We recently announced we are beginning a very small intentional community in October when our friend Melinda moves in with us. In the coming months Melinda and I (and Lyndie if we can peel her away from Pinterest) will be writing a great deal about our thoughts and preparations for this transition. Today I’m defining what intentional community even means.
Intentional community is one of the few buzzphrases of the twenty-first century church that I think actually succeeds in representing the reality is sets out to. So much of the emergent church’s lexicon seems to be too clever or original for its own good, and the ideas represented get tripped up by the awkwardness of the language. Words like progressive and missional always bug me because they imply that anyone who disagrees with the positions of the group claiming those words could not possibly be described by them. The phrase intentional community however is theologically neutral, and the practice it describes has a long and diverse history within the global church.
To live in intentional community is to be purposeful about giving and receiving the benefits of community with a small group of friends. Basically, it means to live life together. In the last several decades within the Christian context it has meant that a small group of Christians live together or in close proximity and take care of each other, sharing friendship, honesty, spiritual practices, resources, meals and daily tasks, and support for all areas of life. An intentional community is a chosen family, a group of people you are committing to loving well.
This practice is far from new. The description of the young churches in the New Testament show arrangements very similar to this in which believers met in houses, shared meals and funds, and took care of each other. Benedictine monastic communities have lived in a similar manner for 1,500 years. And like with so many other ancient forms of Christian spirituality, the practice has seen a resurgence in popularity over the last few decades as young Christ followers seek a more authentic way of living the ways of Jesus than what they are typically offered in their churches.
I don’t want anyone to hear me saying churches are not places where a person can find community. They certainly can be. I have had many wonderful experiences of friendship and trust in church settings. One thing I’ve noticed though is that it can be very easy to exist within a church without this. The fault for this may lie more with the environment of a given church or it may lie more in my own heart, but the fact is it can be very easy to just smile on a Sunday morning and drift through a service without seeing or being seen, to offer a kind of honesty during a small group meeting that looks really vulnerable but is actually far from the true hurts and joys of my heart. But in living on a daily and weekly basis with a specific group of people who see you at your best and your worst, it is difficult to maintain complacency, difficult to project a facade of okay-ness you don’t actually feel.
An intentional community is not a cult. It is not a harem. It is not a revolutionary group. It is not anything weird at all, in fact. It is friends choosing to live as family. It is people who share the same desire for authentic spiritual life living in such a way that they can help one another along on that path. It is followers of Jesus committing to hold each other up on good days and bad days. Not just happy Sundays and sad Sundays, but on the Tuesdays when you’re cussing about your boss, the Thursdays when you really need someone to listen to this song you just heard because this one line hit you right in the chest, the days when your children’s behavior is making you really understand abusive parents better, the days and days of tedium when there seems to be far more laundry to fold than profound observations about God to contemplate, the nights when God suddenly shows up in a conversation after four beers, and no one has to drive away afterwards.
Intentional community is definitely not something new we’ve come up with. It’s been around a long time, in a lot of different settings. It isn’t even a new idea in our own lives, as we’ve been reading and discussing it for years. But it is new to us in practice, which means we’re learning as we go, and there will be a lot of trial and error. Join us as we journey toward a better understanding of community. And if you’re ever in Greenville, you’re welcome at our table.
Next Monday we’ll be posting an FAQ about our specific plans for intentional community.