Coming to the UK was a sacrifice. I had to leave friends and family behind in Sweden, including my girlfriend – now fiancée – Sarah. I had to say no to speaking requests and opportunities to do the things I love the most. I had to prepare and plan the community we want to start in Sweden from a distance, which is far from easy.
This is a price I have been willing to pay. The new friendships I’ve built with people here and the practical experience of community of goods have been invaluable. As David Janzen writes in his Intentional Christian Community Handbook: starting a community from scratch without at least one person having lived in community previously, is a very bad idea. Even the apostles had to be trained in community life by Jesus himself before they founded their Jerusalem community church (John 13:29, Acts 2:44-45).
What I had not expected was the amount of “giving” I felt compelled to do in contrast to “receiving”. As I’ve written before, I have not mainly been inspired during my Training year. Rather, I have focused on inspiring others.
I guess this is because I have a hard time being an onlooker when I notice stuff that can be improved! This has in most cases been welcomed and appreciated, of which I am grateful.
But what have I then learned during the seven months I’ve spent here?
First, God is the centre of community and His people are its building blocks. Before I came to the Jesus Army, I was quite focused on the practical aspects of community. To be honest, I almost viewed the people that I would live in community with as a detail on the same level as the house or bank account we would use. Not in a dehumanising way of course; I merely thought that we should welcome everyone interested for the “project” to get started, having ticked the “people” box in the to-do-list.
This is a very dangerous view of community. Its very essence is a people gathered by God to love each other. Shared housing, possessions and church life are all outcomes of that. Without love, the community will either be destroyed or corrupted.
“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
Second, conflicts and issues need to be dealt with as soon as possible. Now, I’m terrified of conflicts and happily ignore them as long as possible, so this is a huge challenge for me. But this can’t be stressed enough: ignored conflicts only get worse. When problems aren’t dealt with in a week, month, year, decade and so on, it deepens to the extent that it eventually can kill the whole community.
The Matthew 18 principle of speaking to those who sin first privately, then together with a counsellor and eventually with the whole church, was written with community in mind. Persecution can’t kill community, neither the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18). But a brother or sister gossiping and/or attacking fellow community members is extremely dangerous, and needs to be dealt with immediately.
Third, the reason for living in community must first and foremost be Biblical obedience. Personal conviction, friendship and brotherhood, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are excellent reasons for joining community. But when the personal revelation fades, when relationships turn difficult and when the Spirit is whispering rather than shouting, Jesus’ command to sell everything (Luke 12:33) still stands.
I will deeply miss the Jesus Army and all its lovely Jesus people. I’ll continue to pray for the community movement that God has established here, that he will strengthen its vision and foundation and that more people will discover the beauty and freedom of intentional, Christian community.