Jesus Generation – a story of intentional community – pt 1

cloister
A Cloister, home for a time to Jesus Generation – Yarralumla, Australia

JESUS GENERATION’S ROOTS

Over 24 years – from 1985 to 2009 – I shared life in various degrees of community with a sequence of Gen-Xers and Gen-Ys. This journey was shaped by a study of church history which had led me to some rich threads in the fabric of the Christian tradition – those of Covenanted Fellowship and Intentional Community. This study of old ways led me to pioneer on a model that was, for me, quite new. Between 1997 and 2009 I planted a sequence of local communities along with an international network of associate members. The life of our network centered on group-houses and a shared pledge to the apostolic life. We called this network “Jesus Generation” or “JGen” for short.

A sequence of 66 Gen Y brothers and sisters played their part in developing JGen’s patterns of life. These were reflected in a rule of life called the Travellers Guide. This constitutional basis enabled us to operate as a network of local autonomous groups spanning from the UK to Australia. In time JGen included members in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. .

JESUS GENERATION’S LIFE

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The Travellers Guide centred our rhythm of life on relational and hospitality-based ministry, maximizing our time and energy for those outside the realm of church circles. In this way we were able to reach, befriend, pastor and teach not gathered congregations, but those among the 95% who might never attend a church venue or program, nor have any interest in doing so. Hence in its 12 years of life and ministry, JGen never once ran a church service. (A boast I am very proud of!!)

JGen Garran

Home for a time to JGen Garran – Australia

(akaThe Ranch’ in my book The New Monastic)

Our watchwords were hospitality-based ministry and household-based church. Our scattered life carried our individual ministries into the worlds of education, chaplaincy, care, respite care, broadcasting, adult education, ethical business and trades. So although we were a small expression of church, our involvement in the larger Christian scene was wide.

Our shared life was expressed in sharing food together, and enjoying the amazing pastoral power of receiving people into a hospitable home. As an entree into our community life we hosted a number of what we called l’Abri Sundays (so-called because they were modeled on the rhythm of life at l’Abri UK). These days consisted of a morning quiet reading, then together making and eating lunch, then in the afternoon some hard yakka on the land for the blokes while the girls would enjoy some girl time. We found these great settings to bring friends to who wanted to check us out.

medley2.jpgSome JGen Australia scenes 2003-2009

Through the dual emphases of scattered life and hospitality, we saw many people in our expanding natural networks impacted by the teaching and ways of Jesus. Because we operated without the industrial-scale overheads associated with large buildings, we found that we were able to give away significant sums of money. It was a great joy to use our shared purse for anonymous benefactions, Christmas hampers, and gifts to poor families in our area. Each quarter we would gather to work out who and what we could bless locally and internationally this time around! It was a favourite activity.

JGen‘s spirituality centered on an active Jesus at work in the world among those beyond the world of church. This insight was sparked for me by input early in my ministry-journey from:

  • Catalysts of Amazonia’s “ecclesiogenesis” (grassroots church growth) in the ’80s
  • Cell-church practitioners in Asia in the early ’90s
  • Study of various pioneering exemplars through church history

sengh-li-and-meeditipar crop

(Above top) Paul, learning the mechanics of the cell-church phenomenon in Asia with Pastor Sengh Li of Singapore’s Faith Community Baptist Church in the 1990s and (above) sharing life with some catalysts of Amazonia’s ecclesiogenesis at the Regional Pastoral Institute in Belem, Brazil in the 1980s

SAFE CHURCH PRACTICES

When JGen has been running for ten years we noticed that 80% of our members were employed in the world of education. With others involved in secular-care work and para-church ministries it meant that 88% of JGen‘s membership was Police Checked, WVP Checked and Working with Children Checked. This put our network  more than a decade ahead of the curve in terms of safe church practices. (Something else I am very proud of.)

We also noted at one point that more than 20% of our network had, or were working towards, Theology degrees. This reflected a theological literacy within our number that was very high.

FROM FRINGE TO FOLD

Despite these distinctions, because we operated a model of church that was so different to mainstream conventions at that time, we found JGen to be very often prejudged with a high degree of suspicion – and sometimes even open hostility – by Christian and ministry brothers and sisters. For much of our first decade we found that we needed a thick skin and a generous measure of grace. This began to change largely through the enthusiasm of significant figures – such as Phyllis Tickle, Archbishop Rowan Williams, Mike Frost, Alan Hirsch and Archbishop Justin Welby. Through their work principles of intentional community and new monasticism began to reappear in the mainstream conversation of the Christian world.

GETTING BACK TO OUR ROOTS

After JGen’s first decade of life together, we re-visited our rule of life, The Traveller’s Guide, as a network. Only as we undertook the work of reviewing our constitutional document did we realize that our rule of life (which we had adapted from the constitution of The Community of the Servants of the Will of God – an Anglican monastic community in the UK) was in fact quite substantially the “Little Rule for Beginners” crafted by Benedict of Norcia in the 500s AD!! No wonder it had served us so well!!

bens rule.jpg

We were also struck by ignificant parallels between the praxis we had developed and the 1611 “Declaration of Faith” – the first manifesto of Baptist Christianity – penned by Thomas Helwys. These Baptist parallels did not arise through any deliberate emulation. Rather the parallel patterns were found organically as  a community as we made a similar journey to our Baptist forbears and arrived at similar conclusions.