Creating a Healthy Culture of Ownership in Community: Everyone Coming to Give and Receive

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Jun 232013
Giving in Community 2

Crisis creates a sense of ownership and community.

As I write this, our city of Calgary and my community of Bowness is experiencing a state of emergency due to unprecedented flooding that has forced the evacuation of around 100,000 people from their homes. A large portion of our downtown is under water, including Stampede Park and the Saddledome. This disaster has been no respecter of persons. Rich and poor have been affected.  In the midst of all the loss and chaos, I’ve been amazed at the how this crisis has created a sense of community where so many folks are pitching in and willing to go to extra-ordinary measures to help their neighbors in whatever way they can. There is a strong sense of ownership, and people willing to sacrifice for each other. My questions are, “Is is possible to sustain this sense of ownership and giving and receiving in community beyond the crisis, and if so, how?”  and “What are the factors that stymie or kill ownership in community?”

When people have a sense of ownership in the creating of a community, they are willing to make great voluntary sacrifices for the sake of the community. Sacrifice becomes a privilege not obligation.

Eighty Twenty RuleOne of the factors that sooner or later will stunt or even kill the health of a community is when the same few people are doing all of the giving while the majority of the community are happy to come and receive. This is what we commonly call the 80/20 rule: 20% doing the giving while the 80% receive. If this trend continues in a community, the ‘givers’, who are usually the leaders, either burnout or become resentful that they are doing all the giving.

Greener grass 1

Hmm, the grass is greener over here!

Furthermore this pattern breeds a culture of immaturity in the rest of the community. The 80% come happy to consume but not contribute. This consumer mindset and practice results in people treating community like a commodity where they can pick and choose what goodies they like, and become critical about those goods and services that are not meeting up to their expectations. They don’t own the community and when the community is not meeting their needs they pick up and leave. In church culture, we call this the migration or shuffling of the sheep from pen to pen in search of greener grass.

“As leaders we need to be training people how to be be self-feeders and empower them to care for each other.”

navel gazing

Inward focused community gets stuck with navel gazing!

While it is true that many people have been deeply hurt within church communities and need a place to heal and process these hurts, some communities develop an identity around people’s pathos or sickness, leading to a culture of navel gazing, negativity, and narcissism. The ethos of the community is created around being against something, or bad mouthing everything and everyone, as well as a self-centered attitude of victimization. The tone of the gatherings quickly turns into a complaining session about what’s wrong with the existing systems or institutions of government and church, and what people think the organizations should be giving them rather than how they can be a solution to what’s broken. People never get better and stay stuck in their unhealthy patterns of behavior spiritually, emotionally, financially, and relationally. Instead of taking personal responsibility for their choices and their healing, there is blame shifting. This is enabled by leaders who are always bailing folks out, coddling people, and assuaging this ‘woe is me’ mentality. This focus on navel gazing and negativity repels healthy folks. The community becomes ingrown and eventually dies or people turn on each other.

isolation 2

Resist the tendency to isolate!

The other tendency I’ve noticed in faith communities is that some people, when they are going through a hard time, will tend to isolate from the community. They disappear and don’t let anyone know. What we fail to realize is that our decisions do not just impact us, but affect the rest of the community. We are not an island unto ourselves. I do believe that there are times when we need distance from the community for a period of time. A healthy way to process a time out from the community is to communicate that decision with the community. The community should keep a door open for their return.

Need in many leaders to be at the center!

Need in many leaders to be at the center!

For many of us in leadership roles, we need to be aware of our unhealthy motivation to be needed that is fed by people treating us like a savior, as if we are indispensable. We quickly can become the center of community to the point that the community revolves around us. We develop an identity around always being in the power position of giving or having all the answers. This over-inflated view of our importance manifests in leaders trying to do it all to keep everyone happy. When these needs become our primary internal drivers, we become a bottleneck to healthy community.

Often leaders resist letting their guard down out of a fear that people will lose respect for them. Other blockages to leaders receiving are the fear that they will be perceived as incompetent, or that showing their weaknesses will make them vulnerable to others taking advantage of them through gossip. Yet if leaders never share their needs with the community or receive from the community, people will not bond with their leaders, or grow up and take ownership.

Receiving from community!

Receiving from community!

At any stage in the life of a community we have folks who are coming primarily to receive something  from the community because of tough life circumstances such as economic, spiritual, relational, or emotional struggles. We need to create space in our community for folks in these stages of life. They need to feel free to just come and be loved, without any pressure to perform or produce. Community for people who are suffering, grieving, spent, burned out and running on empty should be a safe place to just ‘be’.

We all have something to give and receive in healthy community!

We all have something to give and receive in healthy community!

On the other hand, it is my firm belief that every person has something to give and receive when the community gathers. Not everyone can give to the same level, but we all have something to contribute. Even the poorest person can bring a bottle of pop to the potluck. It has been my conviction and observation that part of the process of healing for people going through troubled waters is to be able to come alongside another person in the community and give a word of encouragement. Even if all someone can do is show up, their very presence is a gift.


Giving and Receing 2I believe that we all have an innate longing to contribute and create together in community. How do we create communities of ownership and mutual giving and receiving ? Below are a few practical suggestions:

Change the language in community from ‘I’, ‘mine’, or ‘yours’ to ‘we’, and ‘ours’.


  • Give opportunities where ‘everyone gets to play’ or have ownership in contributing and co-creating: take time for people to express their vision for the community and then invite them to be the initiators to see that vision happen.

    Creating community together

    Our community that we create together!


  • As leaders, resist the temptation to start a program or initiative that people have expressed as a need, but are not willing to implement themselves or co-create with others of like mind.

“When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” I Cor. 14:26


  • Everyone has something to give!

    Everyone gets to participate!

    Here is practical way to help a smaller community begin to develop a giving and receiving culture :  Prepare people to come ‘share their gift’  in the next gathering. Encourage everyone to bring something to share with the community. It could be cookies they bake, a painting, a poem, a Scripture, a word of encouragement for the group or a member of the group, a song or piece of music they would like to sing or play. These times of sharing can include participation from even the youngest group member, teaching children from an early age that they have something to give!


  • Develop a board on your website where people can post their needs practically, and others can post skills they can use to serve, as well as material things they have to give away.Giving and receiving 3


  • Communicate the expectation and value for giving and receiving in community over and over again. Allow people to express what they are willing and able to give. Be careful to not project your expectations on others! Instead negotiate reasonable expectation.

By Tim Schultz

How Do Organizations Stay in a Movement State? Part 3: By Practicing the Accordion Principle

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Apr 222012

Starfish have no central brain or head!

In the book The Starfish and the Spider, Brafman and Beckstrom compare the nature of a spider and a starfish when it comes to multiplying. If you cut off the leg of a spider it may survive, but if you cut its head off it will die. Yet in a starfish there is no head. The major organs are replicated in each arm. So if you cut a starfish in half it will replicate itself. With the Linckia, or long armed starfish, you can cut it up into pieces and each piece will grow into a new starfish. For a starfish to move, one of the arms must go through a process of communicating with and convincing the other arms that they should also move. (p.35) What an amazing creature! This is the nature of how de-centralized movements function.


Catalysts work at not becoming the center

The nature of most movements is that they start out being decentralized, and yet over time there is a natural gravitational pull to become more centralized. This happens as the movement develops structures to serve the organic life of the movement. The struggle revolves around the ebb and flow of centralization and de-centralization. So the seminal question in most organizations, businesses, church denominations is “How do we remain in a movement state?”  A subset of questions is: “How do leaders keep from staying in the center, so that if they die or resign the movement shrinks or dies?  How do we steward power and authority? Is it possible for de-centralized movements to exist in harmony within more centralized movements?” The core of the questions revolves around the issues of leadership and structure.

“Every river has banks to guide the water to its end goal; every tree has a trunk to support the sap getting to the extremities of the branches; and every body has a skeleton to contain the spirit.”

Sometimes organic movements overreact, out of the fear of becoming a hierarchical organization that is a bottleneck to change and growth, by becoming very suspicious, or even anti or allergic to any type of leadership, or anything that smacks of structure, ritual, or deliberate planning. This is one of the central themes or plots of history. The upstart spontaneous movements throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. During the Luther led reformation, people reacted to the Catholic tradition of icons and relics by tearing down and destroying many of the icons in their churches. All icons and relics were seen as potential for idolatry and tools to manipulate people. Thus we get the word iconoclastic. On the other hand, the older more institutionalized organizations often see the new movements as a threat and try to squelch or even stop them.  This has resulted in numerous rifts, schisms, and divisive splits.

These same proclivities to swing from one extreme to the other are evident today. For example, look at what is happening in the Alberta political scene with the Progressive Conservative reaction to the Wildrose Party, as they threaten to unseat the PC’s from power in the upcoming election. Another example is the strong negative reactions and polar swings of some of the de-centralized emergent or postmodern forms of church, which reject any type of leadership or organization in meetings.

The Art of Moving From De-centralization to Centralization and Back Again

An alternative way which Brafman and Beckstrom raise in their book is the accordion principle. In the study of systems, what is being discovered is that a healthy organization will learn how to navigate the natural rhythms of moving like an accordion from de-centralization to centralization and then back again to de-centralization. If leaders learn how to deliberately take steps to move from one spectrum to the other in the life cycles of an organization, it is possible to remain in a movement state. Thus the question is not whether there is a need for leadership and structure, but more so how do we lead, and how do we adapt structures to serve life?


Brafman and Beckstrom posit the 5 legs of a movement that are keys to remaining in a movement state, moving back and forth from de-centralization to centralization.

Look for Circles of shared vision and trust!

1. Circles:  These are pockets of organic life organized around a common vision and natural relationships. These groups are small, self-governing, self-supporting, and self-multiplying. There is a strong sense of ownership for the raison d’etre of the circle, and there are norms that are passed on as a way of life that is caught, not as a set of rules or procedures that are passed down from on high.

  • Where are there circles of three people in your business, church, neighbourhood who have shared vision and trust one another?
“When people feel like a vision is their own they will voluntarily and joyfully sacrifice much to see the vision become reality.”


2. Catalysts:  Catalysts are inspirational leaders who develop an idea,  start a circle, and then get out of the way. They don’t care about recognition and holding on to power. They love to empower people to pursue the vision they already carry within them. They are allergic to hierarchy and becoming the center that the movement revolves around.  An example of a catalyst is Granville Sharp, who, even before Wilberforce, was the initiator of the anti-slavery movement in the 1800’s. Most of us have heard of Wilberforce, who gets all the credit, though we know nothing of Sharp, the original catalyst.

  • How can we inspire people with a big idea or help to draw out the vision in folks and encourage them to go for it?
  • What are some leadership models for charismatic catalysts to be who they are, and yet not mess things up by becoming the center or the bottleneck?
  • How are decisions made in your organization and who holds the trump card in the decision making process?
3. Ideology:  This is what I like to call the ‘Big Idea’ that grips people, or the song that already resonates with the longings in people’s hearts. For example, these days people are moved by the vision for justice, and ready to get involved in stopping human trafficking or dealing with poverty.
  • What big idea has gripped you so that you would voluntarily sacrifice to see that idea become a reality?
4. A Preexisting Network:  All movements are birthed out of a preexisting organization. For example, the Quakers were a platform for the antislavery movement in England.
  • How can existing organizations serve new movements being birthed from within, instead of fearing them and trying to control or stop them?


5. Champions:  These are folks who are salesman for the ‘Big Idea’. They are people persons and hyperactive networkers. In the anti-slavery movement, a fellow named Thomas Clarkson worked with Sharp to spread the idea of anti-slavery.

  • Who are some people persons you know who are great at networking and selling a ‘Big Idea’?