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 enriched by a study of church history which led me to some rich threads in the fabric of the Christian tradition – those of Covenanted Fellowship and Intentional Community. It was that study of old ways that led me to pioneer on a model that was, for me, something quite new. Between 1997 and 2009 I planted and led a sequence of Missional Communities and a web of Associate Members. The life of our network centered on group-houses and a shared pledge to missional life. We called this network of GenYs “Jesus Generation” or “JGen” for short.

A sequence of 66 Gen Y brothers and sisters played their part in developing our patterns and rhythm of life. These were reflected in a written constitution or “rule of life” called the Travellers Guide. This then enabled us to function 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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By keeping church apparatus small, simple and relational, the Travellers Guide shaped a rhythm of life that centered 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 and disciple not gathered congregations, people among the 95% who might never attend a church venue, meeting or program. 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 The New Monastic)

Our watchwords were friendship-based discipleship, hospitality-based ministry and household-based church.

Our scattered life carried our individual ministries into worlds of education, chaplaincy, care, respite care, broadcasting, adult education, compassion-based business and trades. So although we were a small expression of church our involvement in the wider Christian scene of our cities was high.

Our shared life was expressed in sharing food together, discovering the amazing pastoral and evangelistic power of receiving people into a hospitable Christian 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 quiet reading, making and eating lunch, then letting the blokes do some hard yakka on the land and the girls 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 Gospel and brought into the life of the Kingdom.

One of the happiest discoveries was the financial liberty of organizing church-life without the expense of industrial-scale overheads associated with acquiring and managing large buildings. We found that we were able to give away significant sums of money and make anonymous benefactions, Christmas hampers, and gifts to poor families in our area. It was a joy to us every quarter when we would gather to work out who and what we could bless locally and internationally this time around!

JGen’s spirituality centered on an active Jesus at work in the world among those beyond the churches. Much of this insight was sparked by early input (in my own story) from the catalysts of Amazonia’s “ecclesiogenesis” (a word meaning the spontaneous generation of grassroots church) in the 1980s and from cell-church practitioners in Asia in the early 1990s. But it was the study of exemplars through church history that originally sparked Jesus Generation into life.

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

When JGen has been running 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 – putting us  a decade ahead of the curve in terms of our safety standards.

Another surprise was to note that at one point more than 20% of our network either had or were working towards theology degrees. So our theological motivation was also very high.

Despite these commendable features, because we were operating a model of church so different to mainstream conventions we often found ourselves prejudged with a measure of suspicion and sometimes even hostility by brothers and sisters in the wider church. For much of our first decade we needed a generous measure of grace and a thick skin. That is until, through the work of significant figures – such as Rowan Williams, Mike Frost, Alan Hirsch and Justin Welby – principles of intentional fellowship and new monasticism began to reappear in the mainstream conversation of the Christian world.

GETTING BACK TO OUR ROOTS

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

bens rule.jpg

We were also struck by some significant parallels between the ways we had stumbled upon and the 1611 “Declaration of Faith” – the first manifesto of Baptist Christianity – penned by Thomas Helwys (1611). These Baptist parallels happened without any deliberate emulation but rater through the life of a community making a similar journey and drawing similar conclusions.

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