For the past couple of years I have had a conversation in my head between what it means to being/becoming a church-on-mission and the work of Etienne Wenger.
Wenger’s work has been a source of exhilaration and creativity as I’ve reflected on my own gospel-work in the city of Salisbury, NC. Many of the kingdom values I’ve embraced in my own work I find in his writings and reflections on communities of practice.
I discovered his work years ago but never wrote about it in the public domain. As a part of my New Years Revolution of blogging more I thought it appropriate to share my reflections on Wenger’s timely work on community-building. Especially, in this season of my own life as my wife (Toni) and I are in the beginning stages of forming community with friends, Mission House Gathering.
My own desire is to be a part of a community that pays attention to the redemptive activity of God in the neighborhood and the pain of the city. A community that says with St. John of the Cross, “Where there is no love, put love — and you will find love.”
In short, I’ve found in Wenger a fellow-traveler as we continue to discern and think through what it means to mobilize an army of love that gives witness to the kingdom of God in our own city.
Dr. Wenger published a short article that summarizes his seven principles for cultivating communities of practice. In this blogpost I want to begin a conversation with his work, my own reflections, and the work of other missional-thinkers.
Principle #1 Design for Evolution
“Because communities of practice are organic, designing them is more a matter of shepherding their evolution than creating them from scratch.”- Wenger
“My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you”- apostle Paul, Galatians 4:19
A common theme I hear in Wenger’s work and the writings and practice of missional communities is that of designing and cultivating organic community. Wenger draws upon the language of shepherding. In the above Second Testament passage the apostle Paul uses the image of childbirth to describe his leadership role among the Galatian Christians. Both images are non-controlling images. The shepherd guides the sheep to a desired location. The mother in travail gives birth to new life. Both are organic images of coming alongside and giving shape to conditions where life emerges.
By evolution, I understand Wenger to say that life emerges organically. And so it is with a community of the kingdom. The Spirit is at work energizing, distributing gifts, and forming the character of Christ in that particular community.
This quick reflection raises other questions for me:
What does it look like to form and cultivate life-giving, organic, missional community in my own city?
What kind of leaders do we need to give space for optimal workings of the Spirit in our community and neighborhood?
What portions of the Bible’s narrative/story can give shape to this kind of understanding of organic leadership and community?
Next…principle #2 Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.