God’s Love on Earth: The Hope of Authentic, Outpoured Community

Our house church community had a wonderful weekend with four guys (including him) from a sister church in the Pacific Northwest. They connected many dots for us spiritually, exploding the false gnostic dividing lines between spirit and matter, sacred and secular, this good earth and the heavenly realm that longs to be ever-more poured into it as the beneficent reign of God expands in our hearts, churches, streets and cosmos.

Related to this, a thoughtful blogger (and apparently youth pastor) blogged last month about his experiences at the National Youth Workers convention, questioning whether any fruit is actually being borne from the wide-ranging ’emerging church conversation,’ of which I count myself a part. He asked several thoughtful questions but one question/assertion just floored me: “Are more people really coming to know Jesus, is his kingdom really growing? Certainly Monastic communities are not the answer for bringing about the kingdom.”

I thought are you kidding? Having just interviewed Shane Claiborne a few weeks ago (more details on that when it reaches publication), and having friends and good acquaintances at the Rutba House, Open Door Community in Atlanta, and other Catholic Worker houses, I am baffled as to what he can possibly mean. Here’s what I wrote him:

“Certainly Monastic communities are not the answer for bringing about the kingdom.” Certainly not? Whyever not?? I think that new monastic communities are our last, best hope. Think about it: We have the intimacy with God and the spiritual energy to transform the world, to embody the prayer “may your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” But if we remain either culturally captive to the spirit of ‘the American Dream’ or to the self-serving and self-referential ‘Evangelical Dream’ then really, what good are we–to ourselves or others? New monastic folks are encouraging us to literally reimagine our lives as more interconnected and engaged in our communities. If the world’s 2 billion Christians did this, we’d have a bloodless revolution of love overnight. Why isn’t this “the answer”? It sounds like the Gospel of Jesus Christ to me.”

What do you think? Should our conversation-in-action about living the abundant life include where we choose to live, how we choose to spend our resources, how we eat, the kind of energy we consume, who we’re meeting, loving, eating and throwing parties with, etc..?

10 Responses to “God’s Love on Earth: The Hope of Authentic, Outpoured Community”


  1. 1 Adam December 12, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    It’s just a different paradigm. For me at least, it’s not about counting souls but making the gospel incarnate. And if that’s what we’re going for, then surely the new monastic movement is right on.

    And increasingly in our current world, I think the work of those kinds of groups will make far more difference for the KOG than the traditional “soul saving” paradigm.

    You named a few, but another group really doing some great things is ReIMAGINE/SEVEN and Mark Scandrette in San Francisco. I’ve been soaking in his book recently and it’s really been good for me.

  2. 2 brotherjohnny December 13, 2007 at 1:44 am

    “What do you think? Should our conversation-in-action about living the abundant life include where we choose to live, how we choose to spend our resources, how we eat, the kind of energy we consume, who we’re meeting, loving, eating and throwing parties with, etc..?”

    I think all of these things are very important to the conversation among the saints, As the scripture teaches, the church has the mind of Christ.

    I am so encouraged in hearing about and seeing younger America embrace these counter cultural ideas and ways of life,…and not just counter-cultural for the sake of being different, but with a heart toward reaching out to those who are ready and willing to come to the Lords table.

    In this world, His name has suffered so much defamation.
    It is time to turn.

  3. 3 Micah December 13, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    well, you know how I feel about living in common..🙂

  4. 4 zoecarnate December 17, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    My friend Nicole tried posting this comment, to no avail. Here it is:

    VERY interesting blog entry, Mike. And thanks for leaving a comment on mine. I get zero traffic and it can be a little discouraging.

    I wanted to comment on this statement:

    If the world’s 2 billion Christians did this, we’d have a bloodless revolution of love overnight. Why isn’t this “the answer”? It sounds like the Gospel of Jesus Christ to me.

    While I agree that the aforementioned blanket statement which you are refuting is rather off, I would also have to say that the above statement is perhaps a little idealistic.

    “I must admit that I too have my doubts about monasticism and communal living. Just from experience, I have often found that people flock to this sort of thing out of a very strange motive that I call ‘self-gazing dissatisfaction.’

    Our self-interest runs deep – even if you are a Christian. Sometimes I think the best hope we have is to negotiate that self-interest rather than inventing ways to obliterate it – which perhaps is often the reason why we choose monastic/communal lifestyles. While these things sound wonderful in theory, I think that perhaps we should also consider the ripple effects. Communal living can often open up whole new vistas of corruption; it can become the ground on which we see the deceit and blatant self-interest that guides many of our decisions.

    Of course, this is all coming from a person who is definitely not against monasticism/communal living. I just don’t agree with romanticizing it. Whenever you get human beings in close proximity, you better believe there will be some ugliness, and so perhaps it is best that we clearly realize that fact before we dress the theory up in pretty skirts and put flowers in its hat.”

    Excellent points, Nicole. I will try to reply more in-depth soon, as I am presently in Georgia and catching up on work!

  5. 5 kevin beck December 17, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    Hi Mike,
    Maybe I’m slow on the uptake, but what do you mean by “he false gnostic dividing lines between spirit and matter…”?

    Thanks,
    Kevin

  6. 6 Gunnar December 19, 2007 at 5:29 am

    Mike, while I certainly think that he may have had an unfair ‘blanket’ statement, personally, I, too, have run across some gatherings of folks who would consider themselves somewhere in the monastic movement or emerging church culture, that really seemed to become a major navel gazing campaign to me as opposed to kingdom advancing. Yet, as a passionate person involved in the emerging/monastic church myself, I have also been part of such labeled communities where evangelism happened so naturally and freely and frequently, I don’t know how to describe it. It just always seemed to happen.
    It’s unfortunate the guy blogged without seeing such a side of what can happen in any movement, in this case, the monastic one he is referring to. Blogging has such a tendency towards ‘power statements’ that make some of our true thoughts seem boxed in when we release them.
    However, despite what movement we feel we are a apart of, with hesitancy, and a real willingness to be proved wrong here, overall, I see very little of the five fold ministry in action when it comes to ‘equipping all the saints for the work of that ministry’ as opposed to, while well meant, a bottom line, “look at me, I am a prophet and hear me talk, talk, talk, talk.’ With very little, “Hey all the saints, let’s all get equipped prophetically…lets do this stuff together…we’re all gonna learn.” That being said, no matter what ‘movement’ we are in, how many of us are feeling just where Jesus would have us be as far as being equipped in evangelism? Reading what he said, I am drawn to wonder if that is actually what he meant. (I am intentionally not defining what being equipped in evangelism is, just asking, are we all at peace with where we are at…do we all figure we are right where we need to be that way…).
    I don’t know, I am not that guy who wrote it…but I kinda have to wonder if that is not really what he may be thinking. I kinda got the feeling he may not care about what the movement is, but he is caring about souls coming to Jesus.
    And, as a sidenote, I have been fortunate to meet MANY who I feel operate in five fold ways in order to truly equip…they are out there. But when I look at the mass of advertised Christianity, that doesn’t seem to be the way that so much of it that is hyped operates.

  7. 7 Peter K Bell December 19, 2007 at 5:49 am

    In response to Gunnar,

    I was involved for over 20 years in a powerful but intensely closed Christian community movement whose OFFICIAL leader OPENLY said, “We are NOT an evangelistic move of God,” and went on to claim that our end was sanctification or perfection in preparation for leading the world into its destiny as the Kingdom of God at a later date (etc. etc.).

    Having said that, I will also state that while actively and wholeheartedly participating in such a narrow, exclusivist group, my wife and I experienced a depth of training in Bible knowledge, spiritual authority and discernment, and prophetic giftings, that now, stripped (painfully) of the exclusivism and narrowness of that setting, we are able to freely use these spiritual abilities in what we now believe is a far more balanced, open, Scripturally sound and balanced house church movement where being equipped in evangelism and reaching out to souls takes place alongside of growing up the saints in the other gifts and especially growth in the truth and in love.

    I feel like I am saying this in a very clumsy and indirect manner, but if you will bear with me, I do have a point here: It is true that any movement can turn inward and do more navel gazing than kingdom advancing (eloquently worded, Gunnar!) but it is also true that God can redeem for Himself and His kingdom those whose hearts are desiring to fulfill His purposes no matter what. We all need pufifying, and so do all our groups, no matter how wonderfully (or how badly) our original purposes have begun. We all need to keep current with God’s agenda day by day in order to remain alive and effective in building His kingdom, and to be willing to repent when we see we have gotten off track, and allow Him to redirect us back to where He wants us to be.

    And let me add that we all need to pray for one another in compassion for the weaknesses and needs that we each discover in ourselves in our journey together in the life of Jesus. This is an intense place for the application of His command not to judge, knowing that we will be judged by the measure we use to judge one another.

    Love to all in Jesus, in one Heart,
    Peter

  8. 8 zoecarnate December 24, 2007 at 5:53 am

    Hi Kevin,

    Sorry for the belated response. By “false gnostic ‘good news'” (so-called), I mean the message that there’s good news for some intangible portion of us (usually referred to as ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’) that ignores, makes light of, or vilifies any of the following: Our bodies, our planet, or this life here and now. So often the ‘good news’ turns out to be ‘bad news’ for each of these…can you relate to hearing these messages.

    And Nicole and Gunnar, I agree–living together isn’t a magic formula, and I was certainly over-stating the case in the blog post (to make a point, I hope). But I do, emphatically, believe that if faced with a choice of living atomized lives in isolation from one other, and crafting creative, loving contracts for living interdependently with one another in real community, I’ll go with failing miserably at the latter over succeeding at the former, any day.

    Peter, you’re totally right: one of the worst things that can happen in said ‘communal’ or ‘community’ settings is a feeling that we’re somehow superior for doing so. This usually leads to control and bondage. May it never be! I hope that the most ‘specialized’ movements and those who feel they have ‘received much’ of God’s potent revelation will always 1.) Give it away to anyone who will receive it, and 2.) Humbly remain open to even the simple ‘first things’ of other divine moves and cultures.

  9. 9 Gunnar December 24, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    Hey, and I am with you on the “But I do, emphatically, believe that if faced with a choice of living atomized lives in isolation from one other, and crafting creative, loving contracts for living interdependently with one another in real community, I’ll go with failing miserably at the latter over succeeding at the former, any day.” Getting ready, it seems to move my family into the same house with a couple of older, single, Jesus-loving guys…and loving it…no matter how it goes. (And I can say that from lots of experiences on both ends of the spectrum…when it went REALLY wrong, and REALLY right!) Love your blog!
    Gunnar

  10. 10 Peter K Bell December 26, 2007 at 12:51 am

    Thank you for your affirmation here, Mike!

    I can’t speak any more for the brethren we were in such intense communion with for so long, but I can easily identify with your two points here, from the viewpoint of our present experience:

    1) Our entire informal ‘ministry’ (such as it is) in the house-church movement (and anywhere else we find ourselves lately) has been focused on giving away what we have been given–more precisely, on seeing the glory of Christ in others we have been privileged to walk with, and using our ‘giftings’ to reflect that back to them, to build them up and encourage them. This is a lot of fun! MUCH better than all that navel-gazing, and a lot more easy-going because we don’t have to carry the heavy weight of taking ourselves so bl**ping seriously! 🙂

    2) I have developed a personal passion for what you have so eloquently called here “the simple ‘first things’ of other divine moves and cultures.” I absolutely LOVE when God starts things, the purity and zeal and simplicity of His beginnings! I guess I have to ‘balance’ that [I hate that word ‘balance’!] by claiming that I am joyfully willing to stick with it when a movement suffers through the growing pains of adolescence and coming into maturity: if not, I would be guilty of youth-worship, like Pavarotti (and countless others) who left his faithful wife of many years to be with his secretary, who was younger than his own daughters! I hasten to add that there’s not much danger of that in my ‘natural’ life, where Barb and I will soon celebrate 29 years of happy marriage, and are more in love with each other every day. But spiritually this could be a danger, because of the beauty of the Bride of Christ, and her daily renewal of her youth. I love God’s beginnings–and that is a far cry from the ugly and counterfeit ‘faithfulness’ to the movement that held us in an ungodly bondage from which we were freed at just the right time in God’s plan for our family.

    In short, I want to humbly remain open in the ways you have mentioned, and thereby to redeem our experience in Christian community for the benefit of others in the Body of Christ.

    Love and peace,
    Peter


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