When I first began my work as a community engagement coordinator at a congregation in the Twin Cities, I was blessed to be part of a peer group organized by the Minneapolis Area Synod. I met once a month with other community engagement staff and community organizers to discuss our work, to problem-solve alongside one another, and to offer support. As I look back on that peer group, I realize how impactful those monthly conversations were on my ministry and my development as a person of faith. And I also realize that my colleagues and I, unbeknownst to us, were acting as a community of practice.
Communities of practice are groups of people who share some common work or concern. They gather regularly to build and develop their skills and knowledge by intentionally analyzing their experience on an ongoing basis. Often, we find ourselves in communities of practice without even knowing it, like my peer group above. You may have some colleagues in your own line of work who have a regular time to meet and discuss procedures and policies, or maybe you meet with other parents to share about your experience raising children. Communities of practice are one of the most powerful ways we can support one another, and I wonder what it would look like for congregations to live into this model of formation.
In our baptism we are named and claimed by God and set free to be God’s people. The practice of Christian discipleship is our life’s work, and the life’s work of our communities. However, our congregational models for teaching and learning often focus on instruction and information, rather than the lived experience and practice of congregants. What would it look like for our congregations to hold intentional space for Christian practitioners to collaborate and learn from one another’s experience with prayer, studying scripture, and engaging with the community?
In a community like this, families would have dedicated time to discuss faith practices that are impactful in their home, and to learn new prayers, stories, and practices from one another. Congregants would analyze their experiences with prayer and studying scripture, share ideas about new practices, and wrestle with the challenges of living as resurrection people anew each day. Our community engagement would be rooted in our actual experience as neighbors, not disconnected ideals and disembodied strategies.
Communities of practice will always require input of new information and instruction, but when we center the experience of congregants as practitioners of Christian discipleship, we may open ourselves to a fuller and more authentic learning environment. The writer of the Letter to Hebrews invites us to “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together . . . but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:24-25). Maybe by embodying the principles of a community of practice we can find some powerful ways to provoke one another as practitioners of the Christian faith.
This article draws on the work of Etienne Wengert, particularly his book Cultivating Communities of Practice.