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 led me to some rich threads in the fabric of the Christian tradition – those of Covenanted Fellowship and Intentional Community. It was the study of old ways that led me to pioneer on a model that was, for me, 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 “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 patterns were reflected in a written constitution or “rule of life” called the Travellers Guide. This 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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Keeping church apparatus small, simple and relational, the Travellers Guide shaped a rhythm of life 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, 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, compassion-based business and trades. So although a small expression of church, our involvement in the wider Christian scene was high.

Our shared life was expressed in sharing food together, discovering the amazing pastoral 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 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 Gospel and nurtured in their faith.

Because our gathered life operated without the industrial-scale overheads associated with acquiring and managing 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

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 gave JGen a quotient of Child Safety Training and Safe Community Practice that put us  more than decade ahead of the curve in terms of our safety standards.

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.

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 even open hostility by Christian and ministry brothers and sisters. For much of our first decade we found that needed a generous measure of grace and a thick skin. 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) 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 at that time by the very significant parallels between the praxis we had stumbled upon and the 1611 “Declaration of Faith” – the first manifesto of Baptist Christianity – penned by Thomas Helwys. These Baptist parallels happened without any deliberate emulation at all, but rather through the life of a community making a similar journey and drawing similar conclusions.