Creative Communities

Creating for change relationally, vocationally, and communally with the people God has placed in close cultural proximity to us is how we become better together. Forming creative communities organically and/or intentionally can kickstart the creative process. Learn how to be strategic and intentional with a creative community in your context.

Home » Culture » Creative Communities

Creative communities unleash something powerful in the creative process. Creating for change that makes a lasting impact is not something we do just individually, but something we do creating in community. Creating for change relationally, vocationally, and communally with the people God has placed in close cultural proximity to us is how we become better together.

Creative Networks

“The key actor in history is not individual genius, but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks.” – James Davison Hunter

Arguing. Fighting. Harsh words. The first twenty-three years of marriage were very difficult, Lori remembers. But Lori Alexander points to the exact moment when the epiphany arrived. “In my mind, few things were off limits when it came to my desire to “fix” Ken and make him into the husband I thought he should be… Instead of doing marriage my own way and trying to control Ken, which only increased the feelings of separation between us, I began to search for ways to please my husband and follow God’s plan for a strong marriage.” [1] Today, Lori’s teaching and writing have impacted thousands of woman and families, with millions of readers visiting her blog, The Transformed Wife, and reading her books. And it all started in her own home, patiently and faithfully creating for change in relationships with those closest to her.

But you certainly don’t need to start a popular blog or write a book to create for change relationally. And you don’t even need to be married, have four grown married children, and nine grandchildren like Lori! While God’s plan for a family is a beautiful, wonderful thing, if God has called you to singleness, either for a season or a reason, then never forget that Jesus was single! Don’t let anyone malign your calling, whether that means living as a single person dedicated to the Lord, or a married person with ten kids. While our specific callings may differ, we all share a general calling to create for change relationally with the people God has placed around us.

At the risk of sounding trite, we start changing the culture around us, by, well, starting with those right around us. While it is important to emphasize the culture-shaping impact of institutions and networks that act as the scaffolding of culture change throughout history, a look at fostering creative communities must begin with the people God has placed closest to us along the creator’s journey. And when we create, other creators join us.

Cultural Proximity

Do you ever feel dismayed when thinking about the incredible number of suffering people in the world? Starving children in Asia, war-torn nations in Africa displacing families by the thousands, and orphanages full to overflowing in Russia. It can be easy to get so discouraged at the immensity of the problems around the world that we just give up and don’t try to do anything, preferring to think about something else. While it’s certainly true that you aren’t called to fix all of the world’s problems; it’s not true that you are called to ignore all problems. The biblical principle of moral proximity states that we hold a greater moral responsibility to help those closest to us than to those far away. Here, closeness can mean geographically, and also relationally. The needy person we encounter in our neighborhood and the needy family member or church member have all been placed in our circle of relationships by a sovereign Creator who is the divine orchestrator of every relationship we have. So too, do we have a greater cultural proximity to create for change with those closest to us.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites greatest responsibility was to their own family, then tribe, then nation, then other nations. Paul reinforces this in the New Testament, going so far as to say that if you don’t provide for your family you are worse than an unbeliever. [2] In Galatians 6:10, Paul advocates for helping everyone we can, whenever we have an opportunity to do so, [emphasis added] and especially to those who are believers. In 1 John 3:16-18, the warning is clear: if we see someone in front of us with a need and we are able to meet that need, but we turn away from them, then how can the love of God dwell in us?

And that is why the parable of the Good Samaritan is so compelling. Religious people with the opportunity and the means to help, simply walked on by. Would the priest and Levite have faced the same compulsion to act were they to have taken a different route that day and never even seen the man in need? No. In 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul encourages the church to give extravagantly in order to grow in generosity, but unlike 1 John 3, not as an “ought”. The difference? Moral proximity.

Pastor Kevin DeYoung provides an example that illustrates. “I think the best way to understand 1 John 3 is as a reference to fellow Christians in their midst who are destitute and need relief, not just to any brother anywhere. So, if a family in your church loses everything in a flood, and insurance won’t replace most of it, you have an obligation to do something. If you let them starve or live out on the street you do not have the love of God in you. But if the same thing happens to a whole bunch of families in a church three states over, it would be generous of you to help, but the obligation is not the same. This is the difference between 1 John 3 and 2 Corinthians 8-9.” [3]

Practically speaking, the principle of moral proximity helps us concentrate on the needs displayed in the relationships God has placed us in, but what about social media and the Internet, and the needs we can uncover on GoFundMe in seconds? “Obviously, this principle of moral proximity gets tricky very quickly. With modern communication and travel we have millions of needs right in front of us. So, are we under an obligation to help in every instance? No. The principle gets harder to navigate in our age, but it still is helpful. The intensity of our moral obligations depends on how well we know the people, how connected they are to us, and whether those closer to the situation can and should assist first.” [4]

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.

Where to Start Creating for Change

So where should you start creating for change? The principle of cultural proximity gives a simple answer. Where you are, with the people God has placed in your life. When you see a need and are the one best able to help, then help. Creating for change relationally also means creating new relationships with those around you. The neighbor you see pull into their garage each day, try getting to know them.

The person you walk past in the squat rack at the gym each week, try talking to them (timing is everything, here). And, maybe, that guy you see every day panhandling on the corner, yes, I know that maybe they will blow it on booze and drugs, but have you ever wondered why God has chosen that guy on that corner to cross paths with you each day? Maybe you could talk to him? Pray for him? Maybe pray for him and talk to him? Maybe you could give him a couple dollars every single time you see him and then maybe he will want to talk to you?

I drove home from work a new way and new time one day and rolled my window down to give my usual granola bar and a dollar and a “Jesus loves you” to someone begging at the exit ramp, and discovered it was the same guy I had been doing that for in the mornings on the other side of town. He ran over with a smile. “Hey, it’s you!” It made my day, and maybe his too. And it wasn’t an accident. When you see things through the lens of cultural proximity—really, God’s sovereignty—then creating for change relationally becomes purposeful and exciting.

Creating for Change Relationally

Will Mancini, founder of the church consulting group Auxano, and the personal vision casting company Younique, has helped thousands of churches and individuals find the strategy, values, and vision that God has called them to, but he will tell you that he has also done the same thing for his own family. Many families come together under a shared family mission statement and living in close community with others can be a shared value.

For the Mancini family, Will talks about the importance of having “refrigerator friends”—people in your life who feel so close to you that they feel comfortable enough to just open your refrigerator and look for something to eat whenever they feel like it—or “2:00AM friends”—those people who you know that if you call them at 2:00AM they will not only pick up the phone but be ready and willing to help you in time of need. Creating Christian culture can happen first on the cul-de-sac, then in the community, and then across all of Creation, with our Creator’s shalom spreading from the smallest of increments, one simple relationship, until it changes the world.

In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren points to the importance of everyday, normal life moments—preparing dinner for the family, taking the dog for a walk, and the like—that God uses to mold and shape His people that then shape the culture around them. “God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.” [5] Just like the creation of a symphony begins with a single note, so too does creating for change relationally often start with the small moments of daily life.

In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard suggests that where “transformation is actually carried out is in our real life, where we dwell with God and our neighbors. . . First, we must accept the circumstances we constantly find ourselves in as the place of God’s kingdom and blessing. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are.” [6] Maybe the simplest admonishment for those of us who want to create for change relationally is to simply be where you are, available and engaged with the opportunities the Spirit places before you. As the saying goes: how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. [7]

But can we be strategic and intentional with our everyday living as we attempt to create for change relationally? Rosaria Butterfield thinks so. In an attempt to serve her neighbors, Rosaria and her family make sacrifices big and small every day in order to make their home a welcoming, inviting respite for neighbors, young and old, believers and unbelievers, put-together and not-so-put-together. Creating for change this way is not for everyone, and not without risk. She tells the story of a neighbor, a young man named Hank, his pit bull Tank, and they would soon discover, his meth lab.

Neighborhood Grace

Hank didn’t cut his grass for three months, he let the one-hundred-pound Tank roam the streets without collar or tags, and he would receive phone calls that would send him into an apoplectic rage, shouting obscenities across the length of the dead-end street where Rosaria and her family (with young children) shared a street. And yet, Rosaria and family made a concerted effort to get to know Hank, even to invite him into their home and to explore the woods nearby, letting their dogs roam together. When they awoke one morning to discover DEA agents swarming Hank’s property, Rosaria and her family’s house became the neighborhood crisis management center. Rosaria remembers questioning their choice not to barricade themselves in their house: “We could berate ourselves with criticism: How could we have allowed this meth addict into our hearts and our home? But that, of course, is not what Jesus calls us to do.”

Rosaria recounts that fateful morning when their quiet neighborhood was thrown into disarray. “As neighbors filed into our front yard, which had become front-row seats for an unfolding drama of epic magnitude, I scrambled eggs, put on a big pot of coffee, set out Bibles, and invited them in. Who else but Bible-believing Christians can make redemptive sense of tragedy? Who can see hope in the promises of God when the real, lived circumstances look dire? Who else knows that the sin that will undo me is my own, not my neighbor’s, no matter how big my neighbor’s sin may appear? And where else but a Christian home should neighbors go in times of unprecedented crisis? Where else is it safe to be vulnerable, scared, lost, hopeless? How else could we teach our children how to apply faith to the facts of life, a process that cancels out neither reality as it begs Jesus for hope, help, redemptive purpose, and saving grace?” [8]

Rosaria and her family created change relationally in their quiet suburban neighborhood by practicing radically ordinary hospitality that didn’t worry about inviting different perspectives into their home to share a meal, but simply lived out a life of radical generosity, realizing that there is a different between acceptance and approval, and courageously being willing to grow close to those far from God. It was a teachable time for Rosaria to explain to her kids and even to herself that, “Jesus dined with sinners, but he didn’t sin with sinners. Jesus lived in the world, but he didn’t live like the world. This is the Jesus paradox.” [9] This is what it means to create for change relationally with the opportunities God gives us in our daily lives.

Creating for Change Vocationally

If you’ve spent any amount of time in a church setting, you’ve likely felt this implicit pressure to elevate the callings of pastor, missionary and other “full-time” Christian workers. To be clear, this pressure comes from a good place. Those are amazing, praise-worthy callings, and I love my pastors and missionaries. But is this a healthy way to view God’s calling on each of our lives? Are those called to something other than “full-time ministry” somehow second-class citizens in this faux-hierarchical arrangement of callings?

Sometimes this message is even explicit. I can remember vividly a moment I experienced in my undergraduate schooling that—confession is good for the soul, bad for the reputation here—almost literally shocked me awake in an early morning mandatory chapel service. The speaker, a visiting pastor, confidently asserted, in so many words, that if “you’re not planning on going into ‘full-time ministry,’ you aren’t following God’s calling for your life.” I sat up in my seat. Was this one of those semantic shock techniques, designed by a professional and polished public speaker, to get the attention of an early morning crowd of college students attending a compulsory chapel service—the big reveal something along the lines of, “so we are all in ‘full-time ministry’ no matter what profession you choose”? No, his message was clear. God wants each of us to aspire to be a pastor, missionary, or—playing to the crowd here—a Christian educator. All of the other professions? Second-class. Second-best. Not in God’s will.

My heart raced. That couldn’t be right. I certainly didn’t have the benefit of having taken the excellent “Doctrine of Work” course at Southeastern Seminary yet, but I just knew something was off. My major was Business, not Bible. I was planning on getting my MBA and starting a business. Was that plan something less than God’s best for my life? What about all the other students in the business department? Were we destined for a life of simply being good tithers to support those who were “really doing God’s will for their life”?

So, I did what any know-it-all college student does: as soon as the service ended, I made a beeline for the speaker, followed by a cadre of fellow business majors who had heard my grumbling. My question was simple. “Are you telling me that if I believe God is calling me to be an entrepreneur, I should follow your advice and your personal calling instead?” To his credit, the pastor graciously backtracked. He admitted he had gotten a little carried away in his enthusiasm for his personal calling as a pastor and his desire to see other young people raised up to follow in his steps. He instructed each of us to follow God’s specific call on our lives, whether that was to become a pastor or businessperson. I thanked him and walked to accounting class to classmates’ cheers of having “won” the “debate.”

In my friend Jordan Raynor’s outstanding book, Called to Create, from which this personal story is also recounted, [10] he reminds us that this tendency to assign each vocation a slot in a hierarchy of callings is not only unbiblical, but also not in line with much of church history. Martin Luther, John Calvin and other Reformers argued in the strongest terms that all work, even so-called “secular” work, is important, and it is just as much a calling from God as the most esteemed pastor, priest or missionary. Our highest calling is God’s calling of us to Himself, to serve and glorify Him in the context and vocation He has placed us, using the skills, personality traits and opportunities He has provided to us. Sometimes we can best serve and glorify Him in some form of classic “full-time ministry,” while quite often we do so by being a baker, bus driver, barber or business owner.

Every vocation is important. The work we do matters to God. We should not lightly esteem any calling God has given us. May we respect and honor our pastors, missionaries and those of us called to “full-time ministry,” but may we recognize that each of our callings is no less important to God, His Kingdom and the ever-marching, ever-transforming work of Christ in our hearts and the world around us.

So, if each of our callings is important, and if we will spend many tens of thousands of hours of our lives working in our careers, then how might we create for change vocationally in a way consistent with God’s plan for worldwide shalom?

The first thing to realize is that work is good! God models work for us. A healthy life rhythm of work and then rest is both modeled by God and prescribed by God for our benefit and the benefit of those around us. It is worth remembering that work is pre-Fall. Has sin made the struggles and toils of work that much more challenging? Yes. But work itself is still good. Work is not a curse, but a gift from God. Unfortunately, even if we internalize the Puritan work ethic, and realize that working hard is a good thing—this is good! —we can often lapse into a stunted Theology of Work that views work as good only insomuch as it is a means to a greater end. As a vehicle for sharing our faith, or as a tithe-generating and missions-supporting revenue generator, for example. But not only is work itself inherently good and glorifying to God, but work is one of the primary means that God has ordained for us to create for change. The Creation Mandate involves work, and building the garden city requires both inspiration and perspiration.

Dale Partridge, founder of Sevenly, and author of People Over Profit, recognizes that creating for change vocationally requires an others-focused mentality. He recounts wrestling through the messy, day-to-day realities of becoming a “people-matter” organization. “Companies that believe people matter must believe that all people matter… At Sevenly… it would take resolve to ensure that people were valued in every nook and cranny of our organization. So, we took drastic steps to protect the belief that everyone is worth loving, caring for, and serving well. We hired a full-time staff person—a director of culture and community—tasked with making sure our employees are happy, valued, and building strong relationships with one another. We make sure that even in our office, we are valuing people over profit. And this person holds us accountable. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that being radically people-centric can happen by osmosis. This must be built in. We have learned that what drives people more than anything is purpose. Not pay and benefits, but purpose.” [11]

Creating for Change Communally

If Joel Salatin is not the most interesting man in the world, then surely he is the most interesting farmer in the world. A man that defies easy description, that doesn’t stop him from labeling himself as a “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer”. [12] With a wry, cutting wit that makes it easy to see why he has an office full of debate trophies from his high school and college days, Joel laughs when he recounts how polarizing a figure he has become. Those who like him call him the most famous farmer in the world, the high priest of pasture, and the most eclectic thinker from Virginia since Thomas Jefferson. Those who don’t like him call him a bioterrorist, Typhoid Mary, charlatan, and starvation advocate. [13]

Though the author of twelve books, Joel is no ivory tower intellectual; he’s got the dirt under his fingernails and the calluses to prove it. He co-owns, with his family, Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia.  Featured in Michael Pollan’s outstanding New York Times bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the award-winning documentary Food Inc., Joel, through his farm, serves the community around him—more than 5,000 families, 50 restaurants, 10 retail outlets, and a farmers’ market with salad bar beef, pigaerator pork, pastured poultry, and forestry products—and creates for change communally in a local way that has world-changing ramifications.

“He is a real beacon for farmers all over the place, and yet it comes from how successful he is on the most local of levels.” Patrick Martins, president and co-founder of Heritage Foods USA says in clear admiration. [14] And yet, Joel demurs. “We don’t aspire to an empire… What we aspire to is to have the best food available.” Joel is as comfortable lecturing on the ethics of sustainable environmentalism at Stanford as he is discussing crop rotation at the local 4-H club. If a man’s gift opens doors for him and brings him before those of great influence and power, [15] it’s implied that the gift must actually be used.

And Joel is not one to waste anything. When he first decided to try farming full-time, Joel and his wife Teresa produced their own meat, milk, butter, bread, and anything else they could possibly re-use or re-purpose they did, inventing one novel technique after another for cows, chickens, and rabbits (and mankind) to live together in a symbiotic way. “I always said if I could figure out a way to grow Kleenex and toilet paper on trees, we could pull the plug on society,” Joel said, only half-joking. In many ways, this high priest of the sustainable farming movement embodies the philosophy that those who serve others in a way that brings honor to their Creator, focusing on excellence in their work, craftsmanship in the details, and faithfulness over many years, may start out small and local, but over time this patient, work-boots-on-the-ground culture making can result in an audience before elite hierarchies of power and influence.

When we create for change relationally, vocationally, and communally then we are better together. And as the Spirit works through our faithful day-by-day culture making then little things turn into big things. In the next chapter we learn how each of our various God-given Creative Types can work together in harmony to achieve creative cooperation.

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] Lori Alexander, The Power of a Transformed Wife October 2016 p 8

[2] 1 Timothy 5:8

[3] Kevin DeYoung Social Justice and the Poor (1)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Tish Harrison Warren Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life IVP Books, November 2016 p 21

[6] Dallas Willard The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God Harper Collins, 1998. p 347-348

[7] Annie Dillard, The Writing Life Harper & Row, 1989, p 32

[8] Rosaria Butterfield The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World Crossway, 2018 p 18

[9] Ibid. p 12

[10] This passage is also adapted from an article I wrote for The Intersect Project titled, Is There a Hierarchy of Callings? on January 7, 2019

[11] Dale Partridge People Over Profit Harper Collins 2015 p 69


[13] Ibid


[15] Proverbs 18:16

Posted in ,

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.