Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Intentional community

The consumerist mindset of autonomy, flexibility, merit and personal preference is poison to church life (not to mention family life and society at large). Mutual submission, relational commitment, grace and the pursuit of the common good are radical concepts to most Westerners but they lie at the heart of what it means to belong to Jesus' family. Yet many Christians drift in and out of churches missing out on what it means to belong to one another, and then complain that their church experience failed to meet their needs.

I've been thinking recently about what intentional community might involve. How can we build relationships and a common life that doesn't simply mimic the cultural pattern in which we swim? Kyle over at Vindicated has been posting a series on the "monastery without walls" his church has begun. Worth a read, even for those of us who might not be militant Anglo-catholics.

1. Introduction: To De-Pimp and Re-Monk the Church
2. Monasticism and mission
3. Monastic values
4. Organisation
5. Relationships
6. The Abbey and the Wider Church
7. FAQs I
8. FAQs II
10. Afterword: Monastic Thoughts
Ten points for naming the building.


Jonathan said...

There are some very important points there, but what can/should the emphasis on stability look like when other parts of our lives are not stable?

Jonathan said...

Oh, and the photo is Salisbury Cathedral.

byron smith said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with moving, though I do think there is a default inertia to not move without a good reason and a default preference to invest in local relationships. I also think there is a place for covenanted relationships beyond marriage (godparenting is one example), in which we bind ourselves to other people in an open-ended commitment. And I suspect we might also benefit from covenanted relationships with explicit temporal commitments: e.g. "I will be here/live with you for the next x years."

And ten points.

Drew said...

As I'm sure you're aware, specific as the church is and possessing a different kind of community (perhaps or partially), this is also an important question for politics outside of Christian life. But this raises the question about what is distinctive about such a Christian community.

byron smith said...

Yes, I noted the effect of this mindset on not only the church, but also the family and society more broadly. I guess one part of the relationship is that I believe the church is the hope of society (and the family) - that is, the church is the test tube in which the kind of practices and attitudes required for a community to survive and thrive are tested, including love, grace, humility, trust, generosity, dependence and repentance.

Of course, there's much more to it than this, and I'm not simply saying that the church will transform the world without itself being influenced (even sometimes positively), nor am I saying that God is merely a useful idea in the real task of social transformation, but I do see the church as having a crucial prophet role to be the light of the world in its common life, existing as a witness to God's grace and justice, not only in its preaching, but also in its practices.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Jonathan said...

Your good news definitely suggests you don't think there's anythign wrong with moving - I pray your time in Scotland is a blessing.

But what can be done when you're feeling frustrated at not being able to make that sort of commitment?

Unknown said...

I suppose my initial thought when reading this was:
"What does this look like in practice? Does it involve sitting around in a circle on a carpet floor somewhere, whilst someone strums a guitar - and I try desparately not to think of all the things that need doing?"

But then I thought about it more - and thought that this is actually getting at the purpose behind 'doing church stuff'. Too often in 'doing church stuff' we can either have a motive for a 'superior moral claim' or 'grand institutional vision' or even a 'barely willing moral obligation'.

This reasoning hacks away at all of those and says - "This is why you'd bother giving up TV and a couple of extra chapters of that novel in order to take your biblestudy preparation from mediocre to good." "This is why you'd join the church 'management committee' to spend your time sorting out time-draining things like finances, property, IT and other operational things."

It goes to the heart of the "Why" in 'doing church stuff'.

Drew said...

For a specific example, I think the stuff Get Up is doing is very interesting, because it seems to me that they have diagnosed similar concerns regarding the importance of community, and I wonder if a church that is working hard to take community seriously could share what they know with a group like Get Up, but also learn from them.

I agree with the things you mentioned... so much to explore! From the point of view of my study area, I'm interested in the way a community interacts with a history, and this affects social identity. It seems to me that much of the confusion about churches, denominations, communions stems from not understanding their histories, and at the very same time being a prisoner to it. Nietzsche could be helpful here perhaps! The stuff by Agamben on Messianic time is also very interesting here.

Unknown said...

I have found your article really interesting Byron. It actually strikes at the heart of "what is church?"

Since church is made of people, who are bound by time and space, the church itself will be bound by time and space, even though we have the spiritual reality of a timeless/un-space-defined in heaven (Ephesians 1 & 2). I guess this will mean that church will also be bound by the geographical implications such as developing physical community and having surrounding cultural influences.

Unknown said...

Oh! And I forgot to comment that I agree with the covenanted nature or at least "more committed" nature that should define our church relationships. In a world where the most covenanted relationship, marriage, has been degraded to common trash, how we relate to each other as part of Christ's body, should really shine against such a dark backdrop.

(ok, getting a little melodramatic at the end there)


Shane said...

Hi Byron
I wonder whether you can be even stronger with intentionality and suggest a covenanted church life. The mutual obligation or one anotherness of scripture seem to be largely overlooked in the way the we go about living as God's new community.

for example.
when you were working through PhD opportunites, how did you come to a decision. Did you chat with your wife, a close friend, old blog buddies,your 'ordinaries' or did you take it before the church and ask them to consider the impliplications for them as partakers with you in community? would you trust their wisdom? even submit to their 'rule'?

My point is that part of what it means to belong to one another is to behave like family and make decisions like family.

Yet even to suggest that I shouldn't take a holiday, buy a car, change jobs, make decisions etc outside of the context of Christian community will cut deeply against the grain of our cherished individualism.
partlicularly if the gospel communities wisdom is different from mine.

enjoy grace