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The Search for Community

Are you tempted to go it alone? Jo Saxton helps us rethink what community means.


The Search for Community

By Jo Saxton

There have always been other people around and actively involved in my life, up close, and in my business from an early age. I inherited the large extended family of immigrants that my parents met in the early years of establishing their lives in the United Kingdom. Many were from the same Yoruba tribe, with a shared language, traditions, and practices. Others were from tribes within Nigeria or beyond.

I didn’t have one mother; I had mothers. It was a loud and vibrant blessing unless I was in trouble. When I was in trouble, my mum would send me to see them all—Aunty Bassey, Aunty Margaret, Aunty Olive—for advice, instruction, correction, and some occasional nagging. But Christmas and birthdays and other special occasions had awesome potential because I had mothers and aunties and uncles and cousins. So many cousins!

Therefore, it was part of our way of life that you wouldn’t ever make a pot of rice for just yourself (or even just a few people). You didn’t know who was coming around, and there needed to be enough for everyone and extra to take home. It also meant that, regardless of the size your apartment everybody was going to live with you (much to my chagrin), for some time at some point in some way.

Family was never defined as “nuclear” (at least not in its size). It always extended, it was a lot, and I still miss it.

It’s a largely Western phenomenon where the primary understanding of “family” was who you married and who you gave birth to—the nuclear family. While the nuclear family is often credited with offering greater independence, mobility, and economic opportunity, people also reflect on the cost. Novelist and software engineer Nicole Sallak Anderson states that for all its benefits, the nuclear family “has also isolated us, creating situations where many adults are lonely. Whether stay-at-home parents, single moms and dads, or even the elderly in nursing homes, we have paid a price for the pretty little cages we call home.”

When we look at cultures and communities in the Bible, again we see the extended family in action. Jesus described His followers in familial terms (see Matthew 12:47–50), and prayerfully and intentionally selected people for that group. Later in in the New Testament,oikos is the word used to describe a household formed by blood and non-blood ties. The oikos was also a center for community and business life and launched the first leaders of the fledgling churches in the Graeco-Roman world.

Author John Coleman remarks, “Some of the greatest accomplishments in business, politics, and culture have come not from individual initiative alone but from those working in, with, and for community.” As the African proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child. I believe it also takes a village to raise a leader. It takes a village to nurture, sustain, and propel a leader forward. It takes an oikos and extended family, a community, a friendship group, and a sisterhood. A range of people with a range of gifts, skills, insights, and investments to make in a leader’s life in myriad ways. When we’ve built villages around our leadership and lives, we accomplish far more than we could ever hope to accomplish on our own.

Living and leading with purpose is a collective work. At its most basic, functional level, the concept of a village sounds beneficial. Who wouldn’t want the support of a village of people? Functioning at its best, it sounds like the healing, transformative antidote for our climb-to-the-top leadership.

Why does it almost seem like a radical and countercultural idea, then?

Excerpted from Ready to Rise: Own Your Voice, Gather Your Community, Step into Your Influence. Copyright © 2020 by Jo Saxton. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Jo Saxton is an author, speaker, podcaster, and entrepreneurial coach. Born to Nigerian parents and raised in London, Jo brings a multicultural and international perspective to her leadership training for women. A sought-after speaker, Jo has a diverse calendar addressing universities, churches, national conferences, nonprofits, and corporations, including Q, Catalyst, Evereve, NoonDay Collection, LakeShore Media, and internationally in the U.K. and Australia. She is co-host of the podcast Lead Stories and the founder of the Ezer Collective, an initiative that equips women in leadership. Jo is the author of three books, including Ready to Rise, and The Dream of You.


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