Creating Community Isn't a Good Idea, It's Life or Death
Creating community, building community, establishing community are phrases that people either love or hate. Some of us think there is nothing better than community, others gag at the thought. The question to ponder is if it is just a "good idea", or is it actually a matter of life or death?"
For YWAM if the people we work together with in a particular place does not become a community (of whatever form or scope), it will likely fall apart and die. It is a matter of the life or death for small teams. For those outside our communities - those we are seeking to reach - it will also be life and death. Our failure to function as a team will inevitably effect our outreach and hence those we reach out to, who are depending on us to hear and see the Good News WILL NOT HEAR. It is a matter of their spiritual life and death.
Creating community is not just a good idea that will amuse some of us 'community-type' folks, it is a matter for all of us, like it or not!
The next question that arises is, "What sort of community should we create/build?" There are many different sorts of communities in the world that are legitimate, but not all of them are for us in YWAM. We need to build a community that supports what we are called to do in the world, a functional community built around reaching the world and sending out the wave after wave of people into the world.
Yet there is no one-size-fits-all approach. YWAM centres are composed of teams and communities of different sizes, ages, and focus. Creating a functional community is not a simple task and there is much to keep in balance.
What is your YWAM centre like?
- A monastery: secluded from the outside world, disciplined and devoted to learning, worship, prayer and work duties?
- A Hippie commune: Wild and woolly and warm but not terribly focused or organised?
- Just a drafty office 10 feet above the roaring traffic?
- A crowded house, close to a city centre, 6 people to a bedroom?
- Like a hotel with all sorts of strangers around, coming and going and everybody doing their own ministry to their own time schedule?
All of these scenarios can be useful, productive and functional teams and communities! They can also be dysfunctional. An intentional focus on building the community and solving problems that impact the vibrancy of the community is important.
Defining Marks of a Community
Community is made up of the following elements in decreasing order of importance. By that I mean that identity is paramount in importance: we are a YWAM community! Secondly, we eat together. If we don't eat together we are not a community...
- A sense of Identity: Who we are in this community. What we are here for. Our common mission.
- Meals: Communities eat together in one form or another
- Role: What is my place in this community. This brings security
- Times: Common times together prayer, sabbath, regular hours for meals etc.
- Talking/sharing/having fun/praying (Fellowship) together
- Depth: The goal is for a depth of life - living together needs to be deep and rich not fleeting and superficial.
- Parties: Having good reasons to celebrate together who we are
- Rules: What are the common agreed guidelines for living in a specific situation
- Welcoming: Welcoming visitors and all those outside of the community who enter in, however briefly, in a warm and inclusive and affirming manner.
Example of someone creating a community: Moses in Exodus and Leviticus. Taking a bunch of slaves and making them into a nation.
Communities are evaluated by the degree of function spiritually, socially and effectively (ie outreach).
Communities and YWAM
Contrasting individuality and community in single staff life in YWAM. This is an important balance as some of our communities have a rapid turnover of younger staff/trainees.
Single staff have different needs depending on age. The younger the staff often the greater the need for a funtional community. The older single staff often have a greater need their own space and opportunity to relate to their peers (inside or outside the community). This may require older staff to live slightly apart from an intense community; if they were directly in such a community their need for space could negatively impact the community.
It is very hard to change the way people live together and a top down, authoritarian decision may backfire! In many senses a community has the depth it actually wants!
Smaller YWAM centres may find community harder to form. Larger bases may have to overcome institutionalisation and lack of contact with the outside world! Centres in Urban areas may have no YWAM accommodation and rent office space; they will have their own struggles forming an internal community but may well be a very functional team and have excellent community links to the wider church and city life.
There probably is no one clear definition of how we should live and work together, as our centres vary so much from one another. But at different levels we all need to experience functional and healthy team life and/or community life together.
Taking an audit of the community can be a good way to understand and highlight areas for growth and development. YWAM Community Audit is one tool that can help. Another is Creating Community Survey which is developed from this page.
How to Transform Communities
Talk it all through with the group and try to arrive at a point where they recognise there is a problem and have positive and clear shared vision of what they want to be like. It will take sacrifice and will feel uncomfortable to change. The desire to change needs to overcome the pain of change!
Help them to change by starting with the simplest thing that will make the most difference... (percentages just for example here - it will depend on each community what will make the most difference)
- Shopping, cooking, eating and washing up together (30% difference)
- Setting a regular and simple time to meet and pray together (20 % difference)
- Talking out the rules (unwritten) and talking about who they are and forming a new set of guidelines for living together (10% Difference)
- Throwing out the television and investing in some games to play together (10% Difference)
- Painting a mural on some common space together (5% Difference)
- Finding and fixing a common time to do the weekly cleaning together, finishing with a coffee break (5% Difference)
Aim for an 80% improvement that takes 20% of the time. The remaining 20% improvement usually takes 80% of the time! For example in the list above you may see a rapid improvement in months, but then a gradual slowdown as you try to tweak things.
Modern Technology That Can Pose a Threat to Community Life
Out of control:
- Use of mobile phone
- Use of email or instant messaging
When out of control people tend to share all their intimacies to another person in a far away place and this can sometimes be prohibitive to rich relationships in a community. It is not easy to discern this.
Out of control:
- TV watching
- DVD's watching
- Playing computer games
- Surfing the Internet
- Listening to music
When out of control these activities can rob us of interaction with others and provide a hiding place that robs others of positive interaction with us.
Modern Technology That Can Aid Community Life
- Earplugs (If you have ever shared a room with Steve Sullivan you will appreciate the way he travels with earplugs for others!)