Introduction to New Monasticism pt 3

Guy reading book


What do I mean by “post-modern reading”?! How can that be any different from just reading?!

It begins with a pattern that is probably be familiar to you as a reader. This is where God arrests a person in their spiritual journey through a book. And the reader knows that God is inviting of them some new obedience some change in their engagement with him and his mission.

Such readers want to anchor that encounter with God, and pursue the implications of it. And they may want to make that journey with others, responding to the same call. It is a mark of postmodern readers that they don’t read a book simply to sit at the feet of an expert and take notes. They want encounter, they want dialogue, they want to engage. They want to be a part of the story themselves.

The Fellowship of St Aidan and St Hilda – would be an example of an associate structure that has flowed from the writings of Ray Simpson
Renovare – a dispersed community structure flowing from the writing of Richard Foster
Promise Keepers – in the States would be a similar phenomenon
• And perhaps to an extent networks in Australia like Forge resulting from the literary output of people like Alan Hirsch

All would be examples of books that have become Associate Networks or Dispersed fellowships. If FB had existed in the nineteenth century William Law’s “Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life” would have resulted in such a “Tribe” – to use the postmodern phrase. In reality it did – they just couldn’t communicate quite as publicly as FB allows.

Like the monastic version, the networks might share a discipline and rhythm of life and a pattern of gathering with a regional chapter, which might meet every month for activity centred, in effect – on conversion of life. The ecclesiological challenge here is that for many people it may be in those chapters that they enjoy their most meaningful engagement with the Body of Christ. Some of the noise on FB and Twitter and some of today’s talk about “Tribes” is really a reference to people seeking such ways of journeying together.


In my interactions with new groups around Australia I have found that those two trends repeatedly go together. They certainly do in history.

In the 7th century when Aidan of Lindisfarne set out to convert a nation, he deliberately emulated an old pattern – that of Patrick of Ireland – and that of Jesus and his Apostles. And Aidan was quite open about that. Aidan and his peers looked to an old pattern in order to reach a new missiological challenge – which they did.

In the 13th century Francis of Assisi believed his approach was a return to the patterns of the Apostles. Again he reached for an old pattern in order to meet a new missiological challenge.

In the 18th century John Wesley consciously borrowed from Francis and the Mendicants – to reach a new generation of people totally outside the reach of the parish churches. Which he did.

In his turn William Booth consciously sought a return to Wesleyan patterns – again for the sake of fruitful mission. Which he achieved.

Sisters and Brothers, pioneers are often reclaimers of forgotten ways – to use Mike Frost’s term.

Here’s another map (FIG 6) – view this as concentric circles, centred on…

PLEDGED CO-HOUSING (at the centre)
Residential members in the host house
People considering joining
Members / workers who live elsewhere but share the rule of life
People who come and stay for refuge or renewal
People gathering for church

Looks familiar doesn’t it?! Somewhat similar to the monastic map? It’s a map that would describe a great number of groups feeling their way forward today. But the Crowded House in Sheffield – which is now seeding work in WA – didn’t get there by trying to emulate monastic ways. This model arose when two Youth Workers were offered the use of an empty Baptist Manse. They came to it with two questions:

• THE MISSIONAL QUESTION: “If we were doing mission in virgin territory – if we were newly moved into a town in Morocco or Thailand – if we were starting from scratch what would we do? What if we did that here? And in a way relevant to people here?” 

THE HERITAGE QUESTION: “If we were to go back to the agreement – that bound the original members of this Baptist church – a pledge to belong to one another and journey together as a body of Christian believers – what might that look like today?” (Some call this the “founding charism” question)

FIGURE 6 is where it took them.

• The Crowded House (WA & UK)
• Jesus Generation (Canberra & UK)
• The Jesus Army (International)
• Victory Outreach (International) – began as a mission to addicts among the street people – evolved into a network of church communities run for and by ex addicts.
• The Community of the Transfiguration (Melbourne)

…would all tell stories like that. Some reclaiming Baptist heritage, some Congregationalist heritage, some Methodist heritage, some monastic heritage… but all ending up in very similar territory. None of these set out to be New Monastics. It is simply where the Spirit led their faith communities when they put their missional questions and the heritage questions together!