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The Search for Clarity and Confidence – how to work out your Christian Distinctive

June 4 2018


What does it mean for Christian organisations to express their christian distinctiveness? Just how ‘faith based’ should charities be? How do you explore organisational ethos and get a helpful approach? Anna Ruddick and Ruth Young from Livability’s Community Engagement team argue the case for the importance of values based organisations and how to explore Christian ethos when there are differing views.

Facilitation workshops for values

As a charity with a broad and inclusive Christian ethos, Livability’s Community Engagement team has helped a number of organisations work through how their values and faith distinctive shapes their work. Anna Ruddick and Ruth Young of Livability’s Community Engagement team recently led a reflection day on Christian Distinctiveness for the founder and trustees of the innovative youth charity ‘Hebe’.

The Hebe Foundation, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017, is a London-wide charity working with young people to help them identify and use their talents and gifts. It is directed by the awarding-winning founder and director Amie Buhari. Amie realised they needed to do some work in this area and that having some external facilitation would really help: ‘I felt we needed to feel more comfortable and confident with our Christian identity. We work with young people in both Christian and non-Christian contexts so we struggled with labelling our projects as implicit or explicit.’

Fleshing out vision and shared values

Having agreed to run a workshop, Anna Ruddick and Ruth Young planned a day around the questions Amie and the trustees had about their Christian identity. As Anna explains: ‘Amie had a vision for the future of Hebe. It centred around a picture of a tree and this became the central image that we worked with on the day. The advantage of creating a bespoke training day is we could focus directly on Hebe’s culture and vision and their own questions, so the workshop was all about helping them talk their specific issues through so they could decide together what they needed to do.’

Amie admitted that the most difficult part of the day was discussing their individual views and opinions and they recognised that this had led to some differences in the way the faith of the organisation was being presented. They also found it hard to define their ethos: ‘Trying to get the right tone was challenging but useful. We found the roots/tree exercise great as it was specific to Hebe and compatible with our vision moving forward.’

Exploring ethos together is important

‘Everyone has a different view of expressing ethos. For some there can be a lot of fear about appearing ‘too Christian’ or ‘not Christian enough’. For people motivated to make a positive difference in their communities having to navigate these extremes can seem hard work. But giving some time to hammering out together what you think, how the purpose of your work connects to your identity, your mission and your values, can give you confidence to describe your work clearly to a variety of audiences. It also enables you to maintain a clear focus over time and ensure that volunteers, staff and community members all understand where you are coming from.’ says Anna.

Tips to consider when expressing ethos

Discussing and working out values and distinctiveness isn’t always easy. Anna and Ruth offer some important advice in how to approach it.

  • Talk about it! There will be differences of opinion and big questions to address, especially if you are coming from different Christian traditions. But ignoring the elephant in the room won’t help in the long run.
  • Go back to basics! In an ideal world your Christian ethos (who), should drive your mission (what) and shape your values (how), leading to your core aims or purpose, (what you hope to achieve).
  • Don’t panic! Christian distinctiveness is not an either/or choice between full on ‘Bible-bashing’ and abandoning faith altogether. Jesus’ analogies of the lamp on the stand and yeast in the dough demonstrate that very different approaches to Christian presence are all part of expressing God’s kingdom.

How did it help Hebe?

Amie is clear that the workshop was just what they needed to move forward: ‘We now feel much more confident in who we are in relation to our faith. We are going to identify across all our projects those that are implicit or explicit. We are also going to feed this learning into our strategy with more intent. We are due to choose new trustees and this will now firmly be considered with regards to our ethos.’

If you would like Livability’s community engagement team to help you reflect on questions of Christian distinctiveness please get in touch with us at joinin@livability.org.uk

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