April 10, 2023
by Greg Henson, CEO, Kairos University; President, Sioux Falls Seminary and Anthony Blair, President of Evangelical Seminary and Professor of Leadership and Historical Studies
Last week, we asked how anything could be held in common by a highly diverse community, and answered that it could be, provided we break free from our old ways of understanding community. We said that Kairos operates from a different paradigm than most. We are an organization in motion, a “community of communities,” who are collectively following the lead of the wild goose Spirit, to whom we have joyfully surrendered control.
We noted that these communities that comprise Kairos are widely distributed—geographically, theologically, missionally, and otherwise—and are empowered to discern the leading of the Spirit. Yet we are not independent of each other, but interdependent. There remains one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:4-6). Therefore, for Kairos to live out its oneness, we must also remain connected and incarnated. This week’s post explores what those characteristics mean for us.
Distribution is of little value if others are not empowered. And empowerment is of little value if those others are not connected. It is through connectedness that we fully experience the value of a distributed and empowered community. Fortunately, connectedness is not something we must artificially create; it already exists! In the Kairos community of communities, we are already connected through the common calling of the common Spirit to a common mission. We aim to simply recognize and live out before a startled world what is already true about us.
Being connected means more than sharing an organizational identity. It also means sharing in each other’s celebrations, hardships, opportunities, and challenges. So, we create shared moments to listen to and discern the leading of the Spirit together. We inhabit shared spaces where we can pray for and play with each other with joy. We seek shared opportunities to tell our stories to each other. We share these things so that the communities within the community can affirm and attest to what God is doing among themselves and, likewise, be encouraged by what God has done among the others.
And what connects us most intrinsically are not the electrons of an online learning platform. Yes, we will sometimes use online technologies to see each other face-to-face across the miles, but that’s because we all have faces! And each face is beautifully different from every other face. We are not, cannot be, mere names on a spreadsheet to each other. Every person with whom we interact in our community of communities is, as Thomas Merton said, “walking around shining like the sun.” Each is aglow with the image of God, imprinted somehow on a jar of clay. It’s a mystery and miracle, this incarnation of the holy in the human countenance.
And each person in each of these communities that comprise Kairos is incarnated in a particular context. Our local communities of faith, the places where we live out our vocation, our neighborhoods, our families—these are places where we live and move as flesh-and-blood human beings in whom the Spirit of God boldly chooses to dwell. These fully embedded and embodied experiences often take place in one of our partnering communities, who are physically present with them in their journey of discipleship. It may also take place through things like Kairos gatherings, campus-based learning experiences, and various events hosted by Kairos. It is important to remember, however, that we do see Kairos as the center of one’s learning or formation community. We are part of that community. For this reason, students may graduate with a stronger connection to their local communities or partner organization than to the wide Kairos community. They know they are part of the Kairos community, but we do not need them to see Kairos as the primary source of their relationships.
Communal Practice: Regular, Consistent, and Transparent Communication
What practices, then, might engender and embody a community of communities that is distributed, empowered, connected, and incarnated like this? We know of at least one, and it is absolutely critical: regular, consistent, and transparent communication.
In some ways, we are doing this quite well. We send update emails frequently to all members of the Kairos community. We solicit feedback. We schedule opportunities to gather for assessment and review. We share much the same information with everyone. This is not typical of higher education, but we do it here, for the kind of community we are called to be. That being said, we still see opportunities to improve. Most of the communication runs through a single channel. This is efficient, yes, but it would be worth the additional time to occasionally change the channel so that each Kairos community can easily hear what the Spirit is doing in and through the other distributed communities. This is an opportunity for us to do even better!
All of this serves the purpose of stewarding followers of Jesus who flourish in their vocations for the sake of the world. Following the Spirit in theological education is how we, as an organization in motion, participate in the Great Commission, and the core of that Commission is discipleship. As such, we need to take a look at what the discipleship journey entails, and the role we get to play in it. Let’s do that next week!