Intentional Christian Community Handbook by David Janzen: a book review

My experience in intentional community is limited. About nine years ago my wife and I did  Mission Year in Atlanta. We lived in community with three other couples and invested in our neighborhood there. After a year,  we moved with one of the other couples to Miami  and continued  community living.  At the end of  that year, they went their way and we went ours.  Community living had its headaches and there are things we would do differently, but my wife and I grew from our experience (and still love the couple!).  Currently, my wife and I live in a house in a gated community. We do not know our neighbors beyond polite pleasantries. We commute to church. We often feel isolated from those who know and love us best.

The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: for Idealists, Hypocrites and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus by David Janzen

The Intentional Christian Community Handbook was written as a guide for those in community, or those who are interested in intentional community living. The subtitle of the book  indicated it is “For Idealists, Hypocrites and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus.” I happen to be all three, so I read with interest.  David Janzen helped found the New Creation Community in  Newton, Kansas in 1971. In 1984 he moved to Evanston, Illinois to be part of Reba Place Fellowship and has been there ever since. He is someone with a wealth of experience living in a ‘thicker’ style community where community members pool possessions and resource and share life together. He is also in conversation with  a variety of other intentional communities.  In these pages, Janzen offers his wisdom for thos who  interested in community, and what practices will sustain communities for the long haul.

This handbook  is divided into six sections which address different aspects and stages of community life. In part one,  Janzen talks about the longing for community in our  individualistic, consumeristic culture.  Trends in society have contributed to the break down of families and communities. Those who long for intentional community are bucking those trends.

In part two Janzen helps those interested in community discern ift a particular community context is right for them. He asks probing questions about what the calling of that particular community is, and whether or not you as the individual can find a place in that context. However he  also cautions this is not an individual decision. He suggests interning with the community, finding mentors and discerning your personal call with the wider community.

Part three examines considerations which precede community formation.  What will community look like? What is the calling and purpose of this community?  Where will we put down roots?  How will your community commit to racial reconciliation and gender equity? Or will it?  This section is fairly practical, and Janzen shares examples of what various communities have done.

Part four talks about the first year of community living. He urges new communities to work-out  leadership structures,  to thoughtful navigate careers and schedules and  advises  new communities to connect with other more established communities.  he challenges communities to clarify how they share life together (be the church).

In part five he discusses some of the growth edges for young communities. A community rule of life or a covenant may seem unnecessary in the early years of community but as a community matures they clarify identity and purpose.  Likewise, there will be growth and change in some community practices. Justice around food and creation care may occupy a more significant place than in earlier years of community life.  Communities also faces challenges when people leave, or fail to live up to the community’s ideals. One major challenge for growing communities is the presence of children. It is easier for single people to commit their life and resources to a cause and live in a ‘risky neighborhood.’ As families grow, communities change and often members move to ‘safer’ outlying neighborhoods.

Finally part six addresses issues relevant to the mature community. The communities need avenues for healing  hurts, uniting for a common mission, sustaining prophetic vocations, accountability, nurturing new communities, and caring for and challenging the ‘execptionally gifted person.

Janzen has numerous examples from his own community life and from a variety of other intentional communities.  I was pleased to see one of my mentors (Leroy Barber) profiled in the book. Because each community is different, this book is by necessity non-comprehensive. However it gives good food for thought and sage advice to all who are on the road to intentional Christian community. People in their twenties and thirties who have read Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove or Shane Claiborne (who wrote the forward)  will find Janzen to be a wise guide as they seek to live in community.  Longstanding communities will also find places of challenge and growth. This is a very thoughtful resource!

I do not currently live in intentional community, but part of me still longs for it. Maybe this book will sow the seeds of something new for me and my family. Maybe it will for you too. I give it five stars ★★★★★

Thank you to Paraclete Press for Providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

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