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Jamie Arpin-Ricci Asks Me 5 Critical Q’s On Missional Community

This interview was first published on Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s website The Cost of Community.  It is a great window in the heart and mission of my work and that of NieuCommunites.

Living as part of an intentional Christian community, I often search for other creative expressions of missional communities around the world.  One such example that I love is NieuCommunitiesIt is also how I came to befriend Jon Huckins (who I finally got to meet in person at InHabit this year), who recently authored the great new book, “Thin Places: 6 Postures for Creating & Practicing Missional Community”.

However, rather than me tell you about it, I thought I would let Jon tell us about it directly.  Enjoy!

Jamie Arpin-Ricci: Tell me about NieuCommunities (i.e. some history, current realities & future plans).  How did its story result in the book?

Jon Huckins: Over a decade ago a few seasoned leaders and practitioners started regularly gathering at a local taqueria asking the question, “With the Church radically shifting, how can we create a lived, embodied formation experience that will ready young leaders for lives of mission?”  They wanted to create a “learning experience” that was not purely academic with the intention of filling pulpits, but a learning experience that would fill neighborhoods with leaders whose lives were radically re-oriented around the life and teachings of Jesus. This small tribe of Kingdom cultivators then gave birth to our first NieuCommunities missional community that was centered around forming the next generation of missionally minded leaders for the Church.

After ten years, lots of refining, tons of shared life and many leaders having been sent on mission into the marketplace, around the globe, into church leadership roles and deep into the fabric of their neighborhood, NieuCommunities now has communities scattered across the globe.  While we still pour much of our energy into forming, mentoring and developing young leaders through our 1-2 year apprenticeship, our communities are deeply rooted in neighborhood and are made up of neighbors, apprentices and our staff. Each year we covenant to commune deeply with God, live radically interdependent lives with each other and dive deep into the story(s) of our neighborhood.  We gather in our homes, live within 10 minutes walking distance from each other and don’t aspire to accumulate large numbers of people, but to multiply communities that can follow Jesus by living in covenant relationship.

Over the years many individuals and communities have heard our story and asked for some of our “field notes” from our decade of living neighborhood based, street level missional community.  This book is our response to that.  And while we are far from having all the answers, this is our humble attempt to share our learning’s with the hope of sparking the imagination and practice of individuals and communities across the globe.

JAR: What does “missional community” mean to you?  And why are those two words important to each other?

JH: “Missional” has become quite the buzzword and handy adjective for those seeking to jump on the latest ecclesial bandwagon.  I’m not saying those are inherently bad, but the last thing we need is more talk about missional…we need embodied, lived expressions of the missional way of life that is rooted in community.  I see missional community as two ideas being intimately connected.  It is a collection of people that are committed to living lives of mission (apart of the missio dei) who believe the best way to faithfully live on mission is in the context of intentional community.  Community fuels and gives context to mission and mission gives purpose and identity to the community.

JAR: Briefly outline the 6 postures you introduce in the book.

JH: We want our posture towards God, our community and our neighborhood to be intimately informed by these commitments.  Cloaked in the covering of covenant community, we pilgrimage through each of the following postures as learners and practitioners apprenticing in the way of Jesus:

Listening: We desire to be attuned to God, to self, and to our neighborhood.

Submerging: We desire to embody Jesus in our neighborhood by diving deep into the narratives that are often ignored, misunderstood or without a voice.

Inviting: We desire to grasp the depth of God’s invitation to kingdom life and to become more inviting (and invited!) people while welcoming our neighbors into God’s redemptive story.

Contending: We desire to confront the things that hinder the full expression of the kingdom of God, both spiritual and natural, in our community, among our friends and neighbors, and in our city.

Imagining: We desire to discern God’s intent on our lives and help shape transformational faith communities.

Entrusting: We desire to entrust people to God and to others, celebrate our deeper understanding of God’s call on our lives, and lean confidently into our future.

JAR: Name a few authors/books who have been particularly formative for you & NieuCommunities.  How so?

JH: These books and authors have done well at rooting us deep in the Story of God, while learning from traditions that daily inform our life and practice (namely, Celtic Spirituality).  Further, we will often read these books as a community based on the current posture we are navigating together.

The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George Hunter
Spiritual Direction, Henri Nouwen
Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne
Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl
Jesus and the Victory of God – N.T. Wright
The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster
Theology for the Community of God, Stanley Grenz
The Mission of God, Christopher Wright

JAR: What is your biggest concern for the church today and why?

JH: My greatest concern for the Church is that it would loose sight of its vocation of living as a sent people.  The Western Church of the last 100 years as largely turned towards ecclesial models that promote consumption rather than participation.  People often leave/drive from their local contexts to attend a church gathering in a building where a person(s) lead the rest of the congregation in some form of worship and teaching.  The people then drive back to their neighborhoods having received something for themselves.  While this is certainly not all bad and great things have and continue to happen in these contexts, this model has largely debilitated the vocation of the People of God.  In this model it is easy to think that only the “pastor” has been sent to share the Good News of Jesus (which is often viewed synonymously with spoken word rather than lived life), so we are simply to bring people to a service or gathering to hear him/her share.  The Good News is removed from the context of everyday life in our neighborhoods, revolves around a service that requires a vast amount of resources and is something we only hear rather than embody.

We believe we are not only to share the Good News, but embody the Good News.  Jesus extends his vocation of redemption and restoration to humanity to accept and participate in.  When the church simply becomes a place or a commodity, we are greatly debilitated in living out our vocation as sent ones for the benefit of the cosmos.  In other words, whether we are sent across the world or across the street, we are all missionaries.  Until the Church sees its role to multiply Kingdom participants on mission rather than offering goods and services to consumers, the influence and prophetic presence of the Church will be greatly diminished.  Thankfully, there is a Spirit-driven movement afoot that is growing, grass-roots and poised to radically reorient the Church around the life and teachings of Jesus.

JAR: Thanks Jon.

Thin Places Releases TODAY! Check out: Full Video Session, 1st Chapter & Table of Contents

It’s finally here! Order your copy of “Thin Places”.

Also, in anticipation of today’s release of Thin Places, the good folks at The House Studio have released all sorts of fun stuff! As a way to allow all of you to be a bit more familiar with what Thin Places (and the Small Group edition) is all about, you can now check out the Table of Contents, the full first chapter and the second of six videos in the small group edition.  

Hope it is helpful and I would much appreciate you passing the word!  

Check this out for a full description, video trailer, endorsements.

Check out the table of contents

Read the First Chapter: Listening

Thin Places -- Chapter 2: Submerging from The House Studio on Vimeo.

“There Are No Thin Places.” My Response to Tony Jones

I really appreciate Tony Jones.  He is one of the best conversation starters in the “Christian” blogosphere with his passion for the Church to step more fully into its vocation by setting aside complacency and static dogma.  Tony asks hard questions and seeks to create space for constructive discourse that leads to new insights and answers.  On a personal level, his endorsement of my first book – Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling – to the higher ups at Zondervan is a significant reason I got published at that stage of my life/career. 

In my mind: Tony = Good Dude. 

Last week there was some buzz around my new book (with Rob Yackley), Thin Places, Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, that led to Tony posting a blog (Read it here for the rest of this post to make sense) in response to Steve Knight’s post on it the day before.  The conversation revolved primarily around varying interpretations of the Celtic term “Thin Place” and the secular/sacred dualism it could potentially create.  Tony argues that there are is no such thing as a thin place, “I say this because God is ever-present, everywhere. God isn’t more some places and less in other places. God is, in the classic sense, omnipresent.”  Rob and I give our interpretation of a “thin place” in the comments of this post.

In the end, Tony agrees with us on this and we agree with him.  God is everywhere, but a thin place is that moment/place where we are awakened to the reality of God’s Kingdom in a new way.  It’s not that it wasn’t here, it’s that we hadn’t yet had the eyes to see it.  He says, “In other words, pay attention. God is already where you are.”

Couple More Thoughts:

1. There is an irony to this whole conversation.  The point of this book is to offer the lived, rooted, praxis-based expression of a missional community so as to help spark the imaginations and practices of other faith communities.   We are saying,  Life on mission in the context of intentional community is not a far out ideal: it is a reality waiting for others to step into.”  “Missional” has become quite the buzzword and handy adjective for those seeking to jump on the latest ecclesial bandwagon.  I’m not saying those are inherently bad, but the last thing we need is more TALK about missional…we need embodied, lived expressions of the missional way of life.  

The Irony?  This book is seeking to encourage the Church to LIVE INTO their theology rather than debate it.  So while I love the discussions that are circling around the theological connotations of the title of this book, I’d love even more to see us wrestling with how to PRACTICE this in the real-life stories of our neighborhood.

I’m not saying there isn’t a need for academic critique, discourse or even debate on this.  In fact, I find great value in that and personally come to life in it.  What I am saying is that it would go a long way if we more often stepped out from behind our computers, and began to better live out our theology in the mundane than argue theology in the theoretical (I recently said much more about that over at Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians blog).  If there’s a hope from Thin Places, It’s not only for people to be encouraged to live this out, but to build on it, improve and add to it, and then share that insight with others. 

2.  Missional Hipster?

Well, you may have me there, Tony…or maybe not.  Depends on who you talk to.  I think hipsters wouldn’t consider me a hipster and non-hipsters would call me a hipster.  And as Rob said, he’s way to old to be a hipster.  Are there hipsters in our community?  Let’s just say some of the guys have to put Vaseline on their thighs to pull their pants up, so yes, we have some hipster up in here.  But please know that after I send you a box of THIN mints and Wheat THINS you’ll be receiving a prayed over spatula from our white missional hipster BBQ. 

 

 

“This is the Village I Have Been Telling You about”

This is an excerpt from the Afterword of Thin Places and was first published over at The House Studio.  

These postures and the stories that fill them out aren’t concrete, sure-fire steps to a vibrant life as a missional community. They are simply field notes from our humble attempts at living out the mission of God in the context of covenant community. It is messy, it is discouraging, but it is beautiful and I really, really think it is worth a shot.

Janna, a midwife at a local birthing center where a few of the babies in our community were born (including our little daughter, Ruby), made a sign of a cross and prayed a quick blessing over Derek and Christiana’s daughter, Anika, moments after she was born. Both the parents were deeply moved by this sincere act of love and care.

Over the course of the next year, Janna became close friends with Christiana and many of the other women in our community. Soon, it was Janna’s turn to get pregnant and embrace the sacred anticipation of new life and an expanding family.

A few months into her pregnancy, Janna’s husband broke relationship with her and their quickly developing child. She was crushed and struggled to see the baby’s pending arrival as a blessing. Feeling alone, abandoned, and heartbroken, our little tribe of Jesus apprentices began to surround her with love that she desperately needed during this vulnerable time.

Helping her find an apartment in our neighborhood, we moved Janna into our “home” just weeks before the baby was due. All the moms excitedly got her fully equipped with hand-me-downs and threw an incredible baby shower.

Committed to natural childbirth, Janna decided to have a homebirth in her apartment and asked Rebecca and Christiana to be in on the labor as doulas. After forty-three hours of hard labor, Janna gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Having not yet decided on a name, she temporarily called her new little companion “Turkey.”

Reflecting on the impact Janna’s blessing had made on her and Derek, Christiana asked if we could come over and pray a blessing over Janna and Turkey. Just twenty-four hours after the birth, our tribe filled her little apartment and prayed blessings over Janna and her precious little boy.

With tears filling her eyes, Janna looked down at her son and said, “This is the village I have been telling you about.”

We were no longer just Janna’s friends: we had become her village, her community.

When she said these words, I was stirred to tears. This was what it is all about. This was the way God had created his community to function. God’s dreams for his people were being made real in this small apartment in Golden Hill. It truly was a thin place.

Two of my closest friends have followed (from afar) the life we now live as part of NieuCommunities. They have offered endless support, but they have also asked the hard questions that have led me to deeper conviction in our calling to live in missional community. Within the course of the same week, they each separately said, “The ministry you’re in and the life you’re living give me hope that my ideals for the Church can become reality.”

My response was brief: “Please know that they can be.”

Life on mission in the context of intentional community is not a far out ideal: it is a reality waiting for others to step into. Consider joining me. Consider joining us in the global movement that is seeking to faithfully tell God’s story.

Glimpses of a New Narrative

This blog was originally posted over at The House Studio (publisher of Thin Places) a couple days ago.  

We live in the downtown neighborhood of Golden Hill in San Diego.  It is a place that contains a multitude of narratives.  At times they are warring narratives, other times they are complementary narratives and still other times they simply learn to live in tension with one another.  Shaped by race, economic standing, family culture, age and value systems, they drive the social fabric of our neighborhood.  To know Golden Hill is to know diversity.  It is to know a place that has been broken.  A place that has been written off and at different times in its history been labeled “The Garbage Dump” and “Heroine Hill.”

Recently, there was a city wide electrical blackout.  Life seemingly stopped.

Roads were at a stand still, homes were dark and businesses closed.

But something else happened.  Something sacred.

TV’s were no longer replacing shared life, florescent lights were no longer drowning out the warmth of the sun, cars were parked in driveways and people took to their patios, yards and sidewalks.  The autonomous life was subconsciously being exchanged for the life of community.

Life did not stop with this blackout; instead we found that life was actually just beginning.

As our neighbors pulled food out of their thawing freezers and put it on our BBQ, our patio began to fill with life, hope and collaboration.  A neighbor posted on Twitter the next morning, “Last night, under a moonlit sky, neighbors became friends across the city. Worth considering how to cultivate such a thing year-round.”

A new story was coming to life.  It was a narrative that transcended all the warring narratives of the past and gave a glimpse into the future we believe God has for this neighborhood.

While praying over his community on the Island of Iona, the 6th century Celtic monk, St. Columba, described his experience as a Thin Place; a place where heaven and earth were only thinly separated; A place where God’s Kingdom was being made real.

We experienced a thin place that blacked out evening in Golden Hill.  As a band of Jesus’ apprentices committed to commune with God, dive deep into intentional community with one another and engage our neighborhood with the new narrative of God’s Kingdom, our missional community seeks to be conduits of thin places.  NieuCommunities desires to develop individuals and communities that not only dream about thin places, but who experience them on a daily basis.

Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community is a book that was birthed out of lived community committed to following in the way of Jesus while diving deep into the fabric of our neighborhood. These postures and the stories that fill them out aren’t concrete, sure-fire steps to a vibrant life as a missional community. They are simply field notes from our humble attempts at living out the mission of God in the context of covenant community over the past ten years.  It is messy, it is discouraging, but it is beautiful and I really, really think it is worth a shot.

May the Church global be mobilized and empowered by the Spirit to embody the Good News of Jesus in all its forms in every moment of everyday.

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