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
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. (C.S.W.G. – the Community of the Servants of the Will of God – a community rich in Benedictine and Eastern Orthodox heritage). Fr Gregory helped JGen embrace God’s call as a kind of secular order and to form a “rule of life” that rooted us in the traditions of our exemplars and forbears.
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 our journey 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 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, the strength and patience they brought to that conversation.