the abundant community – part four

in my last post, i attempted to define a system as defined in the book, the abundant community: awakening the power of families and neighborhoods by john mcknight and peter block.  here are a couple of quotes…

We made the leap from being citizens to being consumers in a culture that successfully sold the idea that a satisfied life is determined first by defining and promoting needs and then by figuring out how to fulfill them.  We created a larger market by collectively determining that families and communities are filled with needs that are best serviced by systems…The expanding desire for universal education, the growing expectations of government support, the medicalization of health, and above all the dominance of the corporation as the driver and deliverer of the good life–all create the need for increasingly large institutions and systems, and the management to make them work…In adopting system life, people choose to yield sovereignty in exchange for the promise of predictability. 

Systems are designed for, and therefore their existence hinges upon, finding solutions to problems.  Need it faster, better, cheaper?  Design a system, hire a good manager, and your problems are solved.  This type of thinking has gradually become quite acceptable in our culture, but has caused irreparable damage.

my point (which i’m sure is transparent to my regular visitors) is that i’m wondering if at some point we surrendered to system thinking when we designed the con

temporary, attractional church model.  people want a slick, efficient presentation on sunday, so we established departments with professional managers that are continually striving to be more and more excellent.

mcknight and block argue that a better answer is associations.

An association is fundamentally a group of people who have a shared affinity.  Associational life begins with a group of people who are drawn together for some reason, and that reason is what makes it work.  Associations come in three forms:

     – Location (The Westwood Neighborhood Association; The South 10th Street Restaurant Owners Association).

     – The function they serve (self-help groups; kindergarten parent’s association; green groups)

     – Interest (dog lovers; marathon runners; book clubs)

To choose to participate in associational life means you choose to be in a more formal relationship with a group of people.  You want to be with them for your own interests.  Few associations come together to do social good, the come together for some other reason and so a social good out of their peripheral vision.  Otherwise, it is a system.  If profit becomes an objective, it is a system.

the distinction between a system and an association is critical to the foundation of what the authors call “the abundant community.”  further, there are “three universal and abundant powers” that are fundamental.  they are:

  • The giving of gifts: The gifts of the people in our neighborhood are boundless. Our movement calls forth those gifts.
  • The power of association: In association, we join our gifts together and they become amplified, magnified, productive and celebrated.
  • Hospitality: We welcome strangers because we value their gifts and need to share our own. Our doors are open. There are no strangers here. Just friends we haven’t met.

these three attributes were found in abundance in the new testament church.  i would argue that they are not just needed in the contemporary church, they are necessary.  the system-based church has a limited shelf-life because it cannot meet the deepest needs of people.  according to the mcknight and block, “Systems that are constructed for order cannot provide satisfaction in domains that require a unique and personal human solution.

in my next post, i hope to string all this random information together and show you what i feel like god has been speaking to me about the church and her future.


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