, they always recognized their role as temporary. They would only stay in an area for a short time (relatively short), either until that community was developing well, or until another community needed them more. These leaders relied on the Spirit of God to tell them when to move on to another location. We see several examples of these itinerant leaders in Scripture: Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, John Mark, Luke, etc.

Trans-Community Relationships
Second, community development was often enhanced through trans-community relationships. (I talked about this briefly in a post called “The trans-congregational church“.) The Christian communities in the New Testament recognized their interdependence on one another, and they developed and maintained relationships with believers in other communities. However, they did not develop these trans-community relationships simply to demonstrate their interdependence. They developed these relationships because they WERE interdependent, and they recognized the necessity of these relationships. In fact, they believed that the Gospel brought them all together into a single community (church), while this community was manifested in various local communities. We can see these trans-community relationships in the way that churches in one city would help churches in another city (i.e. the collection for the church in Jerusalem, or churches in one city sending support to Paul so he can work in another city). We also see trans-community relationships when the church in one city would send someone to another location for a short time. Similarly, we see these trans-community relationships in the way the believers in different churches were encouraged to greet one another (Romans 16, Colossians 4:15) and share correspondence with one another (Colossians 4:16).

Intra-Community Relationships
This is perhaps the result of community development. But, also, the internal relationships with one another within a community demonstrates the extent of community development. Furthermore, with Christian community, these relationships cannot be directed internally (toward one another) only. Christian community also reaches out to those outside the community in order to invite them and welcome them into the community. The Gospel is once again the basis for the relationships (love of God and love for others) as well as an explanation for how God is bringing different people together into one new people. Those within the community recognize that service and love for one another is actually service and love demonstrated to God. This aspect of Christian community development is perhaps the most prevalent in Scripture. For example, the “one another” passages point to this kind of relationship.

Intra-Community Leadership
Finally, intra-community leadership is important for community development. Notice, however, that in Scripture leadership comes after intra-community relationships. The communities are instructed how to recognize or appoint their leaders after living with them and examining their lifestyles. Leadership is important to a Christian community both as a mature member of the community and as a catalyst for further community development. In Scripture, intra-community leaders are recognized based on their maturity and ability to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Similarly, they demonstrate that they are worthy to be followed based on their service to the community. As Jesus told his disciples, their leaders should be servants. According to Scripture, recognizing and following community leadership is an important part of community development.

Further thoughts
The first aspect of community development, “Itinerant Leadership”, is a function of those who are gifted for itinerant work. As mentioned previously in this post and a previous post, this is a temporary role within the community, although it may be a permanent role for the leaders. The other three aspects of community development depend upon those who are gifted for local work. Similarly, both speaking and serving are necessary for each community development aspect.

As I look at these four aspects of New Testament community development, I see the church focusing on only one of the aspects: intra-community leadership. In fact, the church is often defined by its leadership. External, itinerant leadership and trans-community relationships are often non-existent, shallow, or even hindered by the church. Churches tend to live as if they are dependent or, perhaps, only interdependent within their own community. This tendency has hampered Christian community development.

Also, we often view community development backwards. “Churches” begin with the leaders – sometimes layers of leadership – before there are any other people involved. Recognizing leadership is no longer a part of community development. Instead, the community is expected to accept the leadership that its given, often with no questions asked. The “leadership” is the church, and the community is expected to form around the leadership.

Finally, when a community does recognize leadership, it often does so based on non-scriptural requirements: education, training, speaking ability, etc. Rarely is maturity or community service considered, primarily because this is unknown. I believe this is another symptom of our top down (backwards) view of Christian community.

So, what do you think? Do you see these four aspects of Christian community development in the New Testament? Am I missing an aspect? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts on modern community development? What would you add?


8 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-2-2009

    Alan,

    For sometime now I have been really looking into “leadership”. You said something that is very simple yet profound:

    “Also, we often view community development backwards. “Churches” begin with the leaders – sometimes layers of leadership – before there are any other people involved. Recognizing leadership is no longer a part of community development. Instead, the community is expected to accept the leadership that its given, often with no questions asked. The “leadership” is the church, and the community is expected to form around the leadership.”

    This is huge for me. You are spot on brother.

    1. The church ALWAYS begins with “leaders” planting churches and setting up a “leadership” team before the church is offered or rolled out.

    2. This leads to someone coming into a “plant” church and immediately expected to yield to those leaders and to question such leadership gets you ostracized quicker than Bush at a NAACP rally. The problem is not one church in scripture (other than Jerusalem) started with leaders and that was by default. None of the gentile churches started with an elder/pastor/shepherd. It always started with those who were born from above meeting and the Holy Spirit through gifting raising up leaders.

    3. To question any decisions of the church is supressed by what we call “elder ruled”. Thus leaders make ALL of the decisions, and to disagree with those decisions again gets you a ticket out of Dodge. You will be labeled divisive, or some other word. I remember once being told (and I was on the leadership team) “we only have two elders and we will make the decisions”. Needless to say that was my last day on the leadership team. But you are right not I must form around them or find another church.

    Thanks for this Alan I have much to say but I might just have to write about it.

  2. 4-2-2009

    Alan,

    Lionel’s sentiments are mine also,”You are spot on brother”.

    The last congregation in which we ministered for ten years as teaching elder, was formed in the reverse of the norm.

    The group came together around a Bible Study in our home, in which no one was recognised as “leader”. All contributed. After about two years the group recognised me as an elder.

    It is my opinion that the recognition of one as elder ought not be regarded as a permanent fixture, but reaffirmed every so often. In our case, apart from the initial recognition, it was twice during the ten years.

  3. 4-5-2009

    As the others have said, spot on. The section on trans-community really blessed me because just last Sunday our whole church (we are a year old with 70 people) went an hour and a half north and had a joint service with a little church that has been through some struggles and has recently moved to an elder led model. I preached and the provided a fellowship meal afterwards and we fellowshipped for hours. It was an unspeakable encouragement to both congregations. Also, last summer we had a joint picnic on every 5th Sunday of the month with another small congregation 45 minutes north of us. Much mutual encouragement and edification there as well. Thanks for reminding us of this important aspect of community.

  4. 4-5-2009

    The question that comes to mind here is what affect the “religious professional” aspect has on community development and leadership.

    It seems if you begin with a clergy/laity model, you could end up with something that is completely different than Acts of the Apostles.

  5. 4-5-2009

    Matt,

    Thanks for the examples. It’s exciting to hear about the mutual encouragement that occurs through trans-community relationships.

    Jeff,

    I think you’re exactly right.

    -Alan

  6. 4-6-2009

    Itinerant – Intra-Community Interaction
    Somewhere between Itinerant leadership and intra-community leadership I see another dimension or interaction. That is, the appointing of elders by itinerant leaders. Though we may see community form first and then the leadership (culturally, one might say rise out) fall out, as if to the bottom (not rise to the top) might be a better way of describing it. This brings up yet another level or dimension.

    Men in scripture were often recognized, by apostles in Jerusalem, and appointed to their tasks as itinerants. Otherwise, they were selected by the itinerants themselves. We just do not see a lot of the foundation for these selections. The apostles, especially I would say the Jerusalem apostles, and then later Paul, and maybe Barnabas, were seen as possessing the authority make these appointments. How does this assimilate to our situations as they might exist today? I might see this happening in a new overseas work where someone from outside could appoint an elder in a new church but, how might this work in our culture? Should we presuppose an effort by an itinerant to “feel out” the group as to those most inclined to serve and teach others?

    So, back to the appointment of itinerants- I see here a means of false teachers pressing themselves into the process. For example, I live in West Virginia. Let’s say I start a NT (simple church, if you will) group in my home. It begins to grow and prosper and then within the group leadership falls out. Eventually, the group agrees that it is time to send an itinerant to a particular area to begin to spread the Gospel. Do we simply choose one from among us, through prayer, that seems to have gifting and ability and then send them?

    Doctrine & The Gospel
    I see Paul’s life as an itinerant with a major role of ensuring that the local churches did not stray from sound doctrine. Of course, he mentions the restrictions on gospel as he and others with him preached it. No one should add to it or take away from it. Obviously, much of the doctrine was build it as you go (through visits and letter writing) so we are not left with the construction (since we have the written Word) but surely we must be involved in the maintenance of it.

    The piece we are left with is interpretation. I can see how this might build and be maintained in a single church in one city but what happens as the gospel is spread and new groups in new area arise. There seems to be a lot of potential for tradition to become doctrine, for areas to separate or grow apart as time and doctrinal differences arise. What keeps us from creating a bunch of denominations in the process? Paul kept the churches grounded and based in the same. Where do find our Paul-like person(s)?

  7. 4-6-2009

    Yes, in the field we may speak of “indigienous” church planting, but we’ll have none of that in our church planting here. Silly that we can’t see the obvious here.

    I’d like to see you develop the point that there wasn’t a single leader, but many are usually in view (elders, plural; itinerants plural). That has so much impact on the community. It opens the door. It models mutual submission. It checks power. It demonstrates inter-dependence. On and on.

  8. 4-6-2009

    Brent,

    I see elders as intra-community leaders. Regardless of how they are identified, they seem to come from the community itself, and after the community exists.

    We have the example in Acts 13 of the church recognizing someone as an itinerant and sending them out as such. I think that would be a good model for us as well.

    Art,

    In the New Testament, it seems that leadership is always plural. I see the “intinerant leadership” as a travelling community – a group of believers who travel from place to place not only to proclaim the gospel but also as a living example of the church.

    -Alan

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