Finding Intentional Community; Your Journey Home, by James Werning (Wipf & Stock Publishers)
SAMPLE CHAPTER – Please Do Not Copy or Distribute
Chapter One: The Journey Begins Here
I know you.
Weren’t you on that hike the other day?
No, that wasn’t it . . .
Oh, I remember now!
We used to go to church together. You know, back in . . .
Yeah, that’s it . . .
Wow . . . What a flashback. It’s great to see you again . . .
It has been a long time. What have you been up to? . . .
We had some great times back then. Remember hanging out with . . . Yeah, how could I forget? Do you still hear from . . . ?
Not me. I lost touch with all of them. So what brought you here? . . .
Me? I’ve been all over the map. But I feel like I’m settling in now. How about you? Do you plan to stay here awhile? . . .
Well, I’ll be honest. I’m tired of moving. I’m sick of leaving friends behind. I miss some of those guys who I don’t talk to anymore. Do you know what I mean? . . .
Then you might understand some of the deeper things I’ve been thinking about lately. I’d dump it on you, but you probably don’t want to hear about . . .
Really? Well, okay then. This is going to sound like a fish saying, “I just discovered water,” but let me begin by saying that I finally got cars figured out.
That’s right: automobiles.
Stick with me, now.
Obviously, I always understood the great part about cars. When Henry Ford cranked up his assembly line, the world became much smaller. People began driving to jobs and places they couldn’t walk to before. But “automobility,” as they call it, made it possible for spouses, parents, and children to drive right out of their family’s lives. It made it possible for the “Haves” to leave the “Have-Nots” in ghettos, rather than sticking around and trying to make the neighborhood a better place for everybody. It became easy for friends to leave friends behind . . . for people to run away from things they’d be better off facing.
And think about the church we used to go to. Remember how people would drive a half hour to church, work forty minutes in another direction, and take the kids to school and shop in totally different directions? Everybody was so busy driving all over the place.
People can’t build decent friendships while spending so much time on the road. Not healthy friendships, in my opinion. That’s one reason why I moved, because my friends didn’t have much time for me. And of course, I didn’t have much time for them either.
Besides, I was always drawn to the adventure of the open highway. After graduating from high school, that was my great escape. I tore up the West on my motorcycle. Of course, I was also running from the ghosts of my childhood.
I remember being at a laundromat way out in western Nebraska when a tall, red-faced, John Wayne-type character walked in. I secretly called him “Big Red.” He was a talkative dude, and he told me about working in just about every state in the union. He was presently headed for Detroit.
“Is that your hometown?” I asked.
“No,” Big Red said. Then turning his face to the horizon, he said in his big, deep voice, “I live where I lay my hat.”
I chuckled, wondering what he was running from. But in all honesty, I wasn’t much different from Big Red. I went out the door that day humming, “On the Road Again.”
Until recently, I even took pride in my ability to pull up roots so easily. Doesn’t the culture say that only losers stay put? You have to jump fast and far to grab the best opportunities, whether you’re reaching for school, career, property, or fortune. You gotta keep moving. Don’t get me going, or I’ll start singing about how I plan to escape from this dead-end town called Troubleville.
Now, I’m not saying that automobility is all bad. And it’s obviously not the only factor contributing to cultural dysfunction.
But imagine our great-grandparents living within walking distance of their closest friends and family . . . for all of their lives. That lifestyle must have held a lot of challenges and blessings.
My ears perk up when people talk about living with long-term relationships, just like they did in the old days. I meet people who have lived in one house for decades, and it seems like I’m talking to someone from a black and white TV show.
“What’s it like to live in the same place for so long?” I ask.
To them, of course, it’s nothing special.
If they’re surrounded by healthy relationships, I see the benefits they receive from being in a stable network of friends and family.
My spirit tells me that something about that permanence is good and true.
And I want it.
I feel as if connectedness and stability are forgotten treasures needing to be rediscovered today. But let’s not get overly nostalgic about it. Lots of people in your great-grandparent’s neighborhood felt trapped. If you had been there, I could definitely see you ducking behind your grandma’s house to avoid some of the quirky characters.
Moreover, if you were to visit a tight-knit community today, haloed saints will not greet you and angels will not sing “hallelujah.” Eventually, you’ll discover real humans there with real human traits.
Just think about that church we used to attend. What if we had never moved away? I’m not mentioning any names, but I had issues with some of the people there. You did too, as I recall. What if we’d stayed put? What if we had been forced to work through those issues, rather than jumping ship and sailing out of their lives? What if we had achieved what it says in Psalm 133, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in harmony”?
This may sound pompous, but I’m gonna say it anyway: Some of my friends in that town would have been better off today if I’d stayed and not allowed our relationships to die. And I would have been better off as well, because of their positive influence on me. The best relationships take time, and a lot of it. They take the weathering of all kinds of storms. Deep, abiding friendships aren’t possible for people who spend all their time commuting, changing churches and clubs, or moving from place to place.
What’s more, I now understand that relationships are the only way for spiritual gifts to mature in each one of us. We don’t obtain love, joy, peace, and all the fruits of the spirit by sitting alone in our rooms or by visiting sacred places. These fruits are crafted in community, as our roots and branches intertwine with others.
The way I see it, life is a journey, and that journey is shared with others. I have always believed that the journey is not over until we reach our final resting place. But until recently, I never knew that God designed a resting place for his people right here on earth . . . a foreshadow of the final resting place in heaven.
This place of rest is actually the House of God, a community of people whose glory exceeds that of any building made by human hands.
While we journey on earth, we can truly have a home base with a deep sense of permanence and connectedness . . . on earth. This connectedness is shared with other people, and especially with followers of Christ who join us in the journey, because the Bible says that his Spirit ties us together, soul to soul. There is continuity in this connectedness and this resting place. It extends from these finite days on earth into the infinite future. It is a sense of permanence with the people in my community. These people with whom I laugh, cry, work, struggle, play, and pray will be my cosmic companions from one world into the next, beginning with the kingdom of God on earth . . . and extending into his kingdom in heaven.
So in one sense, heaven begins right here and now, within my Christian community.
You might ask, How in the world can we expect to discover relationships that foreshadow heaven? That honestly sounds unattainable.
It’s a good question. Still, when I think of my wife, my kids, and the handful of brothers and sisters who might have died for me, I begin to believe that these kinds of heavenly relationships are actually possible.
All those deep thoughts about connectedness and stability led me to the next step, which was to look seriously into intentional Christian communities . . . and what I discovered gave me pause to think. I observed some fascinating experiments in tribal living in a post-modern culture.
I have to admire people who truly and absolutely love living in an economically deprived neighborhood—or on a farm—solely because they are sharing life with people to whom they have committed themselves. I can’t wait to share their stories with you! These people value friendships more than house and possessions. They bear one another’s burdens. Sure, they struggle just like anyone else. Nobody said these folks are perfect, but they are keeping their commitments to each other, and that’s rare these days. They are living out what I’ve previously only read about in the Bible. I want to have relationships like that in my life! But that’s only possible if you are intentionally committed to each other on a daily basis.
It might be helpful to pause here momentarily, to establish a clear definition of intentional Christian communities, in case that term is new to you.
David Janzen of Reba Place Fellowship community writes, “Our working definition of intentional Christian community is a group of people deliberately sharing life in order to follow more closely the teachings and practices of Jesus and his disciples. The more essential dimensions of life that are shared—such as daily prayer and worship, possessions, life-decisions, living in proximity, friendships, common work or ministry, meals, care for children and elderly—the more intentional is the community.”
So you don’t get spooked, it’s not like you move onto a compound where people tell you, “Think this. Drink this. Lose your mind to our control.” That kind of cultic control is usually found in communes with a strong leader who lacks accountability . . . which is antithetical to the leadership styles of the communities that I explored.
Moreover, you don’t actually lose anything by moving from independence to healthy interdependence. You actually gain a lot. And there are all different levels of commitment. Each community is as unique as people. Some you will love, and others you might not care for. That’s the beauty; these communities have a wide diversity of thinking and practice, suitable for all different kinds of people.
For example, some communities all worship together and expect members to have similar religious beliefs. Other communities encourage members to attend whatever church they prefer outside the community.
Some communities share part or all of their finances. Others simply require monthly dues, like a homeowners association. A few don’t require any financial commitment at all.
Some are urban, some are suburban, and others are rural.
Some work together in businesses or on farms, while others expect you to find your own work.
Some communities own apartments or houses for the use of members. In other communities, members are responsible to build, buy, or rent their own housing.
Most communities are governed by democratic consensus, while some have a leadership team.
You could move across the continent to join a community, or you might choose to develop one right where you are at, never leaving your home, church, job, and neighborhood.
Communities are as diverse as the people who inhabit them.
If this sounds interesting to you, stick with me. I would love to help point you in the direction of a community that interests you. I’ll even help you plan a visit, since that’s the best way to personally check a community out.
Alternately, you might hear what I have to say and then consider developing your own intentional community, right where you’re at. I will point you to some excellent resources that can help you do that. I will also tell you about some umbrella organizations for intentional communities. These associations shepherd the communities, providing them with the support they need to thrive. If you do decide to start a community, you may want to get plugged into one of these associations.
That’s enough of my pontifications and perambulations.
I haven’t heard your story yet.
What do you find intriguing about intentional communities?
Perhaps, like me, you yearn for authentic and abiding relationships.
Maybe you believe you’ll find these more authentic relationships in community.
But you’re not sure, and you need to know more.
If you feel as if it’s time to end a chapter of independence or instability, then possibly your perfect home is described in the coming pages.
This may be the end of a long journey.
It may be the beginning of a new season of rootedness.
Your dream of cultivating deep roots may be coming true.
Be forewarned, though: It won’t be all fun and games. You’ll find sweat and tears, in addition to laughter and joy.
But I suspect that at the end of your seeking, you’ll wake up one day and say, “This is the best family and friends I could ever ask for.”
Is this journey for you?
Is it time for you to get plugged into community?
Is it time to make that final move?
Well, keep turning pages, and together we’ll learn the answers to these questions and more.
Now enjoy the ride, because there’s nothing quite so satisfying as a long-awaited journey home.
SAMPLE CHAPTER – Please do not copy or distribute.