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 Spirit had me on a different path.
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 awoken to a realization that was to shift my whole direction. It was the realization 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 transformation of life, what St Benedict in the 500s called “conversion of life.”
Me with one of my church plants in 1997
So my question to God was, “Father, how can we live the apostolic life of the Gospels more truly, deeply and powerfully than this?” In answer, through a sequence of dreams and a season of study, the Spirit of God directed me to spiritual movements that had always made me buzz inside whenever I heard or told their stories. Recognizing this, I gave myself over to an intense period of study, with long periods in seclusion, buried in the testimony of Celtic missionaries like Columba, Aidan and Hilda, 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 new expressions of Christian community well beyond the confines and constrictions of the churchianity of their day. And each movement in its own way changed the world. Yet none of these movements was congregation-focused or meetings-based in the way I was used to. This intrigued me. There was something else too: 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 God. Out of the womb of that personal tranformation came their respective contributions 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 along with some alumni of my group houses to begin sharing 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 shared rule of life based my own ordination rule morphed into the “Jesus Generation Pledge.” Over the next 12 years, from 1997 to 2009, 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. In our shared rule we found a way to journey together, and to go deeper in our respective conversations with God.
In more recent years the language of my rule has moved beyond churchianity, 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-setting.
In this way I have been able to make my journey surrounded by wonderful soul-friends. Along the way I have boiled it down to the bare essentials: the Way of Love, the Way of Oneness, 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, an apostolic of Jesus life and to live in conversation with God?” The Simple Rule is a framework that allows friends to explore those questions and make the journey together.
It’s a pared back, 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 that 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 fire. And their lives will be different because of it.
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