Monday, January 27, 2014

The "How" of Building an Effective Christian Community

I work at a Christian college.  A committee was tasked with created a document called "Working in Community" that describes what it looks like to build Community in a Christian workplace.  In reading the document, it struck me that the document does a very good job of describing what a successful Christian community looks like, but it doesn't seem to focus on how Biblical concepts actually are the foundation of an effective community.  Also, it doesn't indicate how those Biblical concepts are in actuality the same financial and managerial best practices used in all successful organizations, but in a Christian context using Christian lingo.

Much of the confusion in this area seems to come from differing definitions of terms.  I actually view “stewardship” as “delegated ownership” (which includes accountability), whereas most people seem to view stewardship and ownership as opposites.  The practical difference is that many people think the Christian view of management is to give up ownership (and therefore to give up control and responsibility), whereas I would argue that an enlightened understanding of wise, delegated ownership is key to building a good community.  Many times it is when “ownership” is unclear that people try to force others to do what they think is right rather than trying to persuade or trade to get what they want.  Note that the verses in the Bible that seem to argue against “ownership” actually presuppose ownership rights as being valid but then argues that people should trade to obtain greater value.  Also, I would argue that the Ten Commandments actually defines ownership.  For example, “Do not steal” actually presupposes and defines ownership of physical items to be a valid concept, “Do not kill” defines ownership of our own bodies, etc...

Also, I would view the concepts of “community” and “relationships” as actually the same concept as “trade”.  Note that trade is two or more people exchanging things (including exchanging time and information) such that, in the aggregate, they each believe they benefit in some way more than it costs them.  Healthy trade, community and relationships each increases value to all involved otherwise the trade would cease, the community would fall apart and the relationship would end (or at least it would be an “unhealthy” relationship).

The reason I am interested in this topic is that these concepts have been of significant value to my household.  We have eight kids so it is a necessity to maintain a good family community.  What we do when there is conflict is to clarify (delegated) “ownership” of particular areas.  So, when an inappropriate form of attempted control (physical, verbal, tantrums, whining, etc..) takes place we first ask who “owns” that decision, then we have the others involved try to persuade the owner and possibly trade with the owner to get what they want/need.  So, the only methods of control that we use are persuasion/debate and trade based on ownership.  The other methods of control: physical force, punishment, peer pressure, yelling/pouting, tantrums, etc.. are considered to be invalid attempts to control (steal) what other people own.  We teach them that to say “please”, “thank you, “yes ma’am”, etc.. is valuable because that indicates to others that they respect their ownership/choices and will not try to force them to do what they want (which intuitively indicates they will be good trading partners).  Basically, what I am arguing that the non-aggression principle is just a restatement of the golden rule, which is a summary of the Ten Commandments.

We also teach them that grace/forgiveness is very important (assuming they have the right motives), because they can only be motivated to try to do things well if they are assured that there is acceptance when they fail.  Also, emotions are mostly learned “reasoning shortcuts” that motivates us to action of some kind, so emotions should be managed and used for self-motivation.  Note that these ideas work the same universally so our relationships don’t have to change when they get out on their own, there is no need for rebellion (hopefully…) and they are also learning how to interact with others at church and in their careers.

So, I would argue that the Biblical concepts of wise delegated ownership (stewardship) and trade (community, relationships) are actually the power behind building a good community and that these concepts are the best way to resolve conflicts.  Conflicts can also be resolved by “giving up ownership”, but that also removes control and responsibility, leading to less that optimal solutions and many times more conflict in the future.  I sometimes worry that we are good at communicating what godly interactions should look like but that we don’t always communicate well the power of how Biblical concepts promote virtue in the workplace and in communities.