Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead (1901-1978), US anthropologist
I have always been drawn to communities. From a very young age, I had a small sense of tribalism. We were raised in a small town in South Carolina among family members, dear friends who were an extension of our family, mentors, teachers, coaches, and other community leaders. Those who nurtured my beginnings understood and embodied the African proverb: It takes a village to raise a child.
But somewhere along the lines, children grow up. Those children began to embody or take on the values of their peers and other messengers or impostors around them. Impostors want us to believe that we can do it all on our own, leave others behind, and pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. Indeed, this is the American way. It is the way of pride and a way that lacks grace. But God has called us as Christian leaders to live a gospel and others-centered way. This is the way of the cross, the way of laying down our lives for the sake of others, and the way that considers the needs of the collective whole—the community—above our own self-centered way.
Jesus lives for the single focus of glorifying His Father on earth and completing the work His Father gave him to do. Jesus did that by gathering, teaching, training, equipping, and then launching a small group of friends—his disciples—to continue in his work. Through the gospel accounts, we observe that He frequently traveled in the community of his twelve disciples and a devoted group of women. We also see that he sent them out on tasks in pairs of two; never did they go out alone. It is because of this devoted community that billions of people believe the gospel’s message and call themselves Christians today.
We like to honor charismatic and influential leaders. We want to know the guy or gal who is out front leading the charge. In our celebration of individual advancement, however, we often fail to acknowledge the teams and arm lifters who journey with the most influential leaders. Leaders make impact through the faithful work of their community. Communities, not individuals, make a significant and lasting contribution by joining in the work God is already doing in the world. When individuals willingly and humbly lay down their rights and agendas to connect with other like-mind individuals and commitment to a single focus of pursuing God’s kingdom agenda together, it is amazing to witness the extraordinary things “ordinary” people can do.
We observe this truth in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gathered a community to establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. This community coordinated non-violent actions of local protest like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the revolution in Birmingham, and Selma. The rest, as they say, is history. Dr. King changed a community, his country, and indeed the world. Dr. King was also changed by his community.
The same is true for William Wilberforce, a Christian who is credited with ending the slave trade in England and around the world. Wilberforce was committed to and heavily influenced by a “group of influential friends known as the Clapham Sect [or ‘The Saints’]. Stephen Tomkins describes the Sect as ‘a network of friends and families in England, with William Wilberforce as its centre of gravity, who were powerfully bound together by their shared moral and spiritual values, by their religious mission and social activism, by their love for each other, and by marriage’(Crafting the Rule of Life, pg. 99).”
I am so thankful to now be connected with a group of like-minded Christian friends who are committed to praying together and pursuing God’s highest good by raising up leaders who seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Let these examples be an encouragement for you to pray, intentionally seek out, and then cultivate a tribe that is not afraid to take God at His Word.
What work might God be calling you to right now? What community or people groups are already doing this work? How might you join in their efforts?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015
Just Spirituality: How Faith Practice Fuel Social Action by Mae Elise Cannon