Coworking and the Reign of God

 

(UPDATED May 2017. NOTE: This essay was first written in September of 2014. Since then I have been fortunate to accompany The Missional Wisdom Foundation in the formation and launch of The Mix Coworking, and now to begin launching with others new coworking experiments in other congregations and locations. It describes my journey and those who have shaped my understandings of this way of being church and blessing the world.)

The Problems…

* The problem with work

People want to do meaningful work that pays a living wage. Where they work itself seems wrote or mundane, they want to know that it somehow contributes value to a greater good. Jobs lost during the recession are being replaced by lower paying and less skilled work. The cost of a college education is rising, and the return on investment is declining in many instances – a degree does not guarantee a job as it once did. How are where are people to access the resources they need to find or create opportunities for meaningful work? The number of “natural entrepreneurs” is far lower than the great host of folks who are needing or wanting to develop something new through which to make the world a better place and earn an income. The models currently available – work from home, work at a coffee shop, work at an executive suite – all leave much to be desired, and ultimately miss the most important elements – the resources and relationships to do something important.

Enter Coworking

The term was coined by Brad Neuberg in 2005. Neuberg founded Hat Factory, a live-work space open to others during the day, and Citizen Space, a work only coworking space. A large network of coworking spaces and abundant information can be found on Coworking Wiki. Coworking seeks to be the “evolution of the executive office” by promoting collaboration in an open working environment that looks and feels more like a coffee shop or studio. At the same time it offers the amenities of an executive office environment: coffee, business machines, conference and meeting rooms, wifi. Coworking spaces cover a broad range of industries including technology, arts, design, non-profits, social entrepreneurship, business and financial services. Some spaces specialize in one niche – all tech or all design.

* The problem with parish ministry as sole vocation

Congregations are generally declining in size and income at the same time that expenses are rising. Clergy are feeling pressed to make ends meet in the church budget and in their own personal finances. At the same time many feel called to live their ministry in ways that the congregation does not endorse or embrace. This may mean working bi-vocationally – with two voices. It may mean stepping out of the parish and into a community based ministry that is either non-profit or for profit following a social entrepreneurship model. As above, finding the resources and relationships that support such a journey is difficult.

* The problem with congregations trying to connect meaningfully with people

Numerous authors have catalogued the ways in which our culture is becoming increasingly disinterested in organized religion and local congregational life. At the same time there seems a resurgence of interest in spirituality, often perceived as individualistic. Perhaps this is because people only see three options: 1) congregational life; 2) individualistic spirituality; 3) NONE. We need to increasingly create and nurture communities in the world that engender the very best of human nature and allow room for The Spirit to move in and through us. People who are staying away from congregations may never find current expressions of church interesting. So we need to create new places of community, not as doors to traditional parish life, but as alternatives alongside congregations. Both/and, not either/or.

Enter The Grove

Ken Janke founded The Grove New Haven in 2009. He saw this as a solution to the social and economic challenges of a depressed and struggling community. He began with one premise, one question and one offer.

  • The premise: God desires all human beings to cooperate in their own flourishing.
  • The question: What is your dream?
  • The offer: I would like to help you pursue your dream.

Ken calls himself a dream shepherd. As a follower of Jesus, he believes that he is called to proclaim in word and deed the good news of God’s power to redeem, reconcile and restore humanity to self, others, creation and God. He sees this as the work of the church. It is our response to God’s invitation and our prayer that, God’s “will be done and kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

Ken has served in congregational and community ministries that everyone explicitly understood as church. He recognized in New Haven an opportunity to respond to God’s call in the world, and that too many trappings of “church” would hinder the work of the Gospel. Increasing numbers of people avoid or ignore anything that looks or feels like organized religion, Christian or otherwise. Yet our mandate has not changed. We are called to “go and make disciples.” Ken understands disciples of Jesus as those who live in the world as Jesus did. They bring healing where there is brokenness. They offer and facilitate forgiveness and reconciliation. They proclaim and help people to find life abundant. And he understands that the institutional church can no longer meet this call on its own, if it ever could.

The Grove is a coworking space, meeting all of the essentials in the description above. It is also much more. Ken built into the DNA of Grove culture several essential tenets that align perfectly with the values of the Reign of God.

  • Community: We care for our neighbors and allow them to care for us.
  • Contribution: Everyone has something to offer, and we each need the other.
  • Collaboration: Intentionally working together, supporting one another, promoting the common good.
  • Social Mission: In everything we do we ask, “How will this contribute to the betterment of those around me, of society, of creation, and also of myself?”

The Reign of God includes humanity and creation restored to God’s dream for our wholeness as imaged in Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. The church is to colabor with God (1 Cor 3:9) in this work. The Grove is a platform for promoting these values, for learning together new ways to behave in business that are more human, more in line with God’s generosity, imagination and grace. When we provide people the opportunity to do meaningful work, in a collaborative community with others who are serious about the same goals, then the Kingdom of God is made manifest, it is “among and within us” (Luke 17:21).

The Grove provides a “third space” in which to build deep and meaningful relationships with others by pouring into them and supporting them in their life-giving dreams. From these relationships then spring opportunities to help people notice and explore The Spirit at work around and within them. As people who do not know the Spirit’s fingerprints or fragrance encounter this work, they are drawn toward it “as the deer thirsts for living water.” (Ps 42) Thus both actively and passively God works in and through The Grove to bring The Reign of God, beginning with the community and spreading throughout the city and around the world. Coworkers at The Grove then return to their own constellation of communities (even churches) transformed and transforming because of what they have experienced in this place.

Enter The Mix

The Mix takes a distinctly different approach. Rather than avoiding church buildings (for very good reason) because of all the baggage and barriers they present to many people, the MWF purposefully partners with congregations to be innovative and missional stewards of their resources, including buildings. So The Mix exists in the basement of and in partnership with White Rock UMC, recognizing and embracing the challenges presented by doing this work with church facilities. It is turning out to be a wonderful experiment in ministry and an opportunity to experience grace while new expressions of church emerge within the sphere of traditional forms.

The Foundation does not rescue or save. We simply ask, “What if…?” in, with and to churches, and then see what comes. Much of the other work of MWF, including our Academy and our New Monastic Houses, involve similar partnerships with churches to welcome the established institutions of church into the collaborative innovations for the kingdom of God.

Here’s the story as I understand it: The Mix as it exists emerged through the convergence of several inspirations. Mitchell Boone and Neil Moseley, pastoral leaders at White Rock UMC, imagined coworking as one of the approaches that might help the congregation engage meaningfully with its neighbors. At around the same time, Daryn DeZengotita (who first invited and welcomed me to The Grove) was on pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona, where she received a vision to open a coworking space as part of her work with the MWF. Supported by the Foundation leadership, and accompanied by Chef Rhonda Sweet to design and run The Mix Kitchen, Daryn has been able to see this vision come to fruition. The journey has not been easy, and though “success” (including but not limited to self-sustaining revenue) is in sight, it is not guaranteed. But then again, what in this life is? What does seem certain is that the effort has been worthwhile, the congregation and community are being blessed, and transformation is emerging.

People are learning new ways of working together, building community among those with and among whom they work, and dreaming of a new and better day for themselves and the world. And they are taking action that is already manifesting that new way of being. What more could anyone ask?

And Beyond…

The latest experiments, including one at Central Christian Church, are hosted and animated by Daryn through Scatterbrain Media and Table Coworking, They help existing groups imagine what it means for them to gain an understanding of and lean into this process of showing up, making space for others, and discovering together how community and collaboration are born. The goal is for groups to be captured by this spirit and organically give rise to new ways of forming connection with the world around them, renewing God’s dream for the flourishing of humanity and all creation – i.e. the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

 

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