A conversation that gives me hope.

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I have had so many conversations over the last year about healthy ways that the local church can engage with the people living in the neighbourhood around it.

These conversations were a part of a catalyst for why I started this blog.  My hope was that this could become something of a central water-cooler around which all of these amazing thinkers could meet and contribute thoughts to a dialogue.

So often when I am having these conversations in small town Adelaide I find myself saying:

“Oh you need to read this”
or more often
“Oh you need to meet so-and-so”

And so I thought perhaps I needed to facilitate a space in which all the “so-and-so’s” could meet each other and tell each other about the amazing work they are doing in Community Development and dream together about how we might work together to make sure that the best resources and ideas and frameworks ended up in the hands of those people who wanted them.

This desire also came from participating in the World Vision National Church Leaders Gathering and hearing lots of pastors there (and interestingly enough especially participants from Adelaide) crying out to giants like World Vision to share with us what they know about best practice in Asset Based Community Development overseas and helping us to apply it locally.

So I approached Simon Duke from World Vision’s Adelaide team whose job is specifically to engage with local churches on behalf of World Vision and together we pulled some key people into a room.

We spent the morning of dreaming together about what it would look like for the local Churches to use best practice in good community development (of the kind that our para-church agencies and international agencies are schooled in); what it would look like for our pastors to be trained in this as well as they are trained in theological thinking; what it would look like for church governance teams to be equipped and passionate about this stuff?

Over lunch we chewed and squabbled over theological frameworks and threw around terms like ‘kingdom of God’and ‘integrated mission’ and began to recognise (as many before us had) just how challenging bridging any gap between agency and church is going to be.  This should have not come as any surprise… we’re not the first and we won’t be the last to come up against this!  Personally I was quite amazed by how quickly language became a challenge.. perhaps I shouldn’t have been.   I truly still believe that with the right spirit it is a surmountable challenge and even a great opportunity.  Engaging para-church agencies, local Churches, denominational representatives, international development groups and ministry training facilities in the same conversation really does seem like the way forward and overcoming the historic divides in our approaches towards community work seems significantly important… but perhaps I am wearing rose-coloured glasses?

Regardless at least in this microcosm we managed to settle on a considered purpose for this conversation:

We are a group of people who walk alongside practitioners of asset based community development principles in Australian Churches.

So what does that mean we do?

While we threw around many great and big dreams; we decided that there were two things we could contribute in the short term:

1)  Seeking out events to profile current examples of good/healthy asset based community development that are already happening.

2)  Seek opportunities to form a network of mentors / coaches for those newly exploring community development principles (to walk alongside and support them in this process)

I look forward to continuing this conversation in early February; inviting some more key stakeholders into the conversation and at least giving this thing a good bash.

How amazing would it be if in 5-10 years time we had established a best practice for churches engaging with their community?

We must be real and admit as Churches we have done some very real damage in the name of “helping” in the past and wouldn’t it be great if we could now lead the way in being truly healing and restoring communities again?

Another reflection here on Peter McDonald (of Uniting Communities) blog.

If you would like to hear more about this conversation and other thoughts on the Church and Community Development why not subscribe to this blog by email by clicking on the “follow me” button in the top right hand corner of this page.  Thank you.

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