Posts Tagged ‘community’


We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.
– Orson Welles

Lately I’ve been unable to fight off this forlorn feeling of futility and forsakenness. God seems unreal and my friends seem so far away. That’s why I could not find the faith and fortitude to face my brothers and sisters these past 2 Sundays. Then I came across this:

All of us are hurting. All of us have our own stories of pain, and we’d be so much better off—all of us—if we’d just trust each other with a little honesty. …

And sometimes, it helps to just know you’re not on this journey by yourself. …

A lot of people work hard to put on a good face and keep up illusions that everything is fine. …

Church should be the one place you don’t have to pretend. Church should be the one place where it’s OK to say, “I’m having a bad day.”

Church should be the place where you can sit next to a friend and let them know you’re with them and that they’re going to be OK, and not have to use a lot of words. It should be a place where you can simply say, “I’ve been there too…”

Sometimes, all you need is to know you’re not alone. Church should be the place where you know that.

Bingo! I am tired of pretending and I’m tired of seeing other pretenders. Why can’t we remove our masks and be honest, open and vulnerable with each other? Surely I can’t be the only one who yearns for genuine relationships, who longs for the real thing?

I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?

Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I’m getting old, and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired, and I need somewhere to begin

And if you have a minute, why don’t we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
Somewhere only we know?

–Keane, Somewhere Only We Know

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In the course of searching for videos featuring Julie Canlis, whom I was introduced to through her outstanding book, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension, I stumbled across this wonderful video, Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known, about her husband Matt and his odyssey of learning how to slow down. We hear him confess at the start of the video, “I’ve been running most of my life, running through life to get somewhere else. But the thing about running is that you miss things, many things. And if I kept running, I was going to miss everything.”

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And then Matt went on to divulge: “When I was running it was easy to stay hidden to avoid being unknown. One professor knew this—Eugene Peterson. He said, Matt, if you want to be a pastor, go find a parish, go find a fishbowl where you can’t escape being known and where you lose the fear of being known.

“I think what I realized is that nobody in America gets listened to very much,” notes Peterson, who told Matt if he wanted to really wanted to walk like Jesus, he had to leave America.  As things turned out, Matt and Julie were invited to study in St Andrews, Scotland. “That’s when everything began to change …” and the video chronicles his journey of learning how to walk instead of running.

Upon arriving in a small village in Scotland, Matt “learned that I wasn’t there to give people the the good news, I was there to be a part of their lives … I ended up learning more about them and they about me than me communicating the truth they needed to hear.” Eugene Peterson observes that “People are not used to being intimate in any verbal way, there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear …”

For me personally, I actually yearn to be known, to love and to be loved. But everyone else is running and they have little time for me to know and love them, let alone they wanting to know and love me. This is sadly true in our programmed, consumerist religious offering we call church. What I long for is Slow Church, where we gather to share our stories, a meal, our lives. O God, when shall this aching void be filled?

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My wife and I had the opportunity to spend an evening at a salon hosted by a single mom at her home. The presenter was a young man (20 years old) who shared his life as an immigrant from Korea and his quest for identity and belonging. As a child of immigrant parents I can relate to his story and I also appreciated his honesty about trying to hold on to his Christian faith through it all.

We had an interesting and diverse group of people and we enjoyed the conversations over the potluck dinner. In many ways, though this was a non-Christian gathering, I felt it was as if I was in a house church meeting with the Lord’s Supper as a real meal (which it was) and everyone participating in the gathering (which was the norm). Even the children (including my youngest daughter) were part of the gathering: listening and interacting with the adults.

I wish I could experience genuine community in church as well …

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pews as prisons

What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.
Even the anchorite who meditates alone,
For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of GOD,
Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate.
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor

T.S. Eliot, “Choruses from The Rock”

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Creativity and Community

“… Pixar’s fifteen-acre campus, just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, was designed, inside and out, by Steve Jobs. … It has well-thought-out patterns of entry and egress that encourage people to mingle, meet, and communicate. .. the unifying idea for this building isn’t luxury but community.” (p. ix; emphasis mine)

– Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Random House; 2014)


When I was part of a house church, the contrast was such that it was quite apparent to me how church buildings spoke of our corporate life together as a spectator sport—what with rows of (uncomfortable) pews, all of us sitting and staring at the back of someone’s head and the packaged program. What a far cry from the intimate, interactive and participatory nature of church meetings in homes that we read of in the NT!

That said, I’ve come to accept that church buildings aren’t going away anytime soon. I do wish however, I could rennovate our church building, with a view to proxemics, the functional use of space and the principles of aesthetics and design thinking.

I can dream in the meantime, can’t I?

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Afraid to be Ourselves

All of us have a secret desire to be seen as saints, heroes, martyrs. We are afraid to be children, to be ourselves.

It is only when we stand up, with all our failings and sufferings, and try to support others rather than withdraw into ourselves, that we can fully live the life of community.

— Jean Vanier

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Our church hosted a family counselling seminar tonight. Upfront let me confess that I’ve always had an uneasy feeling about some of the underlying psychological theories upon which counselling draws on. But more significantly, I have always railed against the therapeutic culture that has invaded and infected the Church. (For trenchant analyses, one can turn, for example, to Michael Horton’s Made in America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelicalism, David F. Wells’ God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams and Marsha Witten’s All Is Forgiven: The Secular Message in American Protestantism). That said, I’m actually very interested in psychoanalysis, counselling and psychotherapies. But I am wary of how they mix and play out in theory and practice, with respect to theology and Christian formation.

However, time away from the Church has (hopefully) allowed me to see things with fresh perspectives, and I have to say I really appreciated both presenters. The first topic was “Secrets of the Teenage Brain” and a lot of practical information and helpful tips were shared. In particular, I really appreciated her remark that healing must take place in community; and yet, church is often a place where people get hurt rather than get healed.

The second presenter was by a former pastor, who spoke about “Loving Couples, Loving Stories: How to Listen in a Loving Way”. I hope my wife was paying attention! 😉  I loved how he stressed the importance of narrative: not only as a way of making sense of our lives, but also as a way of connecting with others. He also noted the importance of vulnerability when sharing one’s stories with others. As one who loves fiction (which the speaker actually recommended as a good way of developing empathy), stories play a vital and central role in my life. No surprise then, that during the Q&A period, I raised the question of why Christians are so afraid of taking off their masks, being authentic and vulnerable in sharing their stories. To his credit, this pastor-turned-counsellor gave honest reasons based on his experience, e.g., fear of discomfort, fear of betrayal, church culture/expectations (afraid to come across weak and struggling), etc.

While I totally agree with him, I still strongly feel that we must change this. After all, I am able to be quite open and vulnerable when I share my stories in Toastmasters. While it’s obvious that couples should listen to each other in a loving way, what about Christians with each other? I think that’s just as an important of a takeaway.

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When we view church from an organizational perspective — which we can and must, given our current operating model of church — in my previous post, I asked “How well we are collaborating together for the spread of the gospel and the edification of the body?” I might ask a more fundamental question: “Are we functioning as a command-and-control organization or collaboratively?” We may profess that we are a family, a fellowship of brothers and sisters, but in practice, we operate as a business, and as such, let us learn from business thought leaders.

Burkett asserts that:

a truly collaborative environment involves all organizational levels and is a part of the organization’s cultural identity. When organizations consistently apply collaborative approaches to improve cross-functional connections and break down silos, even in a limited manner, they have achieved many sustained benefits, including:

  • fully engaged workers eager to take on new projects
  • improved organizational agility and flexibility
  • more productive, energized meetings
  • competitive advantage attracting top talent
  • higher retention rates
  • improved performance and profitability

Of course, some may be uncomfortable with applying some of the language (e.g. profitability) to church, but we can adapt the principle accordingly. Indeed, I invite the reader to consider each of the bulleted items in relation to their church and reflect on how and where improvements can be realized.

She realizes that there will be resistance on the part of some leaders and employees and therefore, we need to grease the wheel by considering three vital factors:


As one can discern from the image above, trust is the key ingredient needed for “creating an environment where employees can feel free to take risks and openly express concerns, fears, and differences of opinion without reprisal or retaliation.” Is our church marked by a culture of trust?  Are we able to express our doubts and disagreements in a spirit of love?  It’s important to keep in mind that “trust is built through small moments of consistent, daily interaction rather than grand mission statements or sweeping proclamations.”

Needless to say, many problems, be it in our personal, business, or church lives, have their source in poor communication. Burkett writes that the “majority of leaders fail to clearly communicate their strategy through the organization, which slows down projects, hurts performance results, and hinders engagement.” A large part of the problem is failing to listen carefully to concerns and being too far removed from employees (or church members). As Burkett notes, “Listening to and inviting diverse input brings in more valuable information, builds bridges of trust, and promotes shared accountability.”

 Finally, it is a common sense truism that “people want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves” by sharing a common purpose. Yet, why is it that in most churches, a significant majority of the members are just pew warmers?  The answers are varied, but certainly one reason is that members are not encouraged to ascertain and use their spiritual gifts for the mutual edification of the body; i.e., they need to be taught how to “collaborate” using their gifting.

Collaborative skills are often incorporated among the following professional development skill sets:

  • how to ask for input from others
  • how to listen for understanding
  • how to reach consensus
  • how to provide constructive feedback
  • how to share information with others
  • how to use negotiation skills
  • how to lead change

When teaching collaboration, it’s also important to encourage healthy debate, creative tension, and constructive criticism.

Needless to say, most churches seem unable to engage in “healthy debate” without ending in denunciations and division. Again, there a number of reasons for this, but part of the problem is a lack of biblical literacy and discernment that are prerequisites for wise decision making (“how to reach consensus”).

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For the past 2 weeks, in my spare time, I have been setting up Office 365 for our church. In my email exchange with one of the pastors, I wrote: “Yes, I am quite excited about the possibilities!! So many things to discuss with you re: vision and value of using this platform to enhance and enrich communication, connection and collaboration!”

At noon today, I was reading Learning for the Long Run: 7 Practices for Sustaining a Resilient Learning Organization by Holly Burkett, in which she describes the 6th practice as “Foster Collaboration, Connection, and Community”, words that never fail to generate longing and excitement in the deepest recesses of my heart and soul.

We live in a truly connected world. … 

Changes in traditional hierarchical structures reflect these increased demands for connection and collaboration. In today’s knowledge economy, where the half-life of knowledge progressively shrinks each day, it’s become even more important for organizations to design structures and processes that enable fast and free information flow across boundaries.

If this is true in the business world, is it not also true when we consider the organizational aspects of churches? Hence my desire to implement Office 365 for our church – as a way to foster communication, connection, collaboration and community. Not that technology is the answer, but it can certainly support the structure and streamline processes for increased efficiency and effectiveness.

Social learning experiences and peer-learning networks have gained prominence as effective ways of enabling employees to quickly connect with others to solve problems and focus exactly on what information they need, when they need it … At its core, social learning is about sharing knowledge, information and experiences through interactive discussion and peer collaboration.

At the church I last attended before embarking on my “sabbatical”, I encouraged the teaching elder (pastor) to try a more participatory approach to the usual monological sermonizing, what some have called interactive preaching. The experiment was enthusiastically received and overwhelmingly positive, but for whatever reason, it was to be the first and the last time. So much for “peer learning” …

Landmark research from a 2006 Gallup study with nearly 8,000 business units over seven years showed that business units with higher connection scores experienced higher productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction, as well as lower employee turnover and fewer accidents. … The bottom line is that connection plays a critical part in improving organizational performance …

The need to connect is powerful. In recent years, neuroscientists have discovered that connection reduces stress levels, provides a sense of well-being, and makes us more trusting. An organization with a high degree of connection has employees who are more engaged, more productive in their jobs, and less likely to leave the organization for a competitor.

Given that the Sunday morning worship is the central (and for many Christians, the ONLY) event of the week where church members come together, and given that the bulk of the time is spent as a silent spectator, how are we going to connect with each other and put into practice the many “one another” commands we find in the NT? Is this lack of connection what makes it so easy for some Christians to just get up and leave at the slightest stirring of disagreement or dissatisfaction?

While social technologies play a vital role in enabling the speed and access of connections, the real value of effective collaboration and networking does not lie in more robust project management tools or advanced technology. These are simply means to an end—a collaborative and connected culture ultimately resides in the social fabric of organizations and how people do their work. In a truly collaborative environment, everyone has a voice, can contribute, and understands how their contributions fit with strategy and purpose.

A key cultural challenge is that many senior leaders continue to view collaboration as a skill applied to a single project or activity. When collaboration is focused solely on teams or a single level of an organization, it is extremely difficult to sustain and benefits are fleeting. Learning leaders must help organizations move beyond this narrow definition to redefine collaboration as a cultural value that should be embedded as part of an organization’s DNA.

I have no illusions that our church’s O365 implementation will suddenly lead to nirvana, because “a collaborative and connected culture ultimately resides in the social fabric of organizations” and, I might add, in a more biblical model of how we function as the body of Christ. And what Burkett calls “collaboration”, which she defines as a “process governed by a set of norms and behaviors that maximizes the contribution of individuals by drawing on the collective intelligence of everyone involved” (emphasis mine), is what I am going to call “one anothering with our spiritual gifts”. How well are we collaborating together for the spread of the gospel and the edification of the body? She notes that “[c]ollaboration requires the understanding and application of key behaviors that are increased through learning and practice.” (emphasis mine) Where and when are we going to practice our “one anothering with our spiritual gifts”?

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