I have lived in intentional communities for around five years. It’s something that has both challenged and encouraged me in my walk of faith. I have had the privilege of getting to know some wonderful people, experience many highs and lows of life and learn a lot about myself and who I am.
Part of the appeal for me is that it’s style of community that’s very similar with that of the Acts 2 church where we would be with each other daily, sharing all things (well, most things) and walking through each other’s lives. It’s a way of community that is becoming more common with young people but how can we make it work? How do we successfully live in a community where every person is loved and honoured?
Though I’m no expert, I’d like to pass on a few insights and highlights of what I have learned: what has worked well and some things to take into consideration if you’re thinking of exploring intentional community:
1. Don’t be afraid to make rules
Every person is different, and every situation unique. The Rule of Saint Benedict outlines community conduct for monks living in intentional community and maybe it’s something we should recreate in our own contexts. Homes function in so many different ways, reflecting the values of those that live there. Creating “monastic rules” for a community allows everyone to share values and keeps people accountable when living together. It unites the community around those set rules and gives a transparent way of life to those who seek to join the community. Some monastic rules that I have lived with are:
- Have some kind of community trip together once a month
- Abide to the “chores” rota
- Make sure you eat one meal a day together
- No vocal warmups before 8am
It is important to regularly review these as some may become unrealistic or others need to be added (the last example was added after I moved in). Giving everyone an opportunity to share how they feel about the monastic rules solidifies the group and emphasises the purpose – which is that the rules are there to help us live in community together.
2. Hold things lightly
Living in community challenges your habits, preferences, beliefs, character, lifestyle – in short, everything! And it should! If we’re not being challenged in some way, then it’s likely we’re not living in a healthy community.
I’ve had many of my old habits and beliefs stripped away, and it’s often been because I’ve had no rationale behind them. Very often my mindset behind behaviours has been: “I’ve always done it like that”. A mentality to hold things lightly enables us to be open to direction and to see better options before us, while stripping away unhealthy habits and beliefs.
This level of challenge also gives us the chance to find out the things that really, really matter to us. Living in community allows us to sweep away the rubbish, but find the treasure that’s worth keeping in your life. Iron sharpens iron.
3. Embrace the process
Be open! There will be times when living in community is The Best Thing Ever. And there are times when you don’t want to be on the same planet as other people. It happens, and that’s life. But here’s the thing: if we isolate ourselves too much, we forfeit our chance to grow. True character really is built in community, through challenges and encouragement.
It takes a lot of courage and humility to open your entire life up to people but I don’t think community living should be something for a select few. When we live in intentional community, we are no longer able to hide behind the rose-tinted profile pictures, portraying life as going from one great moment to the next. We are forced to drop the act and be the person that we were created to be; warts and all.
When we are real, when we let others in, we share our weaknesses and our hurts and we find that our community accepts us as ourselves. Our lives no longer feel like a performance; we discover that they’re something to enjoy.