Discerning a Community’s Ethos

Scaffolding: Discerning a Community’s Ethos

Each community possesses their own peculiar construction of reality and truth in their intellectual scaffold. The challenge awaiting leaders is to discern accurately their respective community’s scaffold in order to pinpoint ways to inject the gospel’s realities into their mindset. To do this effectively, a number of factors need consideration as a part of an overall strategy to identify and to contextualize accurately.

How a community specifically constructs their views of life, truth and reality depends upon several key components such as, but not limited to the following:

  • Event ethos: the forging effects of events (good or bad) upon people (crimes, weather catastrophes, ceremonies, economic development).
  • Institutional presences: schools, universities, churches, government, unions, organizations.
  • Economic livelihood: how people make a living (are there good jobs in the area vs. living off entitlements).
  • Household composition (single, single-parent, two-parent, same-sex homes and the number of children associated with them (associated with this is neighborhood transitions and the stability of households).
  • Informational and educational outlets: where people get informed and educated (TV, radio, internet, libraries, newspapers, schools, etc.).
  • Association identity: things within the community that builds or destroys unity (winning or losing sports teams, “this is the birthplace of…”).

It is important to understand that within each component that contributes to community identity, there are “pockets of the population” that are influenced by these sectors. While no business or church can reach every kind of person in a community, they can target specific population pockets within each sector by discerning their mode of thinking and by finding ways to access it in as many ways as possible. Some possible modes of access are:

  • Affinity bridges: using people/professions to sync with people of similar affinities (getting lawyers, teachers, business people you already know to connect you with other lawyers, teachers, business people, etc.).
  • Community forums: inviting pockets of population to special events, roundtables or discussions around a specific topic that interests them.
  • Community invite: bringing in a noted speaker or authority and inviting personally as many people in that authority’s sphere of influence to come, using the occasion to engage discussion and feedback.
  • Community blogs: center on an issue and invite response using some form of social media.

Information gleaned from community access leads to the work of “piecing,” the process where specific elements of a community’s intellectual scaffold are recognized and determined through dialogue and deliberation. Here, the use and quality of questions posed will supply or hinder the value of information sought. In addition to questions, the use of community responses through polls and gatherings as well as the recall of shared experiences (events, happenings that previously brought people together throughout the community) are extremely helpful in determining the elements of a possible community ethos.

Over the course of time, the piecing elements of a community’s mindset find their affiliation with other elements (beliefs, values) in a scaffolding framework through a process known as “framing.” Here the peculiar components (philosophies, virtues, “isms”) are ascertained, charted and prioritized. From this time of discerned prioritization, scaffolding platforms (main beliefs) surface, allowing leaders to see the pillars of thought that ground a specific community’s belief system.

Framing gives leaders the opportunity to prioritize and to contour the elements of the Christian gospel to speak to the individual pieces of a community’s scaffold, and to the scaffold-as-a-whole in the process of contextualization. Without piecing and framing, contextualization would be difficult, if not impossible. It takes determined, detailed and deliberate work to determine the pieces of a community’s intellectual scaffold and to frame it in a way that makes sense for gospel contextualization. Allowing the power and richness of the gospel to address the issues and structures of a community’s scaffold (mental and spiritual) in contextualization positions churches and leaders to experience potentially greater fruit and impact as they seek to be diligent and faithful in the proclamation of the Christian truth.