JESUS GENERATION’S EXEMPLARS
After a period of tremendous church growth in three contiguous church-plants in Portsmouth UK I was dissatisfied. While thrilled with the numerical growth we had enjoyed I wanted to know how we could go deeper with God and in the transformation of our lives. In other words how could I disciple people at a deeper level.
With the members of my group-household I found answers to these questions from those who had gone before us, fellow-pilgrims in the the great cloud of witnesses. In particular we drew wisdom and specific practices from the Celtic Apostles, such as Aidan, Fursa, and Columba; from the first Benedictines, Francis, Clare and the first Mendicants; Wesley, Whitfield and the first Methodists; William Booth and the first Salvationists. Later the story of Francis and Edith Schaeffer also became significant to us.
JGen began as a network when I invited boarders and alumni of my group houses to share my own rule of life – rooted in the promises made by Anglican clergy at ordination, and the Articles of War of the Salvation Army. This marked the start-up of JGen proper in 1997.
JGen Members and Associates – UK & NZ – 1997-2003
Beyond the initial household growth came as readers of the JGen vision began petitioning me for a way they could participate in our rule of life, but in their own local church and life-setting. At first I ignored these requests, I was so focused on a gathered expression and seeking ways to resource such a start-up. But after a while I began to get what God was doing with us. Eventually I responded as Francis of Assisi had done in the 1200s, by allowing JGen to develop into a kind of “third order / secular order / associate structure”.
Allowing JGen Associates to form was the key that unlocked the vision and caused JGen to grow. Only after five years as an association did the network of gathered expressions begin to emerge – again on request. This time the request came from among our associates. So you can see though there was vision and pioneering spirit at the heart of it, our journey and growth was a corporate exercise of following our noses / following the Holy Spirit – which in reality is the only “method” there is!
Some snapshots of JGen Australia 2003-2009
One of the paradigm shifts that we and others wrestled with was a shift from having a community centred on doctrine – the “orthodox” way – to having a community whose intention was focussed on orthopraxis. Accordingly JGen never published a doctrinal basis. If you read The Call document and the Travellers’ Guide you would certainly pick up out what our core beliefs might be. But our intention was focussed on how we lived out the apostolic mission Jesus bequeathed to his followers. These we summarized in our Values and Pledge.
Our values were expressed like this:
Our beliefs and guiding values are rooted in the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. Through is words and work – as expressed in the Apostles teaching – we understand God progressively revealing his nature, character and will through the Bible. In response to this grace we want to know and enjoy God in every aspect of our lives – family, social, personal, leisure and work – keeping a balance of those things and expressing our love for him in…
- Reading the Bible in order to know, practice and spread the teaching of Jesus and his Apostles
- A life birthed and led by the Holy Spirit, equipped for service by the power and gifts of God
- A moral integrity and purity of heart that directs our inner life, our use of money, our dealings with people and business, and our active engagement with the social and political structures of our communities
- Rooting ourselves ub tge love and shared life of a local community of believers
- Nurturing habits of prayer and praise in company and in solitude
What JGen’s values and pledge did not do was call members to persuade people to become Christians or to join our group. We certainly wanted to promote Jesus and “win others to Him.” But rather than focus on making converts or growing our membership our aim was instead to emulate the elements of the apostolic mission as Jesus laid it out in Luke 10 and Matthew 10:
- finding ways to bless those around us
- enjoying and creating hospitality – eating and drinking with the people of peace who accepted our friendship
- serving people’s needs
- and telling them about the availability of God’s kingdom
Because most congregations operate with a core mission of growing their numbers, and we all came from that background, we had to work consistently to bed in this new mentality – mostly by understanding ourselves to be an intentional community within the wider tradition of monastic Christianity. That is what enabled us to occupy this different territory and orient ourselves as a kind of “secular order.”
JESUS GENERATION’S WIDER FAMILY
For 16 years I was blessed with an amazing mentor – the superior of an Anglican Monastic Order in the U.K. the Community of the Servants of the Will of God. CSWG is a community rich in Benedictine and Eastern Orthodox heritage. More than anyone Fr Gregory helped JGen embrace God’s call as a secular order and to form a “rule of life” that rooted us in the traditions of our exemplars.
In this phase of expansion as JGen Associates we were paralleling contemporary developments in the old monastic orders at that time. Fr Gregory helped us to find ourselves on the ecclesial map. It was he who helped me to understand that as an intentional fellowship JGen was a kind of community – not a kind of congregation. This distinction was vital in shaping our rhythm of life.
5 years into JGen’s journey as an Association number of associates now began petitioning me for a larger gathered expression. And this marked the beginning of JGen’s season of household-based churches for Millennials. With the constitutional framework loaned to us by our monastic older brothers and sisters we were ready to run!
“Neo-Monastic” is not a term we chose for ourselves. In the C16th “new monastic” was a term of abuse leveled at Anabaptist groups. It was meant a criticism of their intentional approach to actually obeying the Gospel teachings of Christ! In the C18th John Wesley and the first Methodists were insulted with the exact same term for the very same reason.
For the first decade of JGen’s life, intentional community and neo-monastic approaches were held in deep, deep suspicion by the wider church. Accordingly JGenners had to learn graciously to paint a picture for people that clearly affirmed the smorgasbord of forms in the Christian tradition, while at the same time patiently illuminating why the strand of intentional community might need to re-emerge. I feel so proud of the conversation my JGen comrades brought to the wider church throughout that period, and the resilience and patience they brought to that conversation.