Tag Archives: Community

Community And Growth by Jean Vanier (Book Reaction)

Our world needs a rekindled sense of community. We sense it; we feel the isolation and our isolating habits and we groan for something more.

Vanier sensed this many years ago when he wrote the original version of Community and Growth (1979). His wise words carry just as much wisdom for today as they did thirty years ago.

“The essence of community,” Vanier wrote, “is a sense of belonging.” (p.16) “It is a place where people are earthed and find their identity.” (p.13) Discovering and cultivating community is coming to find “my people” and our common call together.

This happens through the practice of embracing one another, brokenness and all, and practicing forgiveness. “A community comes about when people are no longer hiding from one another, no longer pretending or proving their value to another.” (p. 24) “When we accept that we have weaknesses and flaws, that we have sinned against God and against our brothers and sisters, but that we are forgiven and can grow towards inner freedom and truer love, then we can accept the weaknesses and flaws of others.” (p.35)

Vanier also adds: “Too many people come into community to find something, to belong to a dynamic group, to discover a life which approaches the ideal. If we come into community without knowing that the reason we come is to learn to forgive and be forgiven seven times seventy-seven times, we will soon be disappointed.” (p.37)

Rather than finding a place that hides our inner struggles, we discover in true and formative community that God is weaving us together, immersing us in one another’s brokenness so that we become practiced in forgiving an nurturing those who are experiencing such brokenness; this leads us to practice the same thing in the world around us. This is our practice of imitating Christ’s incarnation, his plunge into our broken world.

Vanier’s book continues as a wise and friendly guide that can help us discern how to nurture such community with the people God has placed us with.

An example: the chapter, “Walking Toward the Covenant” caused me to wonder how we can nourish people toward a covenant life in the church, a true sharing of all our life together so we eventually see the fruit from that sharing. And: How can we evaluate our life together based on that cultivation of fruit instead of attendance, budgets, or a sense of how impressive our programming has become?

The chapter titled “Mission” contains some of the most freeing and powerful language on mission I’ve read. Vanier wrote these powerful lines:

“[Communities will seek] to pray and to be present in a special way to the smallest and the weakest within their community or outside it.” (p.94)

“People who gather together to live the presence of Jesus among people in distress are therefore called not just to do things for them, or to see them as objects of charity, but rather to receive them as a source of life and of communion.” (p.95)

“The cry for love and communion and for recognition that arises from the hearts of people in need reveals the fountain of love in us and our capacity to give life. At the same time, it can reveal our hardness of heart and our fears….The cry of the poor is threatening to the rich person within us. We are sometimes prepared to give money and a little time, but we are frightened to give our hearts, to enter into a personal relationship of love and communion with them. For if we do so, we shall have to die to all our selfishness and to all the hardness of our heart.” (p.98)

Within the collection of wonderful quotes, I began to wonder, “How do I nurture this? What steps to I need to take to help people step into this kind of life together?”

I discovered as I finished Community and Growth that it may have been Vanier’s intent to leave me with many questions; I discovered that Vanier had not written a mathematical manual for me or anyone else to follow in rote but instead, he was guiding me to see and anticipate something yet to come, something which I must participate in the construction of alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is the beauty of the book: my questions will propel me (and your questions you) into prayerful discernment with the communities we’ve been planted in by God. Our prayer and discernment will be met, I’m sure, with God’s unique guidance for us in our unique locations and with our unique people. The questions that Vanier’s writing has inspired will help me, and you, become aware of what to cultivate and aware of what direction we must follow.

May our journeys be blessed!


(Content originally posted within the July 2013 NADCE Quarterly, a National Association of Director of Christian Education periodical. On this site, the article is condensed and reformatted for a different audience.)

A Letter About Moving to 28 S. 17th St., Kansas City, Kansas (January 17, 2012)

Dear Friends and Family,


One man’s “don’t worry about tomorrow” has become a grace in Jesus received. Another family’s “tomorrow will have enough cares of its own,” has trickled, watering a decision.

Jennifer, Jude, Jesse, and I are moving to 28 S. 17th St. in Kansas City, Kansas.

Kansas City, Kansas, (in the Prescott community we’ll live in) is a place experiencing some neat revitalization. Everyone we’ve met bursts with pride for the home. Jenny, the boys, and I are excited to move into the neighborhood, participating in life together.

Our friends, Scott, Stephanie, Karis, and Luke, had moved to the Prescott community a year and a half before. They sensed a call from God to immerse themselves in a community that had felt abandoned in some regards, maybe by “wealth flight.” They sensed a call to practice the ways of Jesus in a new but also very ancient kind of way. As I understood it, the call was related to the necessary practice needed in today’s church communities to practice a new way of life together because the old one has overshadowed parts of Jesus and neglected parts of the call to discipleship.

Inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call to a needed “new monasticism,” praying imaginations began to imagine what this “new monasticism” could look like and how it may be helpful to practice. A guy named Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote a book on the phrase and came up with these twelve pieces of a new monastic life:

12 Marks of New Monasticism

1) Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

3) Hospitality to the stranger

4) Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

5) Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.

6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.

7) Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

8.) Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

9) Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

10) Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.

11) Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

12) Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

(These words come from The Simple Way and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. They aren’t statements from Scott, Luke or Steph, but we resonate with what’s written here.)

My imagination has become very excited by the invitation into a similar way of life with Scott, Luke and Steph. I don’t know what will come of it, but we’re going to enjoy the exploration.

We always knew the invitation was open – you know, to come move into the neighborhood with Scott, Steph, Luke, David, and whoever happened to be living there. It remained a jested, unspoken possibility since the day they moved into their house. Seeing the most of a whole block empty and ready for new families, 28 S. 17th St. was always “our house.”

I don’t remember what flipped, what turned the jest into a real interest. But, like a lot of things, it happened like rain hitting you when a storm starts up: at first you can count the drops and measure them, saying, “Oh, these are big drops, better get inside.” …and soon you can’t tell one drop from another, you’re just getting soaked. We found ourselves just getting soaked with ideas and triggers for moving into KCK, a couple houses down from Scott, Steph, and Luke.

One large drop was when Luke came over to our house on Dearborn St. He was giving Scott and Steph some space – I think Karis was just born. So, he came over and we spent time together. Without much hesitation, he said matter of factly, “You know… if you guys ever wanted to move into KCK, we sure think you should and we’d do anything to help you out with that.”

Jenny paused and replied, “Wow… that’s neat – we were just talking about that yesterday; it’s been on our minds for a while now. It’s been more of a dream for sure, not really feeling like something we can do, but…”

…and there it went. The big drop.

Moving like this is the kind of decision that needs time to percolate; it needs time to turn into a rich dark roast kind decision instead of a watery, light brown, hastened thing.

We waited. We thought. We prayed. We thought, “I don’t know how…” We heard, “How about this ____?” We replied, “Well, yes, that would be VERY helpful.” We thought; we prayed… We volleyed, “But I don’t know…” We heard, “How about this _____ too?” We said with a period at the end: Yes, that will make it work.” Most of these blanks were filled by the love of friends.

Making the house transition work was only part of the consideration. I mean, I’ll lay it out on the table. This is not an embrace of poverty and it isn’t too radical: we’re moving into a dream house of sorts.

But like I said, the house wasn’t the only consideration. Jenny and I needed time and space to think and pray through the details of what our move would mean. And, along the way, we sensed it – percolating desire, passion, and stamina to participate in community life and mission together. Jenny and I felt our hearts being kindled with ways we could participate in life together with a community of friends who desire to help one another pay attention to God, express rhythms of the Kingdom of God as best as we know it… Things like that.

And Jude and Jesse?

We’ve checked into the schools; they’re legit.

What really set things in stone, making it all feel like this was a good deal, was a Prescott Community Christmas Party in a hundred-year-old renovated fire station. There we met others who were participating in life together, wanting to better and love the community, who were ordinary folks, very ordinary. We felt at home, and, after moving a few boxes around, will very much so be.

That’s part of the story.

Special, never-ending-friendship-thanks to Scott, Stephanie, and Karis Eberlein, Luke Kammrath, and John and Sara Kammrath. The generosity inspired within you by Jesus has made paths straight for my family.

God Keeps Guiding | We Keep Being Opened to Listen
Ben, Jenny, Jude, and Jesse.

For Pictures of the House, Follow This Link: (Link)

For a “Prettier” Version of This Letter, Follow This Link: (Link)

A Rule of Life for Congregations

I read St. Benedict’s Rule not too long ago and something this morning made old residual questions from that reading resurface. For starters, the concept of developing a Rule for Life that’s loosely influenced by Benedict’s sketch is a great idea.

This is my question:

What if congregations developed a Rule of Life and filtered all the things they did, say, and planned through that same rule. What if being a “member” wasn’t just relegated to having heard some chief parts of doctrine at some previous part of your life. What if being a “member” was living in a community of people who lived a common life that was guided by a Rule of some kind (which would be obviously influenced by the life of Christ)?

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