Sunday, October 19, 2014

flipping good neighbours in community engagement

I was researching a community ministry this week, interviewing about a community garden planted on a rooftop, four stories high in inner-city Sydney. (It was part of my work on Urban gardens for the Urban Life together conference).

In telling the story of the community garden, the comment was made that in beginning the garden, they didn’t how to garden. As a result they reached out to local gardeners. Similarly, in establishing bee hives as part of the garden, they didn’t know how to keep bees. Again, they had to reach out to local book keepers.

It struck me as a fascinating approach to take to community development. Start with what you don’t know.

Later in the interview, I returned to tease this out further. “It sounds like your lack of knowledge was a gift. It involved the community to shape the environment.”

Absolutely was the animated reply. Start with what you don’t know and you ensure very different relationships with your community.

In Luke 10:5-8, Jesus instructs the disciples in mission.

‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. ‘When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.

What if Luke 10 is picking up on the same approach? Jesus sends the disciples with nothing (Luke 10:4), with no food for the night. When they approach the community, they approach with vulnerability, with a lack. In doing so, they invite a different set of relationships. Specifically, the person of peace, the one who opens the door, is being invited to become a good neighbour. The community is being invited to be generous, to be hospitable, to participate in partnership.

This is a risky strategy. It might not work, leaving the disciples hungry. Or it might come across as manipulative. (I think this is addressed by the offer of peace in verse 5 – see an earlier post on Sharing faith across cultures).

But it does totally flip the traditional understanding of being a good neighbour. What if the task of the church in mission is not to be a good neighbour? Rather what if it is to act in ways that enable our community to be good neighbours? What sort of relationships of mutuality and partnership might emerge?

It would be as practical as starting community ministry in the areas in which we lack some knowledge.

Posted by steve at 11:54 AM


  1. “Start with what you don’t know” : love this very.. very.. much… thank you.

    Comment by Therese — October 19, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

  2. fabulous! thank you. ‘what sort of relationships of mutuality and partnership might emerge?’ indeed :o)

    Comment by sarah — October 20, 2014 @ 5:43 am

  3. I’ve just finished (immediately before reading this post!!) reading an article in “Eduation Aotearoa” about ‘The Flipped classroom’ where the basic learning is done by the pupils as homework, (often using video) and the applied learning, inquiry and any problems were covered in class. According to article there was more engagement, and the pupils were more confident, and enjoyed success. Was wondering how it would fit into a Biblical pedegogy. Seems like you’ve answered that question!!

    Comment by Jan — October 20, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

  4. That’s fascinating Jan.

    First, I’d love to see the article, given my own journey in exploring flipped classroom (

    Second, and related, I’d love to hear more about the links you make between flipped classroom and this post. Is it just engagement? Or are there other links you’re making?


    Comment by steve taylor — October 20, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

  5. Hi again,

    The link to the article is

    Regarding your post, I liked the sense of working backwards…. almost from the answer to come up with the question. (Jesus sending the disciples out… He could have given them lots of guidelines, but by seemingly casting them adrift they probably learnt more about themselves and those they met)

    As a teacher I think sometimes the challenge is to be able to tread lightly… to not make your own personality, interests etc speak so loudly that they drown out the learning. Does that make sense? Does ‘flipping’ reduce the ‘power’ of the teacher, and make the learning journey more one of a group together, rather than a leader and followers? I suspect those sorts of experiences may be the truly memorable ones.

    Thanks for making me think!!


    Comment by Jan — October 21, 2014 @ 3:49 pm

  6. In some ways this is assets based community development. You are using the strengths of the established community -gardening and beekeeping – to produce engagement in community. Those people are then valued and invest into the project.

    Comment by Karen — October 21, 2014 @ 9:02 pm

  7. Have you met Joanna Hubbard? She and Peter Mcdonald run Faith in Action, a group that promotes asset based community development. There is a meeting next month if you are interested. Jo works for the Baptists now.

    Comment by Karen — October 21, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

  8. Hi Karen,

    I attended a session run by Joanna last year and loved it.

    However I’m not sure what I’m suggesting is ABCD. It is calling on the community’s strength. So yes that is a common thread. But often that search for strength sends subtle messages which are in contrast I think to what I’m suggesting – that invites the church to name it’s vulnerability.

    If I was looking for a wider frame, I think I’d go to receptive ecumenism – that begins my asking that partners in dialogue name their weaknesses, as a starting point for honesty and vulnerability. So I’m asking the church to begin their,


    Comment by steve — October 22, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

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