Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Thoughts on community development.” The post is built on the foundation of two other posts. You’ll find links to those posts below. In this post, I examine both intra-community and trans-community leadership and relationships as found in the New Testament.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?