this is a post on newness in relation to the church in mission. i can't think what language might be more general that would apply in other sectors. perhaps intentional community? leave a comment if you have ideas of that...
there is a stereotype of a pioneer as a lone individual who goes off to stick their flag in the land to begin something new. there is also a stereotype of a prophet who lives alone in the wilderness communing with god and appearing occasionally to deliver their message. but in terms of newness i think these are really unhelpful pictures. the kind of imagining out of which genuine newness might emerge is much more likely a communal one. in the case of prophets in the old testament there were certainly schools of prophets and i suspect pioneers were rarely alone. the nurturing of an alternative consciousness and imagination will surely come through dreaming and reflecting with others, knocking around ideas, eating together and conversation and nurturing the kind of environment in which poets and artists gifts can flourish. for this sort of environment there needs to be something intentional about community. i think this is particularly the case when we are all so co-opted by the dominant culture of consumption, and the dominant culture of business as usual in our churches. how will we find space to detox and grieve and imagine alternative worlds are possible and be energised in hope towards them? it needs a depth of community and relationship to have any kind of chance of developing a missional discipleship. but i am beginning to wonder in our world of loose networks and 'friends' if we have forgotten that to find depth in relationships requires commitment, or to use an old fashioned word fellowship which as andrew jones has pointed out originally meant buying into a cow or something together! i.e. you put your commitment on the line.
connectivity is crucial for innovation as i have blogged in the previous post connect don't protect. but loose networks and 'friends' in social networks don't afford the kind of depth required for prophetic imagination and community. they are opt in when i feel like it arrangements - typical of the postmodern avoidance of fixation or commitment. jump on board when something interesting is flowing and jump off when something else catches my attention.
perhaps one of the reasons for the resurgence of interest in monasticism is because of wisdom around community life and how to find this missing depth - in grace we were helped many years ago by roy searle's ( of the northumbia community) insights that ethos is central to community life and to see a function of leadership as guarding ethos. developing a rhythm and/or rule of life, practices of contemplative spirituality, hospiltality and lots of other things could also be seen as treasures. ian adams cave refectory road is a delightful book in which he explores some of these.
i am particularly interested in the ways that religious communities have (and might still) nurtured prophets, dissenters and refounding persons in the past. gerald arbuckle has written at length on this (yes sorry - arbuckle again!). in from chaos to mission he looks at formation and how that might be refounded in religious communities precisely to cultivate this sort of newness. one of the things that he highlights in a very helpful way is that it is not monasticism per se that forms people in this way. it's a very mixed picture. in particular, it is not a cloistered (or residential) monasticism that we should look to if weʼre interested in prophetic ministry and mission. the purpose of formation in cloistered orders was obedience and conformity and stability in an unchanging world. but for the spread out orders (friars) - the likes of the jesuits and fransiscans and celts - prophetic mission to the world was at the heart of their concern which requiried radical flexibility and imagination. the purpose of formation in the spread out communities or mission orders of friars is inculturation - i.e. innovation in relation to gospel and cultures. being part of a mission community like this formed people to engage in prophetic mission.
he suggests that denominatons struggle to contain this gift and people. they simply don't know what to do with it or them. it makes far more sense all round that these mission communities nurture and form the dissenters/prophetic ministry. the religious communties are then a 'shock therapy of the holy spirit for the church as a whole'! especially if they are actually ecclesial (part of church in and of themselves) as opposed to para church (a bit on the side of church).
i say a bit more about all this in the breakout talks and this blog post is in danger of going on rather a long time! but research is backing this up - pioneers are far better placed to bring genuine newness today when they are located in and out of a mission community/order (such as cms, church army, urban expression, the methodist venture fx diaconate etc).
this is by far the hardest piece to write so far in this series and is in many ways the most contentious, if not weird - i welcome any feedback and discussion on it. the implications are pretty huge if it is anywhere near correct... if you are a dissenter/pioneer/prophetic or whatever language you prefer get in an intentional mission community of some sort. and if you are in a denominational or equivalent structure looking for newness make friends with those in a mission community and ask them to work with you and with anyone you nurture in this prophetic mission to help form their prophetic imagination and to connect them in with a community that gets it and them. it's why am a member of cms - a mission community. it nurtures me into this kind of imagination and ministry and mission.
(if this is all too established i think it might translate for non conformists at the local level into small mission communities gathered around shared ethos values and practices and those communities networking together but with some genuine buy in and not just a loose network?)