Networks…

I continue to come across references and recommendations for this book so this morning I finally started reading.

To Change the World is broken into three lengthy essays and here is an outline of the first four chapters, which are thought provoking and very interesting.

One of Hunter’ eleven propositions regarding culture and change is that culture is generated (and also changed) from networks.  While there is often a central figure in these networks this person’s accomplishments would not have happened without the larger framework of support.  A classic example is William Wilberforce who is lauded for his role in bringing an end to the slave trade in Great Britain and her colonies.  Beyond the various other factors (economic, political, social, and religious) which coincided with Wilberforce’s effort, Hunter points to the Clapham Circle and “over two dozen leaders from the highest echelons of business, church, literary life and government and politics who were connected and worked together in this common cause.”
As I was reading through this brief section and thinking about the networks which can shape a place for better or worse I began to think about Worcester.  There are cultural factors related to being American, being located in New England, and having 300+ years of history behind us that significantly influence the city.  Beyond all these pieces that are bigger and broader than anyone place or time I wonder what networks of relationship in Worcester that shape this city.

It’s easy to think about the political system and all the layers of alliance and cooperation within different parties and their subgroups, but I know there is more.  What about the consortium of colleges, both on an administrative level (Presidents, VP, Deans) as well as departmental interactions across campuses.  Do English professors from the various campuses meet with authors, poets, and other writers in the area as part of a literary circle?  Across hospitals and the medical school, in science, engineering and the biotech industry, what are the points of overlap and connection?  Do unions or representatives of manufacturing and factories have influence here?  It is overwhelming to think of all the different moving parts to this city along with the people and cultures that shape each.  I also think of the different social structures operating among the ethnic groups of Worcester and how these will overlap and contrast with other circles of influence.

As I reflect on significance of networks for shaping a place and effecting change there are four practical implications that come to mind:

1.  I need to learn more about Worcester.  I need to talk to “natives” and learn the cultural landscape.  I want to do some sort of community needs assessment, continue demographics research, seek out relationships with all sorts of people, and spend a lot of time listening.  As we begin a church in Worcester we need to understand this place as best we can.

2. In talking with others involved in beginning new churches or outreach efforts many have encouraged me to pray for a “man” (or woman) “of peace.”  They are referring to someone with a wide network of relationships and influence who is for you and opens doors on your behalf.  Even more I can see the significance of God answering this prayer.

3.  I must continue to cultivate my network of relationship with like minded Christian leaders.  Our hope in planting a church in Worcester is to participate in a much larger work of God that has lasting effect.  This will happen through committed partnerships, pooled resources, shared vision, and sustained ministry.  We need a broad network to make this happen.

4.  I need to watch over my soul.  Jesus warns his followers about desiring power or prominence and there is this subtle pull to grasp after things that Jesus purposely rejected.

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