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, as I was entirely focused on beginning a gathered expression. However resources would not permit. This turned out to be a mercy since if I had moved forward with a gathered expression at that point I would have merely reinvented a celebration + cell church – a model already being championed by others.
As the petitions from non-local enthusiasts continued I felt I had to respond. Guided by what Francis of Assisi did in the 1200s, I allowed JGen to develop its own “secular order / associate structure”. So the joke was that JGen had a “third order” before having a first or second! It turned out that allowing JGen Associates to form was the key that unlocked the vision and caused JGen to grow and mushroom.
Only after five to six years as a network of Associates did the network of gathered expressions emerge. Once again this happened in response to requests. This time the request came from Associates in the UK and Australia. As you can see, at the heart of it, our journey and growth was a shared exercise of following our noses – which in reality is the only “method” there is in organic church!
Some snapshots of JGen Australia 2003-2009
One of the paradigm shifts that we and others wrestled with at that time was a shift from having a community centred on doctrine – The Way of Orthodoxy – to having a community whose intention was focused on a rule of life – The Way of 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 focused chiefly on how we lived out the apostolic life that Jesus modelled, and then entrusted to the 12, the 72, and all those of us who have followed. These we summarized in our Values and Pledge.
The Call Document expressed our values 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 in the 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 to emulate the elements of the apostolic mission, which so gripped our exemplars. Those elements are laid out in Luke 10 and Matthew 10:
- find ways to bless those around us
- enjoy and create hospitality – eat+drink with people of peace who accept our friendship
- serve people’s needs
- and tell them about the availability of God’s love and power
Most congregations operate with a core mission of growing their numbers. So, because we had all come from that background, we had to work constantly and consistently to embed this new mentality. The key way we reinforced that shift was by understanding ourselves to be an intentional community within the wider tradition of monastic Christianity. More than anything that is what enabled us to occupy this different territory and orient ourselves as a kind of “secular order.”
JESUS GENERATION’S WIDER FAMILY
I have to acknowledge a key figure in enabling me and our network to make that paradigm shift. My eternal thanks go to Revd Edward Dudding aka Father Gregory – 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.
For 16 years I was blessed with Father Gregory’s incredible, patient and profound mentoring. More than anyone Father Gregory helped JGen embrace its life as a secular order and to formalise a “Rule of Life” that rooted us in the traditions of our monastic and neo-monastic exemplars.
In this phase of expansion as JGen Associates we were paralleling contemporary developments in the old monastic orders at that time. Father Gregory helped us to find ourselves on the ecclesial map. Five to six years into JGen’s journey as an association we began our gathered expression. This was JGen’s season of household-based churches for Millennials. With a 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 my fellow JGenners and I had to develop a very thick skin indeed. We had to learn graciously to paint a picture for people that clearly affirmed the diversity of forms within the Christian tradition, while at the same time patiently illuminating why our stream – the stream of intentional community – was needed in particular. I feel so proud of the resilience and patience of my JGen comrades; for the insults they were willing to bear and the quality of conversation they were able to bring to the wider church throughout that period.