I Love Asset-Based Community Development but it’s not the Church

I am a believer in Asset Based Community Organizing. I have learned much from John McKnight and Peter Bloch and others (read this for instance). When I was at Northwestern doing a Ph D, McKnight’s office was in the building right behind Garrett seminary. So I’m not an expert, but I’m familiar. I suggest Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is one of those great studies of how to do things in cooperation with God and what He is already present pushing for. But having said all this, I still don’t think ABCD replaces the church. I love Asset Based Community Organizing, but it’s not the church.
Many times the church in effect look likes it is nurturing something that looks a lot like ABCD. The intersection between ABCD kind of activity and “body life” (church life) would make for a wonderful research study. The church’s natural life of reconciling people in the neighborhood, of advocating for resources, of nurturing leadership within the community, may/should look alot like ABCD. But there is still a difference between the two. I love Asset Based Community Organizing, but it’s not the church.

I submit that whenever the church of God, Christ’s body, sent into God’s Mission, is present in a place, it brings something above and beyond what ABCD claims to be doing in a context (ABCD in its purest form claims to bring nothing to a context. They claim “everything is already there.”  This claim I suspect can be an overstatement but I understand what they’re saying and to some degree applaud it).  The church in effect carries the keys of the Kingdom.  It can be and should be the vehicle for God to extend the particular reconciliation, new creation, and/or justice made possible in Jesus Christ in ways that are only possible in the work of the Triune God at work in and through Jesus Christ.  Again, I love Asset Based Community Development. It is certainly God’s work, but on it’s own, it is not the church.

Wendy McCaig recently posted a response to my proposal for the Luke 10 Project  on her blog last week (read it here). She applauds a lot of things. She is less enthused on others.  After reading her blog and seeing her work, I‘m an admirer. From what I can tell (and I know very little about Wendy so far), Wendy is a community organizer who advocates “asset based community development.” I affirm asset based community development as God’s work, but I personally place more emphasis on planting local communities of Mission where people gather to witness to “the Kingdom” (it’s my calling, while still applauding those called to ABCD). Through the humble gospel presence of communities of Christ, we participate in what God is already doing in our local context to bring the Kingdom into visibility. Wendy argues that Kingdom work means “living out Jesus mission and continuing his work of bringing sight to the blind, good news to the poor, etc…” If a worship community forms out of that presence that is wonderful.” But even if there is no gathering, the Body of Christ still exists in that place. I disagree. I don’t think ABCD is the body of Christ. I think “the body of Christ” refers to a social reality formed in some basic core practices of participating in Christ’s inbreaking Lordship over our lives and the context we live in. I  agree with people like Kathy Escobar and the idea of “Kingdom Outposts” (mentioned here). I have used this way of describing church activotyu myself. Although, I strongly reject the way the forms of church have been reified in Christendom (and ensconced in power), nonetheless, the social practice of coming together under God’s reign in Christ births His presence into the world in a way ABCD does not.  I think we need more thought and reflection here on ecclesiology. Having said this, I agree with Wendy on many things. For instance:

 1.) Wendy disliked the idea that the Luke 10 Project “assumes the community (we are planting in) is lacking something.” Luke 10 Project needs to “learn to build on what God is already doing – they should learn to see the glass as “half full.” I agree with Wendy that we always should be present in a context assuming God is already working!! And so I regret not emphasizing that enough in the Luke 10 project.  I think I missed on that aspect a little bit. I did talk about how “the three” leaders inhabiting a place would seek to submit and connect with existing church leaders and seek to work with them, on invitation. I should have placed more emphasis on connecting with all community leaders. To me it is the very nature of the incarnation to inhabit by listening and discerning what God is doing.

 2.) Wendy disliked that the Luke 10 Project emphasized “relocation” and underemphasized “indigenous leader development.” I think I may have missed something here as well. I am very committed to raising up leaders in the community for both the building up of the body of Christ as a sign foretaste of the Kingdom, as well as for the prototype “community development” activities that feed Kingdom work in a community.  I think I have an established record on this for those who know me. But I can always learn more.

 3.) Wendy disliked the emphasis in my post on “gathering Christians.” In her next post Wendy argues that Kingdom work means “living out Jesus mission and continuing his work of bringing sight to the blind, good news to the poor, etc…” If a worship community forms out of that presence that is wonderful.” But even if there is no gathering, the Body of Christ still exists in that place.

It’s here where I think Wendy and I differ. It’s a tension I admit. But I believe the church is a social reality that releases God dynamic work of His Kingdom and authority into our midst. Community organizing is God at work. It is doing God’s work and participating in and among His people. But I want to press further on that. I want to argue that when people come together under His reign (in a local context) and are then sent into a local context (ala Luke 10) the authority of the reigning Lord is unleashed. There is posture God can use to enter in. It’;s much like the incarnation. It is this authority of Christ’s reign that overcomes sin, death and evil. This brings another dimension to the Missio Dei. I think this is what NT Wright is addressing in his new book Simply Jesus in chapter 7,9, and 15 and somewhat discussed by Scot McKnight in this post here. I think tis is what Lesslie Newbigin describes so well in ch 8 of his book The Open Secret.

I think therefore there is something to “being sent” that in humility and vulnerability brings an announcement of the Kingdom. But Wendy’s right in my humble opinion: we cannot enter as if where we go the people in this new context are somehow our clients. Quite the opposite, God is at work in every person.  But I push back on those who say the church is equal to community development work. God is working there, THERE IS AN OVERLAP WHICH SOMETIMES IS HARD TO DISTINGUISH, but it is not the church. CCDA is an excellent example of this overlap (I know CCDA from teaching alongside some of the key leaders in this movement – see here). I love the way CCDA describes the relationship between the church and community development. I think to not understand this distinction is to reject the very idea of “Sentness.” To all my community development friends, what say you? Again, I love Asset-based Community Development, but it’s not the church.

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