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Four Strategies for Common Good

Doug Taylor is the director for strategic engagement and a lay preacher in his local uniting church congregation. In this second blog of a two-part series, he shares his thinking about some strategies that will be critically important for the church in the future in bringing to life the common good.

In my last blog I outlined the clear resonance that the notion of Common Good has with the people of the Uniting Church, which is particularly evident in the church’s commitment to social concern and community services. I posed the question, how will the churches commitment to the Common Good be manifest into the future? In this blog I outline four strategies for putting our commitment into practice.

1. Working in partnership with our communities

We will do this because it has always been a distinctive feature of how we have worked as a church and reflects a belief that we are part of God’s Mission and must be in the world working with all God’s people, people of all creeds or none. However the difference in the future is that if we want to get things done, be it Community Development or Social Justice Advocacy, there’ll be no choice but to work with others in the community at large. There are a range of reasons for this, they include:

The increased complexity of issues we face in the community and fact that no one group can solve these problems alone, it requires collaboration.

The fact that we have a diminishing resource base of people and therefore influence. We will need to rethink our position in society, we are no longer at the centre but more likely to work from the edges with others who share our concerns

Now more than ever our community needs to be part of our work in building the Common Good. Pope Francis’ words from his latest encyclical are informative. “By itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion”. (p82). “There are a number of symptoms which point to what is wrong, such as environmental degradation, anxiety, loss of the purpose of life and of community living” (p83). Our community needs to be part of its own rebuilding and renewal.

One cannot underestimate the importance of this shift. Whilst it’s much easier to rely on our own resources to get things done, perhaps it distracts us from our call to work with God’s world. Is there not a wonderful opportunity in this changing environment to advance the Common Good by working with our community?

2. Serve and lead our communities

I’ve worked in church based and secular community services for over 25 years. In that time I’ve seen many smaller agencies face enormous challenges in viability because of the increasing compliance burden, commercialisation and governance requirements coupled with a diminishing base of human and financial capital. Many congregationally based services are increasingly challenged by these dynamics and whilst some will continue a good number of these services will increasingly be delivered by the likes of Uniting, large Missions and Regional Churches. I can’t accept that the day community services cease being delivered by a local congregation that their local mission is finished. On the upside, when I visit Uniting Church congregations I invariably find the people in that local community that have the greatest amounts of Social Capital, they are the most connected. This is a powerful seed that should be used in local leadership to improve lives.

The future of local congregations living out the call to be ‘Uniting for the Common Good’ will increasingly be in leading and organising in local communities in areas of local concern and on matters of societal and public policy importance. It will be as agents for change and less as the delivers of the services themselves. In recent times we have seen some great examples of this through the Community Organising agenda of Sydney Alliance and through recent workshops with Rich Harwood.

3. Be the ‘Uniting’ Church, really…

This will mean that as a church we will need to work together with different parts of the church playing complimentary roles towards common goals and line with our capability and purpose. This is a big change for a church that’s historically been large enough to be able to work independently of each other. This will not cut it in the future; we are a different type of institution. Whereas in the past we could talk theologically and in principle about interdepenence, now our very survival is dependent on our ability to live this.

This new way of working will require new forms of shared governance, local cooperation and communication and a belief that our future is in working together, not in creating our own empires. This is especially the case for our team at Uniting. We need to live up to our mandate of ‘enlivening communities’ and doing that with local congregations. We are building out a strategy that assumes that whilst our services are necessary, they are not sufficient, which means we must work with others. From this we will work with local congregations to develop local relationships, a shared commitment and the openness to new ways of working together. But just imagine what could be done in harnessing the collective power of our human and financial capital to advance the Common Good. For example what could we do if we worked towards common objectives with our 20,000 church attendees with Uniting’s 9,000 staff and 3,000 volunteers?

4. Up skill our leaders

All of this has implications for our leaders. We need to develop new types of ministry leaders who are outward focused, able to collaborate with others and in particular people that are different to those we have found in our pews on a Sunday: culturally, socially and ideologically. Working with difference can be very difficult and getting something done is even more challenging but our communities need people who can span boundaries to break the traditional impasses in our communities and politics. As Jim Wallis writes for his context in the US;

“As people of faith, our challenge is to rise above political ideology and lead on moral grounds. Don’t go right, don’t go left; go deeper. The common good is about so much more than partisan politics. It grows out of our personal and family lives, our vocational callings, the mission and witness of our congregations, the moral power of social movements, and the independent integrity of prophetic religious leadership in our public life as we fight not just for ‘our’ rights but for the rights of all people.”

This has enormous implications for how we think about the role of ministry leaders, how they spend their time and the types of priorities we set as congregations. It also has significant implications for how we conduct our training.
The language we use is powerful. It tells us, and others, something about who we are and what we believe. Uniting for the Common Good is powerful visions for our church and community.

To be people of the Common Good we need to recalibrate how we work as a church to ensure we make this vision a reality. This vision is too important to not reflect on and hopefully this blog has given you food for thought. I’m looking forward to working with people across our church to make this vision a reality.