Servant Teams ask: What Is Christian Community Development?

Article by Mandee Campos, Servant Teams Coordinator

 

In Lahash’s Servant Teams program, we will discover that simplistic answers can give way to a whole lot of messiness. Such is the case even for something as straightforward sounding as Christian Community Development (CCD). I would love to share with you a clean-cut definition of what CCD is, but it’s not really clean-cut. I know when I was learning about CCD, I had to begin the process of unlearning and deconstructing long-held assumptions. I would like to share some of these things. Here is a list of things that CCD is NOT.

CCD is NOT being a savior to a community
One of the most common and hurtful issues with CCD is that people (including myself) tend to put themselves in the role of a “savior” to the community. While this seems like an obvious thing that most anyone would not openly admit to, it is a common trend. We feel “called” to go and be the “light” in the “darkness” of a community. Oftentimes we forget that being called to something doesn’t necessarily make us the hero. We forget that being called somewhere also means that something, someone, or even an entire community is called to us. Perhaps the community will be a light in our lives. We will be impacted, challenged, and changed when we let go of the savior role and simply share life in a community.

CCD is NOT bringing Jesus to a community
We cannot limit a God that is everywhere into an object. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not something that we can conveniently place into our pockets and physically take from one place to another. We use it in our language all the time. With time, the way we speak becomes the culture of how we think. We say that we need to “take” Jesus to the communities that don’t look like ours. This is contradictory to a belief in the omnipresence of God. I remember having a conversation about this with a friend, and after much reflection she said something so simple and straightforward, but deeply profound. She said, “Maybe when we go to new places it is not to bring Jesus there, but to discover that he was there all along.” Each community has its own unique story that God is working with and it’s not a story that begins when we enter it. However, our story does enter into theirs (and theirs into ours). In entering a new place, we need to learn the narrative of the community and see how God has been at work the entire time. Only then can we find our role in such an elaborate story.

CCD is NOT a silver bullet
There is no one-size fits all solution for every community. Thinking so is part of the problem, and exacerbates already ongoing cycles of paternalistic practices and dependencies. Simply giving aid or handouts is not enough. No after school study club or Vacation Bible School is going to magically create a vibrant community. I mentioned above about how learning the narrative of the community gives us insights as to how God is already at work there. It also gives us some insights about the many layers and dimensions of the community. In seeing the complexities of the community we realize that our role, though important, is small in the midst of what the community as a whole is working towards. Any positive change requires an engaged community with multiple initiatives for the multiple dimensions of that community. For an example, think of something like a Pixar movie. When we go to see a Pixar movie we get to enjoy the final product. However, if you stay until the end you will see an overwhelming long list of credits with the departments and names of hundreds of people who had to coordinate together, over a long period of time, to make the movie happen. The movie could not have been made only with a director or only the voice actors, but there were also storyboard artists, the concept artists, the animators, the script writers, and many other roles. Each department had to work on a component that, alone, could not have made the movie itself. In CCD we have to understand that our role is not a silver bullet. It is simply one component into a much bigger picture.

CCD is NOT a short term effort with long term change
This is a big one. We need to be realistic about our expectations, especially if we are coming in for a short period of time. Weeks is short term, months is short term, and even a handful of years is short term. When I am thinking long term in terms of CCD, I am asking, “How many decades?” It is the people who truly live in the community or regularly interact with a community that get to see some noticeable changes throughout their years. However, a large number of short term missions enter a community with the same expectations of “results” as a long term community developer. What I am trying to make clear here is that short term missions creates mainly short term results. I say “mainly” because there is one potential long term impact. However, it is not for the community, it is for us. If we allow it, short term missions is actually a mission to us. We are the ones being impacted, served, and ministered to. It doesn’t sound as glamorous or impressive but such a learning journey can challenge our way of thinking and push us to further learn to serve and love better. It can change the way we think about community, relationships, missions, and our day to day lives. It can potentially lead us to serve long term either domestically or internationally.

So… What IS CCD?
It’s complicated. I could give you a definition, but the complicated part is living and experiencing it. Servant Teams is a time to begin that process. It is a time to wrestle with our long-held assumptions and to learn through scripture, dialogue, and a bit of experience (both domestically and internationally). It is the tip of the iceberg. I don’t say that in a discouraging way, but with much excitement. As a new staff member with Lahash, I am excited to share this experience and journey with this year’s Servant Teams group.

I am excited to continue learning and developing my understanding of CCD alongside others who wish to do the same. And while I am being a little facetious in refusing to give an actual definition, I also do so because I think knowing what it is not is very revealing to what it is.

We will be diving into many subjects throughout the year. There is so much to learn and discover. Let’s do it together.

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