In the Summer of 1997 I was offered a dream job. An office heading up ministry to students for a national network of Pentecostal churches and a salary from HQ for church-planting. It was a wonderful, exciting and generous offer from a network of churches that I loved. It was the natural extension of the pattern of church-planting I had been following to that point. But I knew I couldn’t take it. The Holy Spirit had me on a different journey.
The offer came hot on the heels of a period of fantastic church planting and growth and in one sense was the natural next step. Except that I had already “taken the red pill”!! For me the “red pill” was a realization that we had grown our network of congregations in number but not in depth. We had gathered well but were left puzzling over how we could achieve deeper discipleship and a more authentic connection with Jesus – with all the consequences that might flow from that – for ourselves and for the world.
Me with one of my church plants in 1997
So I was in a place asking Jesus, “Jesus, how can we make and be disciples more truly, deeply and powerfully than this?” In answer the Holy Spirit directed me to spiritual movements that had always made me buzz and burn whenever I heard or told their stories. I gave myself to an intense period of study, with long periods in seclusion buried in the testimony of Celtic missionaries like Columba and Aidan, Benedict and Scholastica and the first Benedictines, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Dominic and the first Dominicans, Ignatius Loyola and the Society of Jesus, John Wesley and the first Methodists, William Booth and the first Salvationists.
Every one of these movements resulted in fruitful planting and growth of Christian communities. And each in their own way changed the world. Yet none of them was church-centered or congregation-focused in the way I was used to. This intrigued me. And there was something else: Different centuries. Different countries. Different church traditions. Yet all shared a signature of key elements in common: All began when a small group of friends entered into an agreement or pledge to share the journey of faith in a way that would transform their own conversation with Jesus and contribution to the world.
I simply decided to do the same. I had already spent 10 years living in community in group houses with a sequence of around 36 people – in pastoral ministry and theological training. So in 1997 I made that pattern intentional by inviting those boarding with me and some alumni of my group houses to share with me the rule of life I had taken on at my ordination – a pattern that I had already given myself to for 7 years.
CSWG Cloister in the UK /Jesus Generation Cloister in Australia
Re-shaped by the stories of those exemplars, and guided by the input of a wonderful Benedictine Community in the UK, this pattern morphed into the “Jesus Generation Pledge” and over 12 years, 40 Boomers and Millennials shared the journey, in varying degrees of community, connected by that agreement.
Some of us were hungry and thirsty seekers, some red-hot evangelists, some burned out on conventional church-culture, but not not burned out on Jesus, or the Gospel, or people or community. All of us found in our shared rule a way to journey together, and to go deeper in our encounter with God.
In more recent years the language of my rule has become less churchy – more Kingdom of God oriented. And the canvas of its vision has grown wider. But in one form or another this rule of life has journeyed with me for more than thirty years – through every season of life and in every work and ministry-setting.
In this way I have been able to make the journey of faith surrounded by wonderful soul-friends. Along the way Ruth and I have simplified it further, boiling it down to the bare essentials: the Way of Love, the Way of Worship, the Way of Simplicity and the Way of Soul-Friendship.
Every generation asks afresh, “What does it really mean to live a good life, a spiritual life, a blessed life, a Gospel life and to know God?” The Simple Rule is a framework that allows friends to explore those questions together and journey in the answers together.
It’s a pared down, boiled down, stripped back way of doing it. That’s why the Simple Rule page begins with the image of a campfire burning in the bush and a billy boiling. I look at that image and it tells me a few friends are going to be sitting down together. They’re out in country and will soon be eating and drinking together. They will be talking together about their lives, gathered around a Holy Fire. And their lives will be different because of it. I look at that billy boiling and it reminds me that I am hungry and thirsty. Hungry and thirsty for all of it.
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