Seeking Holistic Flourishing means tending to all parts of the neighborhood, including its spiritual health. God, just like community, has many definitions and can appear in different ways. But we know that flourishing contains both a communal element and a spiritual element. We would go as far as to say it is virtually impossible for neighborhoods to flourish without a collective sense of the divine. At the Lupton Center, we approach our work with a Christian faith background. But the idea that humans are spiritual beings in need of spiritual thriving is nearly universal, even among people who don’t believe in God at all.
Today, we want to dive into the idea of flourishing as a place where God and systemic justice meet, including what they have to do with each other, and steps you can take to support flourishing in both.
How God’s Vision of Flourishing Animates Community Development
At the Lupton Center, God animates our vision of flourishing and pulls us to make that vision a reality. As a faith-based organization, we believe God calls us into change-making work. Our Christian tradition tells us that God built humanity to live life to the fullest, or as Irenaeus put it, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
Even more, we have a sense that God is doing this work and driving it in ways far beyond our imagination. If God loves the world, God also tends to it. And God tends in a fundamentally invitational and empowering way. God doesn’t simply deposit humans into a garden full of resources to consume. Instead, God asks the humans to work and be caretakers in the garden of Eden. They have a job, one that puts them in relationship with creation in a mutual way.
Our ministries should follow the same idea. When we engage in ministries that focus only on providing resources, it’s almost like treating humans as a collection of needs or receptacles for goods. Our faith tells us that human life is about much more than physical needs. We don’t want to engage in work that upholds such a diminished view of what humans are supposed to be. God isn’t just concerned about us surviving, God wants us to grow and flourish.
We see visions of flourishing as encompassing systems, relationships, and even the environment in the Scriptures. The land promised to the Ancient Israelites is one flowing with milk and honey. It’s a place of rich material abundance with laws of righteousness and justice. It’s a place where the people of God are called to feast and to celebrate. While we don’t want to slip into some pitfalls that come with the prosperity gospel, we do want to acknowledge that abundance seems to be part of what God desires for us. God calls together a community that will feast and celebrate with each other in the presence of the Creator.
Of course, these displays of abundance live alongside discipline and structure. But what we see throughout is that God desires more than a happy or forgiven individual. God lays out a plan for a thriving city where all systems of structures operate to form flourishing human life.This is the vision that animates our work as Community Developers and shows us where to make lasting change.
Flourishing in God
Since God cares about the material and the immaterial aspects of creation, we believe that the most vibrant relationships with God will have some meaningful engagement with the realities of our world. Jesus walked the earth alongside people – we want to do the same. Doing so helps us to draw closer to Jesus.
On a communal level, this idea makes us think that it’s pretty difficult to thrive as a congregation without a connection to the neighborhood surrounding that congregation. Communities and religious institutions flourish when they’re interconnected and serving each other. This is in part because Jesus says He lives in our neighbors. When we show love to our neighbors and get close to them, we get closer to the face of God. This can be especially true when we come into proximity with people who bear the weight of oppressive systems. Jesus bore the weight of oppressive systems, too.
The new commandment Jesus gave was for us to love one another as He loved us. Living alongside people for decades, eating in people’s homes, and calling for better systems seems to be a key part of that commandment. It’s how Jesus loved us. Working to make equitable change in our neighborhoods is a way of saying “yes” to that commandment and “yes” to partnering with what God is up to in the world. Once we sign on as God’s partners, we grow closer to Jesus in an entirely new way.
What does Faith Bring to Community Development Work
As people of faith, we also recognize that cultivating a connection to God gives us a few unique gifts when we come alongside a neighborhood. Living a faith-driven life means that you are submitted to a vision that is broader and larger than yourself. This vision gives us the ability to lay down our lives in a new way. Because of our faith, we see pursuing our neighbors well-being as a sacred commitment that supersedes our own well-being.
In organizations, this means we can extend that value to laying our organization down at the feet of our neighbors’ well-being. If a program doesn’t work, faith gives us the freedom to cut it. If our neighbors ask us to make a deep change, faith-inspired humility gives space for us to consider it. Our connection to God gives us the ability to set aside our egoes and pursue impact over activity, in part because we don’t need to prove our worth or to look good. Right now, some organizations, particularly corporations, have flocked to philanthropic endeavors because they look good. Unfortunately, when the benefit for the organization goes away, the commitment to justice-building work goes away, too. Faith organizations ought to operate differently, motivated by a long-term vision of holistic, common good.
One of the reasons faith-based organizations can enact selfless tenacity is because we believe that God is overseeing this work from beginning to end. We know our work is in partnership with God, the source of all love and creation. This is the same God who worked alongside our ancestors, the same God who will work with our descendants. This profound sense of eternal connectedness gives us hope, humility, and perseverance. We know that the work doesn’t rest on our shoulders, but on God’s own power and good will.
Whether Faith-Based Or Not: Spirituality is Essential for Flourishing Communities
The reality is that every neighborhood is chock-full of some kind of religion. We have never encountered a place without a sense of spirituality or without institutions of faith. Spirituality is a part of every landscape, because spirituality is part of every human being. We all have faith in something. We all serve someone, as Bob Dylan said it.
The successful Change-Maker will look for the spiritual ecosystem in a neighborhood. Faith realities may arise from institutions or individuals, but they will almost always hold influence in the neighborhood. Honoring the faiths at play in your neighborhood is critical to building partnerships and cultivating trust. And we know that change moves at the speed of trust.
Equally important is spiritual humility. Every Change-Maker needs to recognize that our faith can’t necessarily rule the day in a neighborhood – we must respect the faith traditions present in the neighborhood as well.
If that feels uncomfortable, we recommend looking for common ground as a good first step. One of the most powerful elements of all faiths is building community. Humans flock to a common belief system in part because it offers connection and meaning beyond ourselves. Faith can bind communities together. It can give the neighborhood its own set of ethics. These are powerful phenomena that cut across all religions. They are strengths. Every Change-Maker should look to these strengths and see how they overlap with strengths and values in their own faith.
Actions to Begin Flourishing in God and Community
Whether you are a person of faith or not, we want to encourage you to take steps to flourish in God and community. Here are a few ways to get started:
- If you are a person of faith, locate your spiritual and devotional practices in the context of the neighborhood. Notice where you pray. What is it like to pray in different places around the neighborhood?
- If you are a Christian, take a moment to pray the Lord’s Prayer paying attention to its communal language. When you say the word “our,” for example, think about who comes to mind as you say “our.” Who do you imagine as your collective?
- Ask yourself and ask others where you see the activity of God in your neighbors and in the neighborhood
- Take our Life with Dignity with Walter Brueggeman short course to get a deeper sense of God’s vision and participation in creating flourishing communities.
Flourishing in God goes hand in hand with flourishing with community. At its best, faith brings people together and knits together the social fabric of a place. Connection to God gives people hope and a vision for what a flourishing neighborhood looks like. And this faith can animate local leaders who are ready to make a difference.
Last but not least, flourishing in God will help every change-maker sustain their souls for the long, hard work of holistic neighborhood development.
We would love to be your companions in doing that work. Click here to get in contact with our team today.