Our Lives in the Context of Community

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (New International Version) 9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (The Message) 9-10 It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough! 11 Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night. 12 By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.

Hans-Ruedi Weber tells the story of a village woman in East Africa who constantly carried a Bible in her arm as she walked around her village. Her neighbors teasingly asked, “Why always the Bible? There are lots of other books you could read.” Speaking with authority, the woman replied, “Yes, of course there are many books which I could read. But there is only one book which reads me.”

When Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 reads my church and me, what becomes obvious? Are we a three-stranded rope? As leaders in faith communities we generally choose one of three approaches in our attempts to help our communities grow:

The banking approach—here the process of educating the church entails passing on a body of knowledge from one person who knows (preacher/teacher) to those who do not know (members/students). Deposits are regularly made into the empty minds of the students. At best, work is done through the students.

The problem solving approach—here thinking shifts from teacher-based learning to participatory learning where students are provided frameworks for thinking, describing, analyzing, suggesting, considering problems and finding possible solutions. Here work is done with the students.

The appreciative inquiry approach—increases the capacity of a faith community to impact its world by building on the foundation of what works, what empowers, what gives energy, joy, happiness, motivation, hope and inspiration. Rather than focusing on shortcomings or going back to mistakes to determine what went wrong, this approach seeks to reflect on conditions that produced successes. Individuals are encouraged to articulate their faith community’s best features based on their own experiences. The following questions can spark these kinds of reflections:

  • What do I value most about my faith community?
  • When in my faith community’s history did we experience a high point?
  • What do I want my faith community to pass on to future generations?
  • What image of my faith community do we want to promote?
  • What traditions do we value most?
  • What has worked well for me and my faith community and why?

This third approach seeks to identify best practices in order to apply what in biology is called the heliotropic effect (the natural tendency of plants to turn toward the light). In social settings faith communities have a natural affinity toward those things that give them energy and joy. Movement toward those things is more natural and easier than moving away from problems or difficulties. Here you start by recognizing and celebrating current capacity in order to ignite the collective imagination of what might be possible. (I know believers who are praying for expanded imaginations since they discovered the hope contained in Ephesians 3:20 where it is affirmed that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”)

Let’s learn to celebrate the things God is doing among us. Let’s evaluate them for “best practices” which give us the greatest opportunities to contribute to God’s moves. We will accomplish more as we turn toward the Son!

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