In churches, I’ve noticed that much is made over the difference between centered set and bounded set communities.
A centered-set community – often embraced by progressives – is a community where the best and clearest values are the center towards which all persons are called (while recognizing that people are at different points in their relationship with/journey towards that center). A bounded-set community – often embraced by conservatives – focuses on a community where there are clear rules and boundaries to which all persons within the community are called to observe and practice (while recognizing that people are either in or out depending on their relationship with the boundaries).
In a conversation with a ministry colleague, I was told that I “tend to the boundaries more than my predecessor”. The comment was meant to be helpful. It was then that I realized that, to some, tending to the boundaries is not a good thing. Yet, I’m regularly in conversation with other ministry colleagues, who are equally convinced that without clear boundaries cooperative relationships within community are not possible.
I’m convinced that these two ways (and there are many more…) of understanding the nature of communities do not serve us well when they are pitted against each other.
Put differently, I believe healthy relationships – within community – need a balance of both. We need to elevate our best and clearest values and practices. We need to call ourselves and others to live out these values and practices (of which following Jesus is the center for me within Christian community). We need to be gracious with ourselves and others when we fall short. We ALSO need to identify important boundaries that limit destructive attitudes and actions in our midst. We need to be unapologetic and unafraid to maintain healthy boundaries.
We all need to be called towards the good and called into account for the bad such that we mature in relationship to ourselves and others. This is at the center of Jesus’ instruction to teach obedience to His teaching as a way of life.
In what ways do you benefit from centered set and bounded set community? Not one or the other, but both in balance (with an appropriate dose of love, grace and accountability).