Yesterday I presented a brief history of the soil which gave birth monasticism (Click to read Part 1). In short, the monastics chose a life self denial, isolation and rigorous spiritual disciples out of faithful devotion to Jesus. While the movement often withdrew from society (whether individually or communally) they offered a prophetic call to the low-committment Church of the Roman Empire. For the monastics, being a Christian wasn’t a transaction or a label, it was a way of life.
We have much to learn from the monastics, but how can we take what we have learned and shape communities that aren’t only focused on formation, but also mission?
The Missional Stream of Missional-Monastic Community
Although the monastery was—and to some degree still is—a place that is primarily focused on personal and communal formation through a withdrawal from culture, it largely served as the birthplace of the missional movement
The Celtic Cross in Knock, Ireland
within Church history. St. Patrick and his successors began to plant seeds of the missional DNA within the soil of monasticism and the Church in the fifth century. Having been kidnapped and enslaved by the Irish as a youth, Patrick returned home to Britain with a divine conviction to return to Ireland and invite his persecutors into the way of Jesus.
Not content to withdraw from society for the sake of personal formation, Patrick birthed a new form of monastery— what George G. Hunter III terms “monastic communities”. Unlike previous monasteries, Patrick’s weren’t “organized to protest and escape from the materialism of the Roman world and the corruption of the Church; the Celtic monasteries were organized to penetrate the pagan world and to extend the Church.” These communities were committed to spiritual formation—both individually and communally—and they were fueled by the missio dei to be good news in their new and extremely different context. They were what I see as missional-monastic communities.
Throughout our Christian history, the church often struggled to consistently produce missional-monastic communities, communities that were committed to internal formation that directly influenced their external extension and engagement. The institutions often calcified, the monasteries often withdrew at the expense of missional engagement, and missions turned to violent colonialism.
Obviously the news isn’t all bad as the Spirit faithfully led and guided the changing Church through its dysfunctions as it continues to do today. With that said, I think these paradigms remain a helpful critique and corrective for the Church. It is not enough to be purely focused on formation or purely focused on mission. There must be a dynamic interdependence that allows the Spirit to shape and fuel both individuals and communities as they seek to faithfully participate in the missio dei.
How often do our faith communities amount to little more than Bible studies? Can the Bible be faithfully “studied” if it isn’t put into practice in the “classroom” of our neighborhood, city, or world?
In contrast, how often do we go on mission trips where we don’t really have any relationship with the people we are seeking to serve or any understanding of the context in which they live? We have plenty of “outreach” programs, but our relationships with God and with neighborhoods are nothing more than a passing wave.
We can neither remain withdrawn from society in our monasteries nor advance on mission without being fueled by the Spirit. So what does it look like to be a missional-monastic community today in the unique soil of our context?
Tomorrow — Part 3: Embodied Missional-Monastic Community
While I have been at work on the development and writing of Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community for over a year, the contents are the culmination of over 10 years of lived theology, story and practice. While I love to write, this project has been uniquely fulfilling as it is the story of the life calling I (and my family!) have given ourselves to. It is not abstract theology or philosophy, but rooted in real relationships and experiences from a band of Jesus followers who are seeking to embody the Church everyday through communion with God, community with one another and deep engagement in our neighborhood.
Further, it is not my book. It is a book about community that was birthed and formed out of community. With the wise and seasoned partnership of Rob Yackley, I am simply stepping back and doing my best to share what God has been and continues to do among those apart NieuCommunities. We hope this sparks the imagination and practice of Jesus’ communities all over the globe.
There is both a book and a DVD small group curriculum (which I must say our publisher -- The House Studio -- did an INCREDIBLE job producing) that would be ideal for communities and churches to experience together. The small group videos were captured right here on the streets and in the homes of our NieuCommunites’ site here in Golden Hill (San Diego).
I appreciate your interest, am looking forward to hearing your stories of community transformation and would be grateful for any support in passing the word about this!
Thin Places releases June 12th. Huge thanks to Jon Hall and Peter Schrock for putting together this video.
Forward by Mark Scandrette, Author of Practicing the Way of Jesus and Executive Director at ReIMAGINE
There is currently an abundance of conversation and resources advocating for the Church to move from her congregational and attractional models towards more holistic, missional embodiments of the Church that submerge deep into the neighborhood. While conversations and resources are often valuable, it is essential that we move from conversation to tangible practices and practical application that enlivens our kingdom imagination for shared mission that is rooted in community and place.
NieuCommunities is a collective of missional-monastic communities scattered around the globe that have been living this out for the past 10 years. In this book, we share our “field notes” — through theology, story and experience – as a way to offer a tangible framework of rooted practices that develop apprentices of Jesus to live on mission in the unique soil of their local context.
While standing on a hill overlooking his community on the Island of Iona, the Celtic monk St. Columba began to pray. He described his experience as a thin place, a place where heaven and earth were only thinly separated. We hope this book sparks the imagination and practice of individuals and communities across the globe to cocreate their own unique thin places that aren’t simply a dream, but a daily and transforming reality.
Here’s what comes with the small group edition: -- DVD containing 6 video sessions with Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley -- 1 copy of Thin Places -- In-depth discussion questions to help you explore each topic -- Video Sessions
“I thoroughly loved this book and found myself saying ‘Amen’ at every page. A primer in incarnational mission by those who have lived it and taught it for well over a decade.” ~ Michael Frost, Author of The Shaping of Things to Come and The Road to Missional
“As God continues to call the church to it’s most powerful essence of missional communities, Thin Places offers an inspirational look into practices and postures that forge God’s people together and propel them outward.” ~ Hugh Halter, Author of The Tangible Kingdom, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, and Sacrilege
“Over the past decade interest in community life and neighborhood engagement have emerged as significant themes for a new generation of Christ followers who yearn for embodied and holistic spirituality. To thrive, this world-wild movement needs practical resources, born from historical awareness, thoughtful reflection and most importantly lived experience. Thin Places by Jon Huckins, is precisely this kind of storied resource, a tool that can equip groups to practice the way of Jesus and make a life together in their local contexts for the good of the world.” ~ Mark Scandrette, Author of Practicing the Way of Jesus and Executive Director at ReIMAGINE
“The terms ‘missional’ and ‘monastic’ are all too often tossed around by Christians as buzz words, an unfortunate reality given the importance of both terms. That is why ‘Thin Places’ is such a gift to the church! Not only do the authors understand and protect the integrity of both concepts, but bring them together in a way that points us towards an exciting future as God’s people actively living into His kingdom” ~ Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Pastor and Author of The Cost of Community:Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom
“The call of faith has always included living in community. The thing is, it is really hard. And there are not enough places where gritty community meets possibility. But, that is what I found in my time with NieuCommunities. These are people who welcomed me in, as a stranger and not only treated me as an honored guest, they made me part of the family. In short, these are people who know what they are doing in creating Christian community and Thin Places not only chronicles their experiences, but invites other communities to imagine how to do the same.” ~ Doug Pagitt, Pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Author of Preaching Re-Imagined and Church Re-Imagined
“In the modern world of exponential speed and individual mobility, there is a growing hunger for a faith that can be lived out together… where we can be present… where there is an embodied practice… where the gospel becomes tangible in a particular place. NieuCommunities extends the rare gift of a transformative discipleship process that is full-bodied and place-based. Their longevity and fixity is in rich contrast to a world of quick-fix and fast-track! ~ Paul Sparks, Founding Co-Director Parish Collective
“It has become painfully obvious to many that the religious atmosphere of the West has drastically changed. Are we Christians still to be a people animated by the Gospel? If so, than more than ever, we need small bands of people like NieuCommunities that move into neighborhoods with the Gospel in their hearts and shaping how the live to change our communities for the sake of the Kingdom.” ~ Jason Evans, founder of the Ecclesia Collective
“You do not get to clarity alone. Gaining new understanding of what God desires of his followers comes only in the context of community. No one does community better than the NieuCommunities tribe who value both authentic life change as well as missional impact. For over ten years NieuCommunities has formed people who look, love, act, and live like Jesus. This new book chronicles their journey and gives those passionate to live different, for Christ, hope. I highly recommend this read.” ~ Terry Walling, President of Leader Breakthru and Author of Stuck!
There is a “come and see” authenticity about NieuCommunities that is so reminiscent of Jesus calling the disciples out of fishing boats on the shore of Lake Galilee I can almost taste the salt air. At the same time, the “come and see” community is balanced by a “go and do” mission that gives me hope for inside-out change in neighborhoods in the global city. At a time when many are talking about missional communities, NieuCommunities quietly and expertly goes about doing it—forming young men and women and transforming neighborhoods. The vitality of NieuCommunities is less about what is being said than what is being lived. You’ll want to read this book and listen to their story. ~ John Hayes, founder of innerCHANGE and Author of Submerge and Living Deep in a Shallow World.
“As the Church is rediscovering its missional ethos within a post-Christian culture that has been saturated with religious consumerism and nominal commitment, we have needed communities that could model a new path forward for us. NieuCommunities has done just that and I excitedly anticipate a book that captures their journey.” ~ Kyle Osland, Pastor at Icon Church, San Diego.
”I have had the privilege of seeing the NieuCommunities mentoring year up close as a pastor of a church community in which both mentors and apprentices have participated. I can witness to the transforming impact their mentoring has had on people. In an age when we are so often (de)formed by default by the forces of consumerism and individualism, NieuCommunities offers an alternative formation: intentional mentoring relationships shaped by kingdom practices of community, service, cultural engagement, scripture and prayer. Surely this way of mentoring is a vital pathway for re-forming the church to participate in the mission of God.” ~ Tim Dickau, Pastor of Grandview Church, Vancouver, B.C. and Author of Plunging Into the Kingdom Way: Practicing the Shared Strokes of Community, Hospitality, Justice, and Confession
“The Christian Scriptures tells us that in the present life we will receive hundredfold in houses and for many of us that’s hard to believe but at NieuCommunities you get to experience this reality come true. Where there is a NieuCommunities there you will find people with houses ready to share with all who come to find rest and it is by this commitment to hospitality that we experience the Scriptures coming alive.” ~ Darin Petersen of Relational Tithe and The Simple Way
There have been few historical Christian communities that have had a more significant role in shaping our community’s postures of life and mission than that of St. Patrick and the Celtic Christians. Living as a “sent” people who were committed to rhythms of common life, this band of early Christians embodied missional-monastic community in a context that was anything but conventional.
While Saint Patrick of Ireland is one of the most commonly known spiritual fathers of the past 2000 years, he is also one of the most misunderstood. Often associated with green beer, shamrocks and the driving out of snakes, St. Patrick’s life and legacy have been greatly diminished by folklore. Because his legend is so widely spread, there is rich potential for the values of the historical St. Patrick to reach the masses if his story is retold well. Having been raised in Roman nobility and enslaved by Irish barbarians, his role as spiritual father of a hostile population was uniquely shaped by earlier parts of his life. Further, St. Patrick’s ability to create a Christian movement of engagement within a pagan Celtic spirituality offers a rich tradition that, if emulated, has the potential to ignite the hearts and imaginations of Christians around the globe.
After being kidnapped from his home in Briton (Northern England) as a child, Patrick spent six years in slavery tending livestock on the hills of Ireland. During that time he had an encounter with God that would forever change the trajectory of his life and mission. While in the fields, he had a vision of his escape back to Britain and after walking 200 miles through the wilderness, he boarded a ship for Britain. Because Roman roads often didn’t extend to some of the coastal towns in Britain, after his arrival he and his fellow crewmates wandered the large island for 28 days. Nearly starving to death, Patrick prayed for God’s provision and told his captain, “Today he’s going to send food right into your path – plenty to fill your bellies – because his abundance is everywhere” (Freeman, 40). God did provide and Patrick made it home.
The man that returned to his boyhood home was no longer the boy that had been kidnapped six years earlier. Patrick now had a living relationship with the God who wanted not only the hearts of the Romans, but of the Irish barbarians that had enslaved him. Despite being a town hero and his parents begging him never to leave again, Patrick had another vision where he heard a chorus of voices saying, “Come here and walk among us” (Freeman, 50)! Although in much different circumstances than the first, Patrick decided to go back to Ireland.
It was upon St. Patrick’s arrival that the viral movement of Celtic Christian communities took shape and extended throughout the “barbarian” lands. History tells us that Patrick engaged and traveled “to the most remote parts of the island – places at the very edge of the world, places no one had ever been before” (Freeman, 73). St. Patrick didn’t go to Ireland to minister by himself, as the saint knew that the spiritual life and missionary call was not to be lived alone. In fact, the message he was working to share wouldn’t have made practical sense outside of a life lived in community. The Celtic Christianity that was birthed out of Patrick didn’t simply seek the transactional, individual conversion, but it invited others into a life of discipleship and practice. Monastic life set in the context of vocational mission offered a fertile foundation for a movement that was symbolized by journey rather than a static arrival of faith.
Because the spiritual journey is not to be trod alone, communal monasticism grew out of the tradition of Patrick. In a society that was spread thin across the island, monasticism created the first population hubs in Ireland (Cahill, 156). The monastic life in Ireland wasn’t as strict as many other orders in Europe as it promoted movement towards engaging the Celtic culture and the reading of all literature; whether Christian or pagan (Cahill, 159).
It was in these population hubs that the Celtic Christian’s offer us a brilliant model of invitation. Unlike Roman monasteries that were typically built in quiet, remote locations, the Celtic communities were planted right alongside the tribal settlements where the Irish pagans lived and worked. The prevailing opinion in the Roman church was that barbarians were not even capable of becoming Christians. Why? They were considered illiterate, emotional, out of control. But Patrick invited these Irish barbarians into the community to taste and participate in a different way of doing life. He knew that most people need to belong before they believe. They need to be listened to and understood, because when people sense that someone really understands them, they begin to believe that maybe God can understand them too.
These “barbarians” found a home through the invitation of Patrick and this new movement of Jesus followers. And it was only in the context of this invitation that they we able to step towards the invitation of God into a Story that continues to be told through his Community today.
As missional-monastic pioneers we would do well to reflect on the life and mission of St Patrick & consider integrating them into our unique contexts.
 Freeman, P. (2004). St. Patrick of Ireland: a biography. New York: Simon and Schuster.
 Cahill, T. (1996). How the Irish saved civilization: the untold story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medieval Europe. Anchor.
I’m currently working on a project that draws lines of connection between St. Patrick of Ireland, Celtic Christianity and New Monasticism. It has been a fascinating study, but when I came across this Celtic prayer I couldn’t help but pass the word. The Celtic Christians would create “everyday prayers” that created a space to acknowledge and commune with God throughout both the tedious and hopeful experiences in life. They range from topics of making the bed to petitions for God’s protection. The prayer below (author unknown) is a prayer of praise for their favorite beverage:
My friend Kenny and I get to hang out pretty often (The story behind our first meeting is pretty amazing: read about it here). It is usually a random gathering as I see him sitting up against his favorite telephone pole as I walk to my favorite coffee shop. Sometimes I act busy and just say hello, ask a few questions and keep walking to the coffee shop. Other days, I slow down, sit up against the garage door next to his telephone pole and have some quality conversation. Kenny is brilliant and always remembers the content of our previous conversations, so it’s not hard to get into some meaningful dialog.
I don’t know where Kenny sleeps at night (he makes it clear that he doesn’t tell anyone), but he sits at the base of the same tree every morning and at the base of the same telephone pole every afternoon. He and I have an informal “book study” going on, but he usually just wants to share a couple stories and show me the best coupons in the local newspaper.
St. Columba was a Celtic Monk who while living on the island of Iona off of Scotland would climb to the top of a nearby hill and pray a blessing over his brothers and over the land. He called it a “thin place,” meaning heaven and earth were only thinly separated. Further, he had visions of all being restored to God’s original order.
When I sit with Kenny, I experience a “thin place.” When I choose to see clearly, I can see the face of Jesus in his eyes and I hope he can see Jesus in mine. I picture the day when his fractured reality is restored and he not only has a roof to keep him from the soaking rain, but when his inner being filled with the Spirit.
I hope to seek out “thin places” in my daily life. It is less about location and more about being open to participate in the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom as inaugurated in Jesus. It is about living into God’s ultimate vision of restoration in my life and in all Creation.
Jon Huckins is the Co-Founding Director of The Global Immersion Project, Missional Leadership Coach with Thresholds, family man, speaker & author of Thin Places & Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling
Books by Jon Huckins
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