Leaders often ask us “Where do we begin?” as they consider how to engage their communities in ways that result in measurable improvement. We have a bias toward the notion that God is already at work in every city. God understands the local context and has brought talented, gifted and motivated people to your city or community who are ready to advance Jesus’ redemptive vision for the common good. The place to start is discovering who God has brought to your city and what kinds of passions He has kindled in their hearts. So begin by asking good questions and becoming good listeners.
Collaborative leadership is the key to the long term well-being of cities according to a 2012 report by the Federal Reserve’s Community Affairs Division. At GoodCities, we have used our exploration and discovery process successfully to expand the quality and depth of relationships among people in cities where we work, launching a spirit of collaborative leadership that continues many years after the process began.
Below are the first five of nine steps in a process that will foster collaborative leadership in your city. These first five steps will help you and your team understand internal motivating factors that are already in the hearts and minds of key leaders in your city. (In the next post, we will delve into the last four steps that will move from discovery to engaging these leaders.)
Begin with prayer. We begin with a robust understanding that we serve a living God who desires that we would comprehend what He is doing. Our prayer lives need to be alive and attuned to the mind and heart of God for our city. Gather people you already know to pray together and to discern what God is up to in your city.
Form a team. As you pray, ask God to lead you in forming a team of people who are willing to join with you in having a series of one-to-one conversations that will reveal the inner passions of grass-tops leaders.
Make a list. Ask God to show you the grass-tops leaders He has in your city who influence others both formally and informally. Make lists of people who you see influencing others. Include people from government, nonprofit charities, churches, businesses, education, philanthropy, and healthcare. Your list doesn’t need to be comprehensive. If you plan to interview 100, begin with a list of 30-50. One of the questions you will ask, “Who else should we interview?” will build the remainder of your list.
Conduct interviews. Set a goal for each member of the team to interview two leaders each month. If you have 10 on your team this will result in 20 interviews being completed each month. Over a five-month period you will have completed 100 interviews. For the kinds of questions to ask in these interviews, contact us at email@example.com. We can help you form a process that will reveal the inner passions of the people you interview. We recommend that the interview consist of no more than eight questions.
Write a report: Ask each of your interviewers to submit a report on each interview within 24 hours. This way the information will be fresh on the interviewer’s mind. When you have completed 100 interviews, write a report that reflects the answers to each of the questions asked. The report will reveal the level of agreement around several areas where those interviewed would like to move the needle in your city.
From left to right are Marcia Futel of Chuck Futel and Associates; Chuck Proudfit of At Work on Purpose (AWOP) of Mason; Chuck Futel; and Reggie McNeal, missional leadership expert. McNeal spoke to AWOP leaders on the seven traits of ‘Kingdom Leaders.’ (Oak Tree Communications Photo)
GoodCities is pleased to welcome Reggie McNeal as City Coach. He joins Glenn Barth who continues to serve as President. Through GoodCities, Reggie and Glenn offer leadership development through the City Impact Accelerator, City Convene, and City Coach. To welcome Reggie, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To connect about leadership development email email@example.com.
In 1975 I was considering a position with Young Life in the Pittsburgh area. All potential staff met with Reid Carpenter (pictured below), the Young Life Regional Director. Reid began that day with the big vision for the region, the nation, and the world as he shared the newly minted vision of the Lausanne Movement: “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” Riffing off his friend and Lausanne Cities Associate, Ray Bakke, he quickly refined the statement to: “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole city.”
Reid identified Young Life as a part of this larger international evangelism movement and said, “Our vision is to make Pittsburgh as famous for God as for steel.” In doing so he interpreted Lausanne’s mission for the local context in order to land tangible results. He and others in Pittsburgh took this worldwide missional vision and made it their own.
Reid took it down one step further. He applied the vision to the youth ministry work we were considering as he said, “Young Life believes in an approach that values evangelism and discipleship with youth. If you had two tea cups and five eggs, three eggs would be in the evangelism cup and two would be in the discipleship cup.”
This is one powerful expression of how unifying around what we care about brings a great result. Thousands of people from different churches, faiths, community organizations, businesses, and community members participate in the Plymouth Sleep Out each year to raise money to support holistic family care.
It all started in November, 1996 when local shoe repairman, Bob Fisher (featured in the photo courtesy of IOCP), decided to take up winter camping. The first night he was camping out in his own back yard, he was awakened at 2 a.m. with a clear message, “Take care of the needy people of Wayzata.” Bob said, “I didn’t even know there were needy people in Wayzata.” With this, Bob moved his tent to the front yard and set a goal to raise $7,000.00 to buy holiday meals for 100 families. He commited that he would sleep outside every night until the goal was met.
It didn’t take long; word got out about what Bob was doing and TV stations began giving him coverage. Within 2 weeks, Bob had raised over $10,000. He brought the money to the Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners (IOCP) nonprofit in Plymouth, initially thinking the had done his good deed and would move on. However, when he met with LaDonna Hoy, IOCP Executive Director, she helped Bob understand that while a hot meal at Thanksgving helps some families, there are families who can’t even receive a hot meal. She then told Bob about a family of four living in a car in the community after the death of the husband and father. It became clear that the complex issues of housing and homelessness represented an even greater need.
For two more years, Bob raised funds by sleeping out in his tent. He would have a little kick off with a bon fire with a few friends and community members followed by a prayer and then his sleep out would begin.
Bob credit’s Jill with the next breakthrough. She suggested to Bob that he invite the local Boy Scouts to join him. They might enjoy buidling fires and camping out. Although he was reluctant at first, Bob invited the Boy Scouts to participate and in 1999 2-300 Boy Scouts joined Bob in raising money by sleeping out. The next year eight church youth groups joined the Sleep Out. Businesses in the community began sponsoring Bob and others in this communitywide sleep out to raise funds and awareness for sustainable housing.
Bob’s initial few years sleeping out to raise funds for the hungry and homeless became a catalyst, Next Bob championed the effort. He engaged a cross-sector network around the belief that together, their suburban community could do something significant to provide sustainable housing for those in need.
The event gained momentum.The focus shifted from a single issue to holistic family care. In 2003 the Sleep Out Campaign raised over $1,000,000.00. This past fall on the 20th Anniversary in 2015, the Sleep Out raised $2.5 million with community members sleeping out in parks, back yards, and in the city’s commercial district.
Each year now, the Sleep Out begins the first Saturday in November with a community block party, a prayer walk and a poverty-simulation exercise. To date, 2,700 families have been kept from becoming homeless in the Wayzata/Plymouth area. Bob said, “It’s amazing that there can be homeless and hungry people in a country as affluent as ours. On any given night in Minnesota, some 9,000 people are homeless. Half of these are under 18 and many are as young as 5 or 6. We can all do something. We each need to discover our god-given gifts and put them into action. Obedience is a lifestyle. If God calls you to do something, go after it and stick with it.”
He went on, “When I was a child in Catholic School, my teacher said one day, ‘The most important concept in life is stick-to-it-iveness.’ Perserverance.”
While there are many individual beliefs and actions that create a successful communitywide initiative like the Sleep Out Campaign, at the core is a central unifying vision to help families in need. The involvement of churches in Plymouth and Wayzata in this initiative is an outward sign of belief in and application of the good news of the gospel in the context of these communities. When people unify around serving families in need they are coming together around what they care about. While this may reflect a transcendent belief such as the golden rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it is not primarily a theological unity that is sought, but a humanitarian one. This is also known as centered set thinking.
Centered set thinking was first introduced through Dr. Paul Hiebert of Fuller Theological Seminary and popularized by Sam Williams and Eric Swanson. It’s at the core of my writing in my book, The Good City.In a nutshell, this concept advocates that Christians go beyond simply partnering around theological beliefs (as people do when becoming members of a church) and join others around those people, values, and things we care about (see diagram below).
Centered set thinking opens the door to all kinds of unlikely partnerships around nearly every issue that matters in cities and communities. As a coach, I work with community groups in cities working on issues of foster care, jobs, sex trafficking, alcohol and chemical abuse, education, hunger, housing, and more. When we partner with others who care about the same issues, it opens the door for myriad conversations that might not otherwise happen. This approach invites people to become engaged in a good cause that will transform lives and create good cities
I’m often asked, “What can I do to transform my city?” I’ve observed many different approaches during my years serving in this field. Often I find leaders not using an evidence-based approach toward bringing long term improvement spiritually, socially, educationally, or economically and the poor results reflect this. Teams are built and transformation occurs when leaders take actions that have proven their worth in creating good cities and communities over time. Actions that bring real long-term change engage cross-sector collaborative leadership.
Glenn Barth, President of GoodCities
I recently made a list of thirty powerful actions and ideas that have been proven to have spiritual, societal, economic, and individual transformational impact. I rated each action on its ability to impact these four areas and its ability to create cross-sector collaborative leadership. In these actions, the real power of Jesus’ John 17 prayer for our unity is revealed.
Throughout this year, I’ll write blogs that highlight and reveal each of these thirty evidence based practices and ideas. Here’s the first and one of the most powerful actions that will transform your city.
It was a hot Tuesday afternoon in August of 2004 when the leader of a major national ministry asked me what a coach should do to strengthen the work of local leadership teams in cities. I responded, “The first thing community coaches need to do is listen. Listening expresses a level of trust that local community leaders are in touch with God and their local context. Once you’ve heard from local leaders, tools from national ministries can be customized to fit local realities.”
The leader turned red and was more than a little irritated with the answer. He responded, “Our donors would never support this kind of approach. We need a program that coaches bring to each city. Donors won’t support listening!”
The leader put together a program and quickly found a number of donors to pay independent “coaches” to visit cities. They had slick marketing materials and in each of the cities they found a few folks willing to lead their pre-packaged program.
No lasting change occurred. Those who participated in the program busily did what they were asked, but in the end, it was a short term activity that brought no lasting change. It was driven from the outside, not personally and deeply owned by local leaders.
Active Listening tops the list because through it, we learn what God and people value in our city. Prayer is a form of active listening. Through prayer we begin in a place of humility so that when we listen to others, we can gain a sense of God’s leading as needs are revealed. The technique that I share in my ebook, Multiply Volunteers and Resources is an approach that requires active listening and reveals a way to engage leaders throughout your city in transformational work.
In 2005, I served as the President of the Leadership Division of Tentmakers. We taught people to listen with love. We spelled love, “LVV,” an acronym for active listening.
Look at the person.Give him or her
Verbal appreciation and
Local leaders I’ve coached in cities like Lansing, MI; San Antonio,TX; Modesto, CA and Florence, SC put together teams to actively listen to leaders from every channel of influence in the city. Each of these leaders has a significant network of people who they influence. Using open ended questions in an interview format they built relationships and at the same time learned what motivates and engages leaders in their area of their interest, using their calling, gifting, and strengths.
Using the skills of active listening, we encourage city leaders to develop open-ended questions that uncover…
A sense of personal and professional mission;
A person’s level of willingness to make a positive difference in his/hercity;
What each one believes are the most pressing problems facing his/her city; and
Ways he/she is already working to address these pressing problems.
These interviews help those who use active listening to learn the ways that the Holy Spirit already is moving in local leaders’ lives. Through listening, the interviewers learn what will motivate gifted and talented leaders to work in collaboration for the good of the city.
Active listening is a skill that leaders learn to use often and well. It networks people in relationships and reveals important information to engage people in service to their community. It is a skill that unleashes untold social capital. In the end, it transforms cities from the inside out by engaging leaders and those they influence in long-term vision, mission, and service.
Use the button below to download the eBook, Multiply Volunteers and Resources.
Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is an approach to community transformationin which those who work for community change do so by working with local leaders rather than delivering services to them or for them. I first learned about this approach while leading a city movement in Muncie, IN in the early 1990’s. Simply defined, ABCD is a way to find and mobilize resources a community already has. This approach is central to transforming communities and became an important part of my DMin at Bakke Graduate University in Transformational Leadership in the Global City. At the end of this post is a 4 minute video of Rev. Andy Sytsma explaining ABCD principles.
Asset Based Community Development is always rooted in a local community and draws on the assets within the community. In this way local knowledge, understanding, gifting and calling is strengthened, so that people are empowered and the community is strengthened. Below is the story of how ABCD principles are being applied through the Old Town Spring Heights Task Force in Spring, TX.
Rev. Andy Sytsma is the pastor of New Life Christian Reformed Church in Spring, TX, a city of 53,000 about 30 miles north of Houston. The older part of Spring grew up along the railroad that still runs through town. The newer portions of this fast growing small city are much more upscale than the older portions of town. Old Town Spring is composed of storefront merchants and a residential community across the tracks that only recently was named, Old Town Spring Heights. This is a community of roughly 600 residents and eighty homes surrounded on three sides by a sub-division. Old Town Spring Heights was established in 1885. The first church was formed in 1902. In the Peaceful Rest Cemetery, former slaves are buried. For many years, it was known by most of the residents of Spring as the community “across the tracks.”
Old Town Spring Heights is:
Mostly senior citizens raising children, whose parents are not present for a variety of reasons.
80% African American with the rest being Hispanic and Anglo
Composed of hard working shop owners, business persons, ranchers, and farmers.
The ABCD effort began when Rev. Sytsma’s predecessor in 2006, Rev. John Medendorp, began prayer walking in Old Town Spring. He decided to cross the tracks to Old Town Spring Heights and quickly became aware of the crack houses, gangs and other issues faced by this community.
One day, while prayer walking, Pastor John connected with Pastor Frank Callaway of True Vine Missionary Baptist Church, a practical-minded former business person. Both sensed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to do something. Together they believed that they could make a difference.
This led to the formation of the Old Town Spring Heights Task Force in 2006 that included the leadership of five churches (2 Methodist, 2 Baptist, and 1 Christian Reformed Church). Today there are seven churches involved in the Task Force, an example of Christian unity in action.
They began their collaboration with activities like prayer walks, days in the park, a monthly worship service on the 3rd Sunday of each month. Church pastors now swap pulpits and the churches have built a sense of unity in mission. On the first Sunday of each month there is an assembly of the residents of the community in which the question is asked, “What do you want to do together?”
The nature of this meeting is like a Home Owners’ Association. Out of these sessions, so far, Old Town Spring Heights has engaged in several community initiatives…
10 benefits from Asset Based Community Development.
A community garden initiative is now growing fresh fruits and vegetables.
A New Identity for the Community: the naming of the community as Old Town Spring Heights. The group put up a sign and the identity of the community helped residents begin to dream about what could be.
Street Lights: The residents asked for street lights and the churches worked with Xcel Energy to put street lights in the community. They held a service called “Jesus is the Light of the World.” At the end of the service, they lit the street lights for the first time.
Honoring the Past: Peaceful Rest Cemetery had become overgrown through lack of maintenance. The churches got the cemetery designated as a historical landmark. The people of the community now have become stewards of this important and sacred place.
Seniors Activities: At the local community center, activities for the seniors of the community were begun.
Police/Community Relations Improved: Criminal and drug issues were addressed by inviting the County Sheriff’s office to have a regular presence in the community. Old Spring Antioch Baptist Church hosted a meeting with local police officers and community residents to improve communications between the community and police.
Health Initiative: The churches are offering a free health clinic in the community.
Community Clean up: Heavy trash pick up days.
Learning Center: A learning center for kids, youth, and adults grew from community initiative.
Infrastructure: The sewage and water system has been inadequate, so that rains often brought flooding. Engineers from churches are addressing this with county and city authorities to solve the problems.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Immigration Act also known as the Hart-Celler Act of 1965. The most recent statistics show that 41.3 million immigrants live in the United States. The Migration Policy Institute defines immigrants as “…people residing in the United States who were not U.S. citizens at birth. This population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), certain legal nonimmigrants (e.g., persons on student or work visas), those admitted under refugee or asylee status, and persons illegally residing in the United States.” They post the following chart on their website.*
The Migration Policy Institute notes that the number of immigrants living in the US has recently reached historically high levels, however the percentage of immigrants to population has just reached the levels that were common prior to the 1921 Emergency Quota Act (The Immigration Restriction Act of 1921).
In 1965, the restrictions of 1921 were lifted when the Hart-Celler Act was passed with strong bi-partisan support with the aim in mind of doing away with racial and ethnic restrictions in the previous immigration law and opening the way for people who possessed needed intellectual and scientific skills to enter our workforce. On October 3, 1965, at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Act into law saying, “This bill we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not restructure the shape of our daily lives or add importantly to either our wealth or power.” President Johnson’s statement could not have been farther off the mark.
Over the past 50 years, the bill has opened the door to much greater cultural diversity in the make-up of our nation and at the same time has made our nation more Christian. In his brilliant 2007 book,The Next Christendom, Phillip Jenkins wrote, “Far from what anyone could have dreamed at the time, the 1965 Immigration Act had vast consequences for American religion, especially Christianity. At least 66 percent of new immigrants are Christian, compared to just 8 percent Muslims.”
Change is difficult for anyone and greater cultural diversity has brought change. When my wife and I go for walks in local parks, we will often see pick-up cricket matches and soccer games while the nearby softball fields wait for organized evening games to start. Our neighborhood is composed of people of European, Asian, Middle Eastern, and African descent.
Most American churches celebrate an old model of missions that aims at reaching the ends of the earth by sending and supporting overseas missionaries. As immigration has grown, America has become more diverse and the world has come to our cities. Many of these new residents are our fellow Christians. What would happen if these same institutions became missional churches with a local focus on the many peoples who have come to our cities? What would happen if American churches rolled out the red carpet to welcome Christians from the many parts of the world who have come to us? What would happen if both immigrants and long time residents worked to more thoughtfully welcome with Christian hospitality those who come from the many unreached people groups as refugees?
As GoodCities is seeking to make an impact, we are being sensitive to the need to better extend hospitality to immigrants. Leaders related to GoodCities are key bridge builders who are doing this work in a number of cities. Those that stand out in my mind are in Dallas through Unite Greater Dallas, Modesto through City Ministry Network, and Minneapolis through Transform Minnesota and Arrive Ministries.
Please share with us what Christians are doing in your city to welcome immigrants and refugees. We’d love to hear your stories. Join with us to hear these kind of stories at City Convene in Cincinnati, Sept 21-22.
Marilyn Lee has an MBA. She has all the skills a growing business would want. She has chosen to work with one of the world’s largest enterprises, the church. She is investing her time in the work of the whole church taking the whole gospel to all of Houston through Loving Houston, a Christian nonprofit focused transforming Houston by helping churches serve local public schools. In the video below, Marilyn tells her story and how she has learned to follow Jesus’ example of meeting people’s real and felt needs and calling them to follow Him.
This 13 minute story was a part of GoodCities’ City Convene Conference in Houston, TX in April, 2015. Our next City Convene Conference will be held in Cincinnati on September 21-22. Click the button below for registration information.
Tweet this! “The complex web of factors that present as needs in people’s lives are so much bigger than one pastor, one church, or one ministry.”
My key take away from Marilyn Lee: Sin and brokeness are complex and create dysfuntional relationships between people and within institutions. It will take govenrment officials, economic experts, business strategists, nonprofit service providers, and people of faith and good will in all types of institutions working collaboratively; using collective impactmodels, with a common agenda to solve each complex problem. Only together will we see cities be transformed into places of shalom and wholeness where people flourish and experience God’s grace.