Who’s in your house?

How much community can you handle? Back when I was a young man our church identified the Biblical or Greek concept of oikos, a word which means, more or less, household. It annoys me to use Bible-sounding language when unnecessary, so I’ll just say house in italics to represent this concept of close relationships. I remember that the magic number for how many people you can reasonably have close relationships with at a time was 30.

We like to think we can handle more, but count out how many people you’ve had significant conversations within the last 21 days (since the beginning of the year, post-holidays).  Now look at how many of that group you have a significant conversation with on at least a monthly basis for the last year, or solid, tangible plans to do so this year. The number shrinks rapidly.

My house includes a wife and four kids. They are a sixth of my close community. After that, I had a meeting with my non-profit’s board chair (6). A small group that meets by phone, five more people (11). A significant conversation with one member of our congregation I talk to pretty regularly, on a deep level, oh, but he’s in the aforementioned small group. Nine coaching clients (most of these count as work relationships to some extent, but on another level my job is to provide a significant relationship in other peoples’ houses.) (20). Even though it is my job, I can still only participate in a limited number of deep relationships. I can build a bigger house by having this sort of “relationship hosting” as my livelihood, the money allows me the time for more than 30. At most, if I retain any sense of balance, the number doubles to 60. If i was meeting with three times more coaching clients per month, not only would I be maxed time-wise, I’d be falling over with relational exhaustion. And I’m an extrovert!

I have 899 Facebook friends. As if it is some sort of badge of honor, popularity, or marketing reach. It is, in fact, to some extent all of these things. But it should not be mistaken as part of my house.  

Think critically about who’s in your house. You need some who give something to you, a few you give to, and many who give a relatively even relational value exchange. If you get out of whack you start complaining on social media, because you’ve forgotten that the virtual world isn’t your house. It’s not pretty. Sometimes there are people like Goldy Locks Who are in your house breaking your furniture and eating your gruel. Get them out, unless you intentionally invited them and have some boundaries (Ok, you can eat the gruel, but no going into the parlor and breaking my china). Does this mean you can’t find a measure of community online? Of course not.

Think about it this way: coaches use a Wheel of Life to help you chart your satisfaction in a variety of areas, usually 8-12 areas like work, spiritual life, family, finances, health, marriage, and hobbies. Having at least one person you can share authentically with about your progress or failure in each area is critical. Perhaps your spouse is a great sounding board for work, your spiritual life, but tunes out when you bring up golfing. OK, find somebody else in your house to talk to about that. This is where the internet can prove handy, especially when you’re a Scrabble geek, or you like lengthy discussions about … community. Thanks for reading!














Is it a cult?

What makes something a cult?

My wife Megan came under fire because she’s reading a book called The Urantia Book, which has been classified as a “cult” by www.creationists.org. This discovery caused some distress among acquaintances, and I ended up writing much of this in response to their concerns. I’m skeptical myself about the legitimacy of The Urantia Book. I haven’t read the book — she shares bits with me– but I haven’t read it all.

Having grown up in a Christian communal church (commune) myself I am fairly sensitive to the use of the word “cult”. Up to age 12 I lived in a community which has been termed a cult by some people but was in fact a fairly healthy Christian church. The community, Plow Creek Fellowship (PCF), in Tiskilwa, Illinois, still exists today. Living together communally with most major property (land, houses, cars and cash) owned in common, PCF in the 1970’s and 80’s was modeled after the early church as described in Acts, Chapter 2. I say that it was a fairly healthy church, in spite of the fact that we later (circa 1993, 7 years after my family left) found out one of the elders had perpetrated sexual abuse of minors. On the other hand, I have several friends who were raised in a different Christian church community here in Indiana that was not healthy, and even now they will tell you it was a cult. For example, that group’s stance on faith healing didn’t allow people to go to the doctor at all, and so some children died of easily treatable illnesses, a very cult-ish practice to be sure, also illegal (which became their downfall, as I understand).

On Curiosity and the impact of reading: We all have books other than the Bible which have been significant in our growth as Christians. Any particular book which might be just that for one of us isn’t as impacting for another. It doesn’t have to be an overtly religious book like The Shack, but can also be a novel such as A Prayer for Owen Meany which can enhance our faith (I read a few pages of The Shack and got bored, but I highly recommend A Prayer for Owen Meany as a deeply spiritual and thoughtful novel, which is probably eighty times more complex and intricate than The Shack). I will always encourage anyone I know to read as much as they can, with curiosity.  Really nothing much else fosters reading as well as curiosity does. You can’t make people read something if they’re not curious, or not read it if they are!

I figure the more often a book is banned, the more important it is to read it; one of my favorite books of all time is Huckleberry Finn. It’s been banned twice, and for exactly opposite reasons! At first they thought it was too friendly to blacks, later they decided it was racist against blacks. In fact, it’s an incredible piece of artwork which forces you to decide for yourself what you think about race and doesn’t dictate what you should think. Banning a book is a sure way to make it a bestseller.

In fact, one major defining factor of cults is that they limit what sort of things you can read, or where you get your information. I’ve been reading about the woman who took down the cult leaders, misogynists, child abusers, rapists, and polygamists at the FLDS compound a few years ago in Utah (The Witness Wore Red) and this is a key component to how the FLDS leaders controlled people: they clamped down on what information they get and what they read or saw on television, much, much more than mainstream (LDS) Mormons do. This is part of what the Jehovah’s Witnesses do also. I visited my in-law’s Jehovah’s Witness neighbors at Christmas for half an hour, while they were watching a movie produced by JWs and that’s pretty much all they’re allowed to watch and read, stuff produced in New York at the JW headquarters. So I will never tell anyone what they can and cannot or should and should not read. It’s much preferable to me to have people read what they want to read, and then have an open discussion with them about it. That’s a major factor in how you avoid becoming sucked into a cult. No secrecy, no double life, lots of curiosity and plenty of open forum for discussion. Megan’s decision to share with her family about what she’s reading, rather than lead what she calls a “double life” is brave, and in itself is a strong indication that she’s not in a cult! Most people sucked into a cult tend to cut off contact with their families, they don’t share openly and vulnerably the way she is.

What makes a cult a cult is not so much what they believe as how they are structured regarding access to information. The Christian Church, from Greek and Russian Orthodox to Catholicism to Southern Baptists to the Harrist Church of Western Africa to cell churches in South Korea to PCF, all have different iterations of Christianity, so many forms and beliefs that there are people who follow Jesus and interpret various Biblical passages in ways that are sometimes a polar opposite from each other, all of them claiming that they stand on the Word of God (and so they interpret Scripture in the same way that Huck Finn has been interpreted: in opposite ways at different times in history). This doesn’t mean the Word is wrong, but it does show how wrong people can be (including myself)! The key difference between churches and cults is not as much in what they do or don’t believe (though that does play a part, there are definitely heresies within cults) but in how tightly they control what information people can have. As far as interpretation goes, only the very best literature has multiple legitimate interpretations. The Bible is such a book, praise be to God! And so is Huck Finn and A Prayer for Owen Meany. My understanding is that Urantia is not such a book, not so much, which squelches my interest in reading it.

Let’s suppose you write a book stating that the moon is made of cheese. Some might enjoy your story and laugh it off, while others may believe you and come along for the ride. This latter group might even start sharing with others this wonderful discovery that the moon is made of cheese, and say that if we could only get there we could feed all of Africa for years and years, and so on, and that’s fine, no harm done, really… Unless you begin to tell people they’re not allowed to read books about the lunar landings where Neil Armstrong picked up some moon dust and he discovered that it wasn’t Kraft Mac N Cheese powder, or unless you begin raising money (sorry, I mean “tithes and love offerings”) for a lunar voyage to acquire this cheese (which you pocket so you can buy vacation homes and a private jet, of course)… as long as you don’t do those things, you don’t have a cult. You just have a goofy idea that’s incorrect according to other sources. Your theory or claim might be misinformed, or it might even be correct (Galileo comes to mind here when it comes to theories about planetary stuff which people thought were anti-Biblical, because the Bible clearly states in at least FIVE different books out of the 66 that the earth has four corners, borders or extremities and everyone knows a sphere has no corners) but your Moon Is Cheese theory is not blasphemy worth burning at the stake over. It’s just a silly book. Good luck, sell lots of copies! Especially when it gets banned! (One last comment here: if your book does sell lots of copies, obviously you got some money out of people, but you still don’t have a cult. If you convince them that the book itself is some sort of talisman that will protect them so long as they have one in every room, or build an entire temple out of them, so that they’ll buy multiple copies, then you might be leaning towards cult-like problems. But just selling a lot of copies of your book doesn’t make you a cult leader. It just makes you a rich celebrity and perhaps a thought leader, like Rush Limbaugh.)

I did read through creationists.org to see their critique of Urantia. Now here is an interesting question that creationists.org raises in their refutation of Urantia: that “the Bible is God’s only revealed truth to us.”

This is a common statement, but a tricky claim to deal with, because the statement comes with implications that raise a lot of questions. The first implication to consider about this statement is “therefore we should read no other books, or at least expect to get no revelation when reading other books.” But as I’ve established, we’ve all had other books which spoke to us in some way that was beneficial. (For example, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” made a huge impact on me just a few months before I met Megan.) Clearly other books have had some benefit, in the sense that God has revealed some of the truth of his love, mercy and justice to us through them. While we say that the Bible is God’s only revealed truth and we have a certain awareness of the correctness of this statement since the Bible includes the story of Jesus’ resurrection, yet we don’t act like it, because we read other books and we do get something out of it. It does not mean that we should canonize any of these other books, but that certainly happens informally. My brother likes “Culture of Honor” so much that he’s recommended it to me multiple times. He’s not canonizing Culture of Honor formally, but he sure seems to think it’s revealed something important for how his church leadership can build a desirable culture. Does Culture of Honor reveal a part of God’s truth to us? Most likely it does. Was Danny Silk writing while the Holy Spirit was dwelling with him? Probably so. Does Danny Silk think this book should be added to Scripture? I doubt it. Did Paul think we would canonize his letters? I’m not so sure he did! He may not have realized it! I think if he did, he might have taken more care to avoid sarcasm. When Paul discusses how all Scripture is “God-breathed and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, training” (2 Tim 3:16) was he referring to his own letter, the one he was writing at the moment, as well as the Torah? I suspect Paul only meant the Torah. So then where does that leave the entire New Testament? Or was Paul assuming his audience knew which books he meant? Does the New Testament get added to his statement retroactively? These are questions that the statement “the Bible is God’s only revealed truth to us” fails to really address. It’s simplistic.

A second implication is the idea that the Logos word of Scripture is all we need. The problem with this is that Jesus said what we need even more than daily bread is a “Rhema” word (spoken, uttered) from the mouth of God when he resisted Satan in the first temptation. In doing this he quoted Torah, of course, because that’s beneficial for reproof. Often times this passage in Matthew 4:4 is misunderstood to be a reminder to read the Bible every day, but that’s not what he’s saying at all. He’s saying our relationship with the Father should be such that we can ask him for daily bread in the form of a spoken word to our hearts. So there are some other ways that we get revelations. Jesus says that “my sheep know my voice” and so does not spend a lot of time explaining how we will know when we’ve heard a Rhema word uttered to our heart. He assumed we could hear it.

A third problem with the statement that the Bible is “God’s only revealed truth” is that it also gets tied to a particular interpretation. The bottom line is that this can lead to idolatry of an interpretation. Very dangerous.

I do see the admonishment in Galatians 1:6-10 as a significant reason to look into whether or not Urantia is “a gospel contrary to that which we preached” and I think that’s exactly why Megan is studying Scripture just as much as she is reading this Urantia book. Is it contrary? If so, “let that angel be accursed.” But if it is not contrary, then what is it? Jesus said it both ways: Whoever is not against us is for us (Mark 9:40) He who is not with me is against me (Matthew 12:30). The bottom line for Jesus here seems to be not so much how you interpret stuff, but who are you for? Which is known by fruit, not interpretation.

I was also curious about the link to ex-Mormons that creationists.org had, with a testimony of an ex-Mormon who (after leaving Mormonism) found a group of people studying Urantia. The person then encountered spirits who “visited me personally at my home and are very real” which were tested later by Christian friends and found to be demonic. Were these spirits coming because the person read the book? Or were they coming because the person was a ripe target for deception? I don’t know. It’s an interesting case study and a personal testimony that should give us good reason for caution.

If there are any books I would steer clear of completely, it would be things that invite people to openly invite demonic presence, like Satanic ritual books or whatever. There are a few things that are inherently unhealthy to even read. From the few passages Megan has read to me of Urantia, it does not sound like a book of Satanic rituals or invitation to the demonic. Strange, weird, goofy maybe, but not Satanic.

I wanted to address a second definition of the word “cult” which was presented to me. This definition has more to do with unorthodox teachings: the idea that Jesus is only God, or only Human, for example. I would like us to consider that if we’ve decided someone’s interpretation of Scriptures to be outside our broadest sense of Christianity, but they aren’t in  some single-leader, hyper-controlled, brainwashing situation, let’s just call it a “different religion” instead of a cult. I found the  usage of the term “cult” to be negative and hurtful. I’d rather have someone say “your wife has joined a different  religion”(which I would debate) than to say she’s  joined a cult.

For that  matter, I believe there are  cults  springing out  of other religious traditions too. ISIS is a cult springing out of  Islam, for example.

I am happy to say that Megan’s interest in reading The Urantia Book doesn’t look like joining a cult to me. There is no single leader trying to get your money, no secrecy, no organization of any kind in fact, and as far as I have heard there are no unhealthy or un-Christian practices taught, recommended or required. Whether or not the book is prophetic, or hogwash, I can’t say because I haven’t read it for myself, but I do know that Megan’s intellectually a critical reader and mature enough in her faith to determine for herself whether or not something is helpful in her journey towards and with Christ. Of course anyone can be deceived. I do not want a cult-like environment in my family, so it pays to be cautious, have discussions about what we read, and make sure to have accountability with a local church. And Megan does those things. And she gets healthy push-back from our church community, too!

In the meantime, as she figures some of this out, I know that Megan is also praying to Jesus for angelic protection and trust that Jesus will give her that. I’m also aware that creationists.org is concerned about people who believe in ETs. I am curious what Creationists think the Nephilim were, if not ETs? I looked it up on Answers in Genesis and they think the Nephilim were human but they admit they don’t really know that — so much for giving me confident answers for the questions Genesis raises! They’re picking a theory out of many just like the rest of us have to do. Recent evidence, however, from things like crop circles in Europe, from what I can tell, look like evidence that there really are ETs. Should we be surprised that modern evidence might teach us things the Bible did not, even though the Bible is our Number One Go-To Resource as God’s Revelation? I mean, after all, we figured out later that the Hebrew’s flat earth concept wasn’t accurate. Incidentally, the Book of Enoch is, according to AiG, not a revelatory book, yet it is quoted in Jude. AiG says that this only really means that that little portion of Enoch is revelatory, but how could Enoch be a true prophet sometimes and a false one the rest of the time? Scripture regularly teaches that prophets are either true or false, Elijah and Elisha and the others regularly get in the faces of false prophets and even say things to false prophets like “in a year you will be dead”. The bigger point is that the writer of Jude (probably Jesus’ brother Jude) is aware of the Book of Enoch and not afraid to quote it; ancient theologians read everything they could get their hands on (which may have only amounted to a couple dozen books, I think the assumption was that if someone went to all that trouble to write it, and then copy it over and over by hand, to disseminate the book beyond one village, then it must be somehow significant). Even as recently as the time when Charles Dickens was writing, educated people believed they could read everything worth reading that was published within a given year. Now, no literature professor worth their salt would think that they could read all the literature considered “important” by the critics. It’s impossible to keep up. So. Should Enoch be canonized? Does Enoch really endorse the idea that ETs exist? Are ETs real? And if they are, what does it mean to us? These are all questions Megan gets curious about.

There are many outstanding questions. This is why curiosity continues to be valuable! Dangerous, risky at times, but valuable.

So before people decide that Megan has joined or fallen prey to a cult it pays to be informed about what makes a cult. She has not joined a cult, she’s simply found interest in a book. That is a huge difference. I, for one, am open to continuing to hear what she’s reading and how it’s positively impacting her faith in Jesus Christ.

I will continue to encourage her to read whatever she wants to read, as I will do with all our children. Megan is right, curiosity brings with it a certain risk. The bigger risk, in my mind, is in becoming disinterested in the various perspectives and worldviews available through reading broadly, or to begin to control which books people can read and which they can’t. That is very risky behavior indeed.

Thanks for reading. Make sure to visit the bookstore before you leave!

Ant Farm: Power in Intentional Community

The Value of Diversity of Thought and Heterogeneous Influences

Consider a formicarium, or an ant farm. This is a toy made popular in the 1950s which takes a normally secluded creature found almost anywhere in nature (save perhaps the Polar Regions) and makes it easily observable in an isolated and controlled context. With an ant farm, and you can watch ants doing ant stuff: making tunnels, carrying their eggs about. However, when ants live in nature, they do all sorts of things that are also interesting. They fight other species of ants, as well as other insects, some of which are much larger, yet they haul them home. They tackle leaves from plants, rebuild their homes after floods, and so much more.

Shortly after we married, Megan and I became the caretakers for a small painted turtle inappropriately named Chauncey (because it was probably a female). Chauncey lived with us for 10 years. Early on, we attempted to introduce goldfish to the aquarium tank for some diversity. Chauncey considered them a diversification—of diet. She didn’t rush anything, just snapped the tailfins bit by bit until they couldn’t swim any more. Even without any hurrying on her part, the fish were all belly up (or perhaps I should say “spine-inverted” since the turtle liked to eat the belly first) within three days.

It’s exhausting for the fish to be in an environment so small that they’re swimming for their lives constantly. For the turtle, it’s not challenging hunting.

The same fish and turtle would be much more in balance in a larger ecosystem. The fish would have somewhere to hide. They’d also interact with a great deal more diversity in plants, deal with other variables such as increasing and decreasing flow in the river, other seasonal changes, and generally struggle to survive in a good way, a way that keeps them sharp, on their toes.

It’s a bit boring (but easier to control) when animals are in a tightly contained environment where only one species can live, or, if others are added they are at the dominant species’ mercy. In the same way, the environment of a human community where variation in thought is not tolerated is controlled but uninteresting, potentially stagnant.

Intentional communities look a lot more like cults when they resemble a closed off formicarium. You can see what everybody’s doing, and make sure they’re all in their place. You can keep the lid on, so none of them escape.

The kind of dangerous pattern which leads to cults is born of a desire for homogenous thought. It may begin with a healthy desire for righteousness, but it degenerates and twists, gets bastardized, when the word gets shortened to “right”. It’s much easier to be right than righteous, after all. Once we figure out what’s right, we can make sure nobody gets hurt. No outside influences are allowed, and the ants live a happy life. Or so we think. But when a thirst for righteousness gets supplanted by a twisted desire to be right, healthy authority also degenerates into a twisted desire for power.

Intentional community done well is a lot messier. Margaret Thatcher said that “being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell someone you are, you’re not.” Truly powerful people, strong and authoritative, don’t need to worry about controlling their image as powerful. They’re less tempted (I didn’t say “not tempted at all”) to exert control over the environment. They can live with a certain amount of mess, because they know that in the end, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Their ants can live outside, encountering ants of other species and experience the world in a much more interesting way for the leader (and even for the observer) than those enclosed in a “farm”.

And isn’t the observer of some interest for those of us who deliberately join our lives in community with others? Don’t we hope they’ll say “That’s exciting! That’s unique and challenging!”?

In seeking intentional community, we’re overruling our perhaps more natural instinct to conceal our patterns and thoughts, like ants underground, and instead allowing our tunnels and actions to be known. We’re not living in an ant farm, but we do extend an invitation for others to observe us, to hold us accountable for our lives. Being known is a great thing! But how much do you want to be known, and by whom?

Choose your leaders wisely. To become part of community, you abdicate your considerable independence. You agree to leadership and observation from within, and you’re going to get observation from without, too. For example, few people love to argue more about how Christians ought to behave than atheists!

The questions people raise when they wonder if any intentional community is a cult or not present a fairly simple barometer: what is the tolerance level for heterogeneous thought? Who is in authority and how do they wield power? Are they constantly working to get more ants in their farm, or do they enjoy their ants in a natural environment, where they may interact and perhaps even be harmed? Where the people may get some different ideas from outside influences. For example, maybe they read things.

So as you think about whom to include (or exclude) as leaders and members (the members are future leaders) of a community you intentionally relate to, observe carefully the size of the tank and the teeth of the most powerful person when you’re abdicating your own power for the sake of mentoring, growth, accountability in some area. Ask yourself what they’re really about; and when will you check in on that question again? Will you give up this independence once, forever, or routinely for shorter periods of time? Because the nature of absolute power is so destructive when given to humans, I personally think committing to a communal situation for life is not healthy. But the question of whether or not those who have some power in a relationship will allow, accept, embrace and encourage heterogeneous thought on your part is perhaps the most tell-tale indicator. If you know that you disagree from the beginning and still agree to enter into community, you’ve given yourself (and those around you) a gift. The gift of diversity. I want to be like an ant in nature—a messier situation, to be sure, and perhaps more dangerous. To be sure, there’s are certain benefits that come with being in a place like an ant farm where everyone thinks alike: and I’ll get to that in my next piece. But if someone comes along and attempts to stuff everyone into an aquarium like goldfish, watch your tail.


Intentional Community 2

I was raised in Intentional Community (capitals on purpose). What some might consider a cult or commune was really a group of people considering carefully how to live together. In our case, the Intentional Community was called Plow Creek Fellowship. It was a Christian church (Plow Creek Church) and a communally owned, shared living environment of 150 acres or so, some farmland along the creek and some upon the bluffs, in the countryside of Bureau Co., Illinois (Plow Creek Farm) with six or seven houses (some of them housing multiple family units) on the farmland and several houses in the nearby village (Tiskilwa). Most of our communal life was lived on the farm property. We children attended public schools in Tiskilwa.

The impetus for this degree of intentionality at Plow Creek came from a study of the book The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, which talks about people sharing food and goods in common. People who joined Plow Creek did so with a great deal of deliberation on both the part of the existing community and the prospective members, because joining meant sharing money and property in a common purse. It meant, essentially, a commitment that felt lifelong, even though it turns out that was rarely the case. Many of the members, like my parents, came from the Jesus Freak movement of the 1960’s, they were hippies who didn’t smoke weed or wife-swap. Love was free, but there was no Free Love. Oh, and they were pacifists. Yeah… That was popular in rural Illinois. You bet.

I have seen people being intentional about what sort of community they engage in, and give their lives to, to an extreme degree. Once you joined, decisions were made by consensus (though I won’t say there wasn’t coercion from time to time).

Communes have fallen out of style– there are significant social problems within the system, not the last of which is the problem of slackers (once people have joined, you’ve got to feed them even if they don’t produce much, whether cash or crops, which is an economic drain on the system. You’ve voluntarily and permanently laid down the choice to give out of your own personal abundance and generosity, which is a good thing to do, until you don’t have any recourse not to do it). It’s hard to hold people accountable if you’ve got so much grace invested in the relationship that you can’t just, well, ex-communicate them. And if you’re not willing to end the relationship, you’re sort of stuck in an enabling vortex. Another problem is the relative isolation. It’s sort of what they wanted, but in rural Illinois, there weren’t many neighbors who could relate to the lifestyle and ideologies Plow Creekers espoused. Perhaps for another day: intentional communities: open or closed?

One thing I did learn is that if you want to be a leader who finishes well, you do need some sort of intentional community. You need commitment to a group of people who can hold you accountable, you need an out for extreme circumstances, and if you need to duck out for some reason then you need to get plugged back in right away somewhere else. The key is that you’re the one being intentional. Others will inevitably not be as committed to you as you are to the concept, if you’re truly embracing it.

We see this now in the coaching world. Those who want authentic community and are willing to be intentional about it will sign a coaching agreement, with regular check ins not only for their own growth but for the progress of the relationship with the coach as well. This can be done with a peer coach (taking turns) or a professional coach, a mentor or “Paul” and a downward mentor or “Timothy” and with a variety of other people you commit to sharing your life with.

People are sometimes surprised to find that I have a coach too. (This probably stems from the misunderstanding people have that ‘life coaches have it all figured out and will tell you what to do with your life’ which couldn’t be further from what coaches really do.)

I work every month with Mark. Mark’s a professionally trained coach and we exchange peer coaching. I also have another friend named Mark who isn’t a coach at all, but we’re best buddies and we’re intentional about talking about the temptations we face. I have another friend named Jonathan who meets with Megan and I monthly to check in with us on our growth as artists, as a couple, and as people who are serious about community. We pay Jonathan. I meet with Ralph for discipleship (I’m the “Timothy”). I meet with K. C. twice a year for coaching supervision through an organization that I contract with. In total that’s five people, two of whom get paid for working with me and three who don’t. Two of them live in my town, one in another part of the state, and two in Colorado. It’s not unusual for me to have a meeting almost every week with at least one of them. This isn’t anything like Plow Creek, yet everything about it reflects how I grew up: you don’t float through life on your own. Not because you’re trying to be a slacker: in fact, precisely the opposite.

By the way, Megan and I attend church regularly. None of the people I mentioned attend the same congregation we do. It’s sort of ironic but right now I have a lot less formal, intentional relationships within my congregation. I also run a nonprofit and none of these coaches or mentors are on the board. But I’m intentional about communicating with both of those groups too: my pastors know what’s going on, and so does my board. The key is that in every area of your life; from your marriage and sexuality to your career and spiritual life; from the addictions you’re kicking to the dreams you’re pursuing, you’ve got somebody you check in with. That’s how we do intentional community. That’s the whole point of this series. There’s value here.

Intentional Community: Deep, Authentic Relationships

While talking to my friend Joe yesterday he asked me if I could help his organization out in helping people make intentional plans for growth in their organization. Joe’s firm helps nonprofits develop their own leadership from within. One executive he knew had recently been let go by the board, after six or seven years with the company. This executive had asked Joe on four separate occasions to come talk about helping them make a plan, but they never bought in. Now that Executive X is being let go, too late he realizes that an intentional plan would have been much better. The transition will be a lot more painful.

Intentional seems like a redundant word to me, and maybe it should be, but it’s not. Nothing really gets done without intentionality, unless you’re talking about haphazard accidents, and any of those that are good happen because you were intentionally working on something else! You don’t stumble upon the idea for Post-It Notes unless you’re working on new developments in glue.

The same thing goes with community. The first thing you have to recognize if you want to build a community with and for any purpose whatsoever, you’ll have to be intentional.

The law of entropy — I am not a thermodynamic physicist, so this is perhaps inaccurately summarized as the idea that things fall apart — creates the challenge that things in a closed system (like the universe in terms of thermodynamics or like your town or organization in terms of meaningful relationships) will require an influx energy on a consistent basis to make any relationship or group a cohesive one.

In other words, your intentionality is required to counter-act entropy in any community you care about.

The first thing Joe and I had to agree on was the fact that without intentionality, no organization can implement any plan, much less a plan that will develop future leadership potential.