Creating in Community

We are called to create for change together. We are all called, believers and unbelievers alike, to work with common purpose for the common good creating the good life with all image bearers in the world around us. We are better together. Learn about common grace and the Cultural Mandate from case studies on The Rabbit Room, Garden City, and more.

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Creating for change is not a solo endeavor. Yes, we each have our unique Creative Type given to us by our Creator, and finding our creative calling is something we each do individually, but we are each called to create in community with one another. We are better together. And when we create, other creators join.

“There is no such thing as an independent Christian.” – Rosaria Butterfield

I go to a church with over ten thousand members. Having grown up attending a church that numbered in the hundreds even on Easter Sunday, when I first joined this much larger congregation, it was both awe-inspiring and overwhelming. Now, I love seeing how the many different members of the Body of Christ all work together to represent Christ to the world.

Our senior pastor likes to say, “Don’t think of us as a big church, think of us as a small town, and everyone loves that small-town feel!” In some respects, I think that is exactly right. Walking through our “Gatheria” common area and bumping into people from all walks of life, our paths crisscrossing as we head to this ministry or that ministry, engaged in serving one another and the community as we use our different gifts and callings in a common purpose feels a little bit like I imagine Main Street in Heaven must feel like, albeit a little less golden (Yes, we are a “megachurch”, but we decided to wait and do gold tiles after our gold-plated toilets were installed… kidding!).

With just a few strides, I may bump into Scott and Jessica, decked out in full biker gear with the name of their prison ministry emblazoned in neon green, or Debby, a tall, soft-eyed and kind-hearted counselor for post-abortive women at the Crisis Pregnancy Center, or Danilo, a former soccer player from Brazil who serves as a chaplain for a professional soccer team. There’s Janelle, who is an expert at American Sign Language (ASL) and works in the deaf ministry, translating sermons and songs with dexterous fingers flying through the air in a whirlwind of dips and loops. Tait is a police officer. Ardian is a politician. Michael is in private equity. Rachael is a realtor; her husband Rich an assistant principal at an underprivileged elementary school that organizes opportunities for the church to serve the school and the community. Michael is the conductor of an Orchestra. There’s Harley, an 8-yr old girl who raised hundreds of dollars for Haiti with her lemonade stand, and her dad, Scott, who tells everyone he meets about the good news of Jesus.

And the list could go on. Every one of us different, but better together.

But in addition to the amazing cohesiveness in the Body of Christ when there are healthy relationships and healthy participation in the roles God has called us to, did you know that everyone, believer or not, plays a part in God’s sovereign plan to usher in shalom?

Yes, even those people far from God. Those who do not recognize the Lordship of the King, still get to enjoy the blessings and favor of living in a world under His reign. And, in fact, as believers, we are called to work with common purpose for the common good creating the good life with all image bearers in the world around us.

How is this possible?

Common Grace for the Common Good

Dr Daniel Strange recounts an unlikely alliance. “What do the Christian Institute, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, The Gay Times and comedian Rowan Atkinson all have in common? Ordinarily, you might think, very little, but all have recently spoken out against the Government’s plans to introduce an incitement to religious hatred law.” [1]

This practice of Christians working with non-Christians to accomplish common objectives has been defined as “co-belligerence” by Francis Schaeffer. “A co-belligerent is a person with whom I do not agree on all sorts of vital issues, but who, for whatever reasons of their own, is on the same side in a fight for some specific issue of public justice.” [2] Schaeffer emphasized the importance of not falling into separatism nor into a compromising alliance as we form these co-belligerent relationships. S

trange also adds a warning: “We must be careful though that we do not become a stumbling block for other Christians, and that our co-belligerence does not communicate to a watching world the possibility of neutrality and the dilution of the exclusivity of Christ and the gospel.” [3]

The Cultural Mandate

As Christians live out the Cultural Mandate, then as we respond to our Creator’s call to reweave shalom into the world, both relationally, vocationally, communally, and in every sphere of our lives, then we will find ourselves working together for common cause with non-Christians. As we have seen, Jeremiah 29 is one of the clearest biblical examples of this. Jeremiah, writing to Jewish exiles in Babylon, instructs them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7).

This was counter-cultural advice at the time, much as it may seem today to those who advocate a separatist, isolationist Benedictine brand of cloistered Christianity. But this is far from the only Biblical precedent: Joseph worked with the Egyptians in a desperate time of famine (Genesis 41), Daniel served in exemplary fashion in Nebuchadnezzar’s royal court, and Paul, while pointing to the special unity we have as believers, even explicitly tells the Galatians, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10).

However, doesn’t Paul also tell us to “not be yoked together with unbelievers?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). And what about in Ezra when the Jews returned from Babylon, and the Samaritans were not allowed to help God’s people rebuild the temple? (Ezra 4:1-3) It would seem that “being in the world but not of the world” is more complicated than it first appears! [4]

As image bearers of God, all humanity, believer and non-believer alike, partake in the good gifts that come directly from our Creator. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) Commenting on this passage, Tim Keller describes these good gifts this way: “This means that no matter who performs it, every act of goodness, wisdom, justice, and beauty is empowered by God. God gives out good gifts of wisdom, talent, beauty, and skill “graciously”—that is, in a completely unmerited way. He casts them across all humanity, regardless of religious conviction, race, gender, or any other attribute to enrich, brighten, and preserve the world.” [5]

Common Grace vs Special Grace

This “casting of gifts across all humanity” where God sends the rain and the sunshine on the just and the unjust is what theologians call common grace. This is contrasted to God’s special grace which is the work of God only in those who come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. An appreciation for God’s special grace should prompt us to evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him, but an appreciation of God’s common grace “enables us to effectively pursue relationships, evangelism, work, cultural engagement, and arts and entertainment through positive interaction with all of God’s creation.

Common grace gives us both a theological and a practical answer to how we can work to fulfill the Cultural Mandate with those who are not followers of Jesus Christ, while not becoming “of the world”.” [6] Why is this so important? Because “God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation. He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace but also of his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God. As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.” [7]

Common grace enables the non-Christian surgeon the knowledge, dexterity, and coolness under pressure to excel in the operating room, saving lives and reflecting something important about our Great Physician, even if the physician may even know they are doing so. Common grace empowers the corporate whistleblower to stand up to cheating and unfair financial machinations, even if the conscience thumping in their chest does not lead them to question its origin. Common grace restrains sin, holds back God’s deserved wrath against sinful mankind, and in a remarkable reversal, God showers his blessings and favor, both physical and even spiritual, on all of mankind, even those who will reject His ultimate gift of special grace: Jesus Christ.

Everyone is Gifted by Our Creator

When we look around us, at our neighbors and the giftings they display to the world, it is clear that God endows those all around us with “gifts, talents, and aptitudes; he stimulates them with interest and purpose to the practice of virtues, the pursuance of worthy tasks, and the cultivation of arts and sciences that occupy the time, activity and energy of men and that make for the benefit and civilization of the human race. He ordains institutions for the protection and promotion of right, the preservation of liberty, the advance of knowledge and the improvement of physical and moral conditions. We may regard these interests, pursuits and institutions as exercising both an expulsive and impulsive influence. Occupying the energy, activity and time of men they prevent the indulgence of less noble and ignoble pursuits and they exercise an ameliorating, moralizing, stabilizing and civilizing influence upon the social organism.” [8]

Discover How You Can Create for Change

More than voting. More than arguing on social media. Committing to real cultural change requires so much more. Discover your creative calling today.

The Purpose of Common Grace

If God’s purpose in displaying His special grace is to save those who come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, then what is God’s purpose in His common grace? It can help to realize that mankind may very well not exist any longer were it not for God’s common grace: “either we would have been destroyed by God, or else we would have destroyed ourselves.” [9]

So common grace is an important precursor for special grace to redeem those who will be saved. But beyond that, common grace demonstrates God’s mercy and steadfast love with every sunrise and sunset, every barn swallow that darts through the air in search of food, along with every sizzle of hot summer lightning that opens up a seam in the heavens to shower our growing crops with nourishment; it all points to a gracious God.

Through this everyday display of Common Grace, we experience our Creator’s goodness, justice, and glory. Then, of course, common grace is an instrument to work out God’s redemptive plan for His people and bring in the shalom that we all long for.

Building Relationships With Unbelievers

Understanding common grace enables us to build relationships with an unbelieving world in order to live out the Cultural Mandate better than we ever could on our own. Without a robust doctrine of Common Grace, we can lack both a theological and a practical answer to how we engage the culture in true side-by-side partnership without assimilating into the culture and losing our identity as believers.

God cares about total human flourishing. God cares about His creation and His created image bearers. “Common grace helps us to acknowledge that there are times to embrace culture warmly, and times to be in stark, prophetic opposition to it. And the only durable, Biblical way to do both is to see culture through the lens of common grace.” [10]

If special grace demonstrates God’s love for us while we were yet sinners, then common grace demonstrates God’s faithfulness to His creation, even in the midst of its unfaithfulness to Him. This bedrock truth of God’s character should enable us to avoid the alarmism and escapism espoused by those who would take a “Benedict Option” to withdraw from culture rather than look for common cause with our neighbors. Common grace allows us to inhale a deep breath of God’s all-encompassing, totally unmerited favor, and fill our lungs and our hearts with the knowledge that He has not and will not abandon His plan to restore and renew His creation.

The Rabbit Room

Years ago, the author/singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson walked the streets of Oxford with his wife, visiting the former home of C.S. Lewis, called the Kilns, and the tour concluded with his tour guide, Ron, depositing them at the Eagle and Child, a pub where J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis, his brother Warren, Charles Williams, and others shared stories, sharpened each other intellect and creative projects, and generally ate, drank, and encouraged one another in creative cooperation. Calling themselves the Inklings, they made a regular habit of meeting in the back room of the pub, called The Rabbit Room. After the obligatory fish and chips, Peterson found himself in the Rabbit Room, not even knowing why it was called that, “but the name struck me, stuck with me” [11] and grew into something special, first in his imagination, and then into a very real place in Nashville, TN.

Peterson returned to Nashville “with a conviction that community nourishes good and lasting work.” [12] Born of the Inklings gathering place, “The Rabbit Room was conceived as an experiment in creative community.” [13] What started out as a simple blog of contributing authors, songwriters, artists, and pastors turned into podcasts, a thriving music and bookstore, Rabbit Room Press, an annual conference called Hutchmoot, The Local Show, and more. With live events, creative classes and workshops, theater, and more “the Rabbit Room fosters Christ-centered community and spiritual formation through music, story, and art.” [14]

The sehnsucht in Peterson’s words is almost palpable. “The marks [Lewis]’s stories left on my soul–the gospel in his stories–are deep and lasting and I believe I’ll one day show them to him. I believe strongly in the value of the artists in this world. I believe that when someone who was made to strive to create beauty in the world is, as Brennan Manning said, “ambushed by Jesus,” the art that results bears a God-given power that draws men to Christ. I have encountered that power in the sub-creations of Christ-followers countless times.” Peterson also recognizes the common grace on display in unbelieving artists and creators, admitting that “(I’ve also encountered it in the works of those who haven’t yet succumbed to the source of their gifting.) Those works of art have helped me to better understand the Bible and its author, they have given me the tools with which to worship, to serve, to revel in the greatness of the Maker.” [15]

In addition to providing an avenue to support other up and coming artists, The Rabbit Room is a creative gathering place for people of all Creative Types to come together in creative cooperation just as Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings did years ago. “The Rabbit Room is a place for stories. For artists who believe in the power of old tales, tales as old as the earth itself, who find hope in them and beauty in the shadows and in the light and in the source of the light.” [16]

Garden City

Michael Arrieta has had astronomical career success any way you measure it. At age 17, he joined Cutco and became the #1 new sales rep in the entire company. After joining a startup that got acquired by Dell he found himself first as Chief of Staff at Dell and then Chief of Staff at DocuSign in their early days, helping lead the company to its meteoric rise to the multi-billion-dollar company that it is today. He has been named to the Forbes “30 Under 30” list and has countless early-stage investments into notable companies like Impossible Foods, Blue Bottle Coffee, SalesLoft, Tonal, and others. Today, he finds himself thinking of his father and going back to his roots with the launch of Garden City, a purpose-driven holding company that buys family-owned service companies in the Southeast to help make them the most caring and innovative in their field.

Michael smiles, his enthusiasm tinged with nostalgia, as he thinks about lessons learned from his hard-working father. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with old-school, not-sexy service businesses; typically, family-owned and cash-flow positive. Think cleaning companies, inspection/installation, security, elderly home care, waste management, pest control, A/C, etc. Weird I know, but I love them. It’s a combination of my upbringing and understanding how they operate.” He leans forward, excitement growing. “What makes me even more excited is how we could radically impact the people’s lives who worked there, which in return improves the business. Happy Employees > Happy Customers > Happy Business.”

Why the name Garden City? “The biblical story of the Garden of Eden where all people are created in the image and likeness of God to thrive, prosper, and flourish. That’s what we intend to replicate. A place where everyone has a sense of purpose, where work is life-giving, and they have an opportunity to actualize their God-given potential.”

Michael leans back, and you can see the future in his eyes. The same future envisioned by Adam, Abraham, Daniel, and believers all throughout antiquity to modern times.

The whispers of the future are in the air, carried along by our coming King’s grace, and grace upon grace, we are invited to play a part in creating the good life.


He smiles again and gets up from his chair.

There’s work to do.

Will you join?

Discover How You Can Create for Change

More than voting. More than arguing on social media. Committing to real cultural change requires so much more. Discover your creative calling today.

[1] Daniel Strange, “Co-belligerence and Common Grace: Can the enemy of my enemy be my friend?” The Cambridge Papers, Sept. 2005, vol. 14, no. 3.

[2] Francis Schaeffer, Plan for Action: An Action Alternative Handbook for ‘Whatever Happened to the Human Race?’, Flemming H. Revell, 1980, p.68.

[3] Daniel Strange, “Co-belligerence and Common Grace: Can the enemy of my enemy be my friend?” The Cambridge Papers, Sept. 2005, vol. 14, no. 3.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Tim Keller The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), p 53

[6] Hugh Whelchel How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, The May 2012 p 39

[7] Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), xii.

[8] John Murray Writings p 102-103

[9] Hugh Whelchel How Then Should We Work: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, The May 2012 p 37

[10] Scott Kauffmann, “The Problem of Good” (last accessed Feb 8, 2020).



[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.


[16] Ibid.

Joel Ohman

Joel Ohman is a serial tech entrepreneur, author, and the chief creator at Created for Change. You can connect with Joel at or via LinkedIn.