What distinguishes Christian leadership from leadership in other fields is its end, its telos – to cultivate thriving communities that are signs of God’s reign. What do we mean by “cultivate thriving communities”?

Cultivating is the work of preparing and tending, but this is not solitary work; rather, it depends on the gifts of God in the form of people, materials and places. We thrive when we are able to fulfill our created purpose, which is not limited to the work we do inside the doors of our institutions. We are created for community, with one another and with God.

This page describes the idea of thriving communities, through reflections on the Acts of the Apostles, and introduces you to places living into this vision. We recommend that you read the essays in order and then turn to the stories and recommended books.

Exploring the idea

What is Christian about Christian leadership? »

Theologian L. Gregory Jones, the dean of Duke Divinity School, says it is our purpose, our telos. And that is to cultivate thriving communities that bear witness to the inbreaking reign of God that Jesus announces and embodies in all that we do and are. This should shape the way we think about our lives, our institutions and the way we lead our institutions.

The pattern of life in thriving communities »

In a seven-part series, New Testament scholar C. Kavin Rowe writes that the Acts of the Apostles pressures us to see six features that are the essence of the church.

Networking: Early Christians built communities where resources were plentiful »

The early Christians used the advantages of such places to develop communities that could have easy contact with one another and could become, by means of their communication and interconnection, “brothers and sisters” in Christ, Rowe writes.

Visibility: Early Christians did not separate their public and private lives »

Rowe writes that in Acts being Christian is by its very nature a public confession and identity. Contrary to what we might normally think, “Christian” was not first used as an internal self-designation. It was instead a term coined by outsiders, by those who could see a thriving community and needed a word with which to describe them.

Thriving includes provision for and inclusion of the weak and the downtrodden »

Making room for the weak is not a kind of “add-on” to the central mission of the church but is something integral and internal to its identity, Rowe writes. Acts displays what becomes a central feature of the thinking of the church’s leaders: they look beyond the need to “fix” a problem (of which there are several in Acts) and instead think about thriving in a much longer-term perspective.

Incorporating conflict and disagreement into a community »

Rowe writes that such work entails the intertwining of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, the prefiguring and confirming role of Scripture, and the discerning work of the community’s leaders.

Learning to articulate why your community exists »

A thriving community is one that knows why it exists at all -- the content of its being as a community -- and is able to articulate to others this reason for its existence, Rowe writes. It has developed ways of teaching this articulacy to the new people who join the community so that there is a transmission of and continuity in community identity and mission.

Suffering is part of thriving »

The Book of Acts portrays Christian communities that thrive despite suffering -- not because of an affirmation of the meaningfulness of all difficulty but because of the hope they know from the pattern of Jesus’ life, Rowe writes.

Seeing the Idea in Practice


A church that serves, reflects and has grown out of the community

A congregation of low-income people, ex-cons, rural folk and military families embodies the features of thriving communities. Read more »

Small church with big impact

A small church with a big impact

Despite being a small, rural congregation in an impoverished part of North Carolina, Sandy Plains United Methodist Church has sent a large proportion of its members into mission, leaving some to wonder: How has this tiny church produced so many leaders? Read more »

Amazing grace

A mission to include the downtrodden

A Florida megachurch intentionally seeks “the people nobody else wants or sees.” And it is growing.
Read more »

The dot connectors

A new model of nonprofit brings together people for systemic change

Strive creates collaborative partnerships among others, in this case to improve education for children in Cincinnati. Read more »

Recommended resources to learn more

Living into Community

Christine D. Pohl offers insight into four practices of Christian life: Embracing gratitude; making and keeping promises; living truthfully; and practicing hospitality.
Learn more about this recommendation »
Purchase this book »

Practicing Our Faith

Edited by Dorothy Bass, this book is a call to a life shaped by practices. The website offers additional resources.
Learn more about this recommendation »
Purchase this book »



Anglican minister and scholar Samuel Wells uses the art of theatrical improvisation to explore how Christians can become “so soaked in a tradition that you learn to take the right things for granted.”
Learn more about this recommendation »
Purchase this book »

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Pastoral study grants

The Louisville Institute Pastoral Study Project Grant awards grants of up to $20,000 to support individual or collaborative study projects on Christian life, religious practices and institutions, and ideas for the church, communities or the world. Clergy, lay leaders and staff working in diverse Christian contexts in the United States or Canada are eligible to apply. Deadline is August 1.

Learn more