Building Authentic Community


I had the opportunity to sit on a leadership development class this morning led by Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil. She was in the midst of training a group of pastors who share a core commitment to racial reconciliation and social justice as manifestations of the Gospel. The topic of instruction was the challenge of building authentic community, particularly in cross cultural settings. She used Scott Peck’s model of community from the book “A Different Drum.” Peck says there are 4 necessary stages a group of people must travel through together to experience authentic community. Below are the 4 stages as summarized by Wikipedia:

Stage 1 -Pseudocommunity: This is a stage where the members pretend to have a bonhomie with one another, and cover up their differences, by acting as if the differences do not exist. Pseudocommunity can never directly lead to community, and it is the job of the person guiding the community building process to shorten this period as much as possible.

Stage 2 – Chaos: When pseudocommunity fails to work, the members start falling upon each other, giving vent to their mutual disagreements and differences. This is a period of chaos. It is a time when the people in the community realize that differences cannot simply be ignored. Chaos looks counterproductive but it is the first genuine step towards community building.

Stage 3 – Emptiness: After chaos comes emptiness. At this stage, the people learn to empty themselves of those ego related factors that are preventing their entry into community. Emptiness is a tough step because it involves the death of a part of the individual. But, Scott Peck argues, this death paves the way for the birth of a new creature, the Community.

Stage 4 – True community: Having worked through emptiness, the people in community are in complete empathy with one another. There is a great level of tacit understanding. People are able to relate to each other’s feelings. Discussions, even when heated, never get sour, and motives are not questioned.

The teaching and discussion were great, and fostered a number of important questions/thoughts:

  • If these stages are mandatory even in monocultural settings, how much more are they necessary in cross cultural settings?
  • And if that is true, how much greater is the chaos going to be in a cross cultural setting than it would a monocultural setting?
  • If it does happen in cross cultural setting, what does it cost each group?  Is the cost different depending on your social location and who it is that you are trying to build authentic community with?
  • Rev Doc talked about the “leaven” principle – before the whole loaf can be baked there needs to leaven first (something like that… i don’t really understand cooking metaphors lol).  The point being that this might be a big undertaking for an entire community, but it could be a great goal for a smaller group of potential leaders and influencers to begin working on
  • And finally, she asked where it is that leaders are doing that “emptying.”  It is important that leaders don’t try to just lead this type of community – they need to experience it first hand as well
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2 thoughts on “Building Authentic Community

  1. This is good stuff. An important factor in building community that is genuine is to have community members who are also about to be real about where they are in their process and who are open to correction, reflection, and change. What it also means is that no one who enters will leave the same. They all have to be willing to realize that their experiences and perspectives are only part of a much larger story. Just like the Bible is comprised of many books and time periods, so are we. You, we, cannot keep things the same and build communities that respectfully include everyone. That also includes persons who are gay/lesbian, and are along the continuum of sexual orientation. To build the community of Christ, we must hear their voices and choose to wrestle with the vision of what it would mean for the church family to more authentically include these persons. Our sisters and brothers, who are already a part of the family, but often forced to be inauthentic in order to receive false acceptance. Too often, the church emphasizes that they must hide their identities and experiences.

  2. Pingback: Building Authentic Community « Reconciliation 101

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