No man is an island. So said John Donne in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions published in 1624.
In Nick Hornby’s novel, About A Boy the main character Will Freeman sets out to prove he is an island. And a very happy one. However, Will realises he isn’t the island he thought he was. That without meaningful relationships with others his life is rather empty and meaningless.
God by his very nature is relational. We see this in the triune of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Relationship is at the heart of the Christian faith, reflecting the fact that we as humans have been made for relationship with God and with others. So it’s not surprising there is an innate yearning in us to be in community – to do life with others, to support each other and to belong to something bigger than ourselves.
While I grew up on an island my life was definitely not an island. Although a lot of the time I wished it was! Growing up in New Zealand, my family fully embraced the Maori concept of ‘whānau’ which includes physical, mental and emotional dimensions within the framework of extended family or community.
It wasn’t until I was at university when I took part in a residential internship at a think tank that I gave any thought to the idea of community – what it could look like and more importantly how it could shape my relationship with God, my character and my path in life.
Those of us committing to public leadership and all the joys and challenges that come with this need to reflect on how our community can shape this journey.
In an increasingly individualistic society moving at a faster and more detached manner due to technology, busy schedules and the frequency at which we change jobs, homes and locations, it makes it hard to feel any sense of community. More and more of us are living island-like lives with figures even showing more people than ever living alone.
Public leadership is hard work. We can’t do it on our own. Nor should we. God wants us to do life together – warts and all. So we need to shake off the pervading individualistic worldview and set about creating vibrant, Christ-centred community that passionately and intentionally seeks to bring grace, love and social justice to our friends, family, neighbourhoods, schools, work places and beyond.
Who we do life with is hugely important. Jim Rohn, an American entrepreneur and motivational speaker says we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Time with God and ourselves should be factored in too, however the underlying intent of the quote is that who we spend time with influences the person we become. I would go so far as to say our community has the power to make or break us as leaders.
When I embarked on the residential internship I expected it to be a brief interlude which I would remember with fondness and would give my CV a much needed boost. Little did I know that this internship would profoundly shape my career path, worldview and most of all my community.
Living with a group of like-minded people who were passionate about influencing the public square for good all while bringing a diverse range of worldviews, values and personalities was refreshing, fun, challenging, sometimes frustrating yet ultimately enriching. We drank coffee together, shopped together, laughed a lot, cried a bit, philosophised, ranted, set the world to rights and gave each other a kick up the backside when needed.
Even now on the other side of the world this wonderful community remains part of my life. Those of us living in London continue doing life together – embracing the ordinary and relishing being truly known, accepted and supported. Thanks to technology we can still input into each other’s lives from afar. From dating advice to policy advice and everything in between!
Building community is a long-term commitment. It requires vulnerability, humility, sacrifice and seeing beyond ourselves – all things which are counter-culture to the dominant ideology in our society. But it’s so worth it. Relationships and community are at the heart of who God is. And it’s through community that we can be our best selves and develop into leaders who will have a positive influence on our society.
PUBLIC LEADERSHIP TAKEOVER! All this week we’re featuring articles about public leadership, which is leadership in politics, media, business, education or the arts, any area outside the Church where leadership is needed and where Christians can step up and be a voice for good.
There are two weekends in 2016 to connect, encourage and equip public leaders aged 18-35: 18-20 March in Staffordshire and 15-17 April in Northern Ireland. To find out more and how to apply head to www.thepublicleader.com/gathering