Starting a New Community? Follow the New Commandment.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
This sentence in John’s gospel is called the new commandment. It’s core to Jesus’s teaching and it’s core to building communities that look and act like Jesus. The action—as I have loved, so you must—is what made the new commandment new. And it’s not a suggestion. It’s a must.
But How Must We Love?
We often cite the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, but the New Commandment is often overlooked.
So says author John Armstrong in his book Costly Love. The deep bonds of love and affection that Jesus expressed for his disciples and the kind of sacrificial love he embodied in laying down his life is what makes the Christian community different from other types of communities.
It’s why I’m convinced that the intimate and movemental nature of our faith; the kind of faith that will propel the Christian community into the future looks a lot like family.
The New Commandment is the only way forward for new Christian communities.
Living as Family
When the smallest units of the larger body of Christ learn to love with the deep bonds of affection and family-like connection exhibited between Jesus and his closest companions, we will know better how to love God, ourself and our neighbor.
While Jesus clearly includes as part of his family anyone who does the will of God (Matthew 12, Luke 8), our foundational understanding of family and other family-like relationships provides what author Renzo Bonnetti calls “Trinitarian greenhouses”.
Living in a Greenhouse
This concept is central to our work with The Amore Project. In a greenhouse, the light and heat of love—and conflict—are amplified.
In the greenhouse of family life, acts of love are given and received in an attempt to model the constant giving and receiving of love displayed between the love of Father, Son and Spirit. Similarly, acts of forgiveness are given and received in attempts to move through, rather than avoid conflict.
No family, or family like community gets it absolutely right, but like anything we get stronger with practice.
Up, In and Out
In our fresh expression of church, my wife, Carey and I have learned—through lots of conflict and many a greenhouse moment—to function under a way of life that operates under the Great Commandment, the New Commandment and the Great Commission.
The Great Commandment orients our community up toward God.
Our core team, and any others who wish to join us, meet for a concentrated time of prayer three mornings a week. We’ve learned language and practices for discipleship that help us love ourselves as God loves us.
Once a month we gather for a time of corporate worship in a way that is contextual and sustainable.
The New Commandment nurtures us as a community as we seek to be in relationship every day in our homes, at our places of work and at The Center—the physical space that serves as the hub of our community life.
The care and operation of a physical space serves as an extension of our home and provides for greenhouse moments nearly every day.
These moments can be centered around dishes in the sink, weeds in the yard and the conflict that arises when anyone tries to follow Jesus together.
The Great Commission pushes us out toward our community in mostly normal and everyday ways.
It’s not uncommon for those we meet through the course of our daily life, in class, at work, at restaurants or at the grocery store to find their way to a movie night or our weekly dinner.
Those we meet often join us for dinner or for a movie night—but they tend to stay around because we’re attempting to be the kind of community that embodies the New Commandment—loving each other in the way that Jesus first loved us.
Gannon is the Director of Ministry Formation for Fresh Expressions US and leads the Fresh Expressions efforts of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree from Baylor University and the Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. Prior to entering seminary, Gannon worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate and as a public affairs officer in the anti-human trafficking office at the U.S. State Department. He enjoys forging partnerships between followers of Jesus from different traditions and has served in various roles at several churches, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican. Gannon is married to Carey, who also is a graduate of Duke Divinity School. Together they work to bring fresh expressions of church to the collegiate community at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.