I promised I’d publish a post describing the marks of our new common purse, the core qualities we intend it to be marked by, and here it is.

Some of the trustees of the New Creation Christian Community had arranged to meet up with me to talk about our new community initiative, what relationship it would have to the current setup, how it would be best administered and how they could support us.

As a group we’d already spent plenty of time discussing issues of mission, community and money, and what kind of community we wanted to be part of. Late one night considering the upcoming meeting I started noting a few headlines on my phone, big topics I wanted to talk about, a summary of the key marks of our community distilled from many conversations.

I only intended to write five lines but 700 words later I thought I’d better get some sleep! I expanded that draft doc into a 2,040 word doc I called Common Purse 2.5, which I’ve abridged for you below.

Why CP 2.5? This is how I’ve defined our various models of common purse community over the years:

CP 0.5 Cash in a teapot and a relaxed attitude to money at Argyle St, Harlestone Rd…
CP 1.0 Post-teapot but pre JFCT
CP 2.0 From the signing of the JFCT charter in ‘78

Our primary vision is to go on a medium term mission, not really to set up a new community initiative. We’re a mission house first, though we want to be able to develop it into something more if what we do sticks.

The mission’s three aims:

  1. Plant something: make friends and disciples of people in a locality
  2. Discipleship: a golden opportunity for young up and coming lads to own something that demands of them, to build something, to make church happen, to earn their stripes
  3. Innovation: opportunity to experiment with new forms of community, to shake up what we do to really discover the “why”. To be a prophetic example to the rest of the church (good or bad, lol!). We believe there’s so much more to explore with community. Both our current way of doing it and our current appreciation of it is limited, and we want to break up the ground a bit to cast a fresh light on it for others.

We want to share our money because:

  1. It’s a very good way (maybe the best way) of obeying Jesus’ commands to lay down our lives for one another, give to the poor, bear one another’s burdens etc.
  2. We believe we’ve been called to live that lifestyle. We’ve been spoilt for anything less.
  3. It’s a powerful and very practical demonstration of Christian justice and sharing, and immediately ‘gettable’ be anyone looking for it (christian or not).

Three potential models to match all that up:

  1. A completely independent joint bank account, looking after ourselves unless people volunteer help.
  2. An independent joint bank account (on or off the CP admin system), paying for certain JFCT services like vehicles on a case-by-case basis.
  3. A custom JFCT CP on the CP admin system with greater autonomy, paying for certain JFCT services like vehicles on a case-by-case basis.

In each case we would give to the church any monthly surplus not used for mission.

Now, the five key marks of our new Common Purse 2.5:

01 Risk Accepting

“The task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted.”
— Søren Kierkegaard

“When everything’s provided there’s nothing left to fight for.”
— Joz

“People will sacrifice a great deal for a pioneering vision; less to maintain a status quo; hardly anything just because they’re told to.”
— James Stacey

“We are accustomed to doing things for God that are not impossible. If God doesn’t show up and help us, we can still succeed. There must be an aspect of the Christian life that is impossible without divine intervention.”
— Bill Johnson

When a church (or indeed any movement) is young, risk is normal. There’s no wealth of experience from which to draw wisdom, what’s valued greatest is vision and momentum. This is the time of faith.

But as churches mature they develop systems and borders, a stronger wineskin for the now overflowing wine. They have a hundredfold blessing to protect and an inheritance to maintain. Maintenance mode takes over and risk can be seen as the ultimate enemy. The pastor replaces the apostle and prophet rather than complements them. The status quo suffocates.

There’s something in a young man’s soul that needs risk. Adventure wakes him up and makes his blood run hot. I’d bet 90% of the disengagement in Christian men is down to the lack of demand we place on them, with a yawnful expectation they’ll perpetuate more of the same in the same way it’s always been done.

We need risk not just for our young people but indeed for the future of our church. We need to champion young people by believing in them, by giving them a coracle and pointing them out to sea. We need risk-safe places to innovate community. We need people with vision to venture out to form something from the ground up that can speak prophetically to the church.

02 Generous

We are uncomfortable with the amount of money we have. Jesus’ words about money were very clear, basically: “it should be used to become rich in good deeds”, and “woe to the materially rich”.

John the baptist described fruit in keeping with repentance with the words “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Later Jesus himself commanded “Give to everyone who asks you” and “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth”. We live as though Jesus said “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, unless it’s in a shared Trust fund.”

We are in a subtle danger of being like Ananias and Sapphira when we say we’ve sold everything and given to the poor yet still live in mansions worth millions and never even dream of needing to pray “give us today our daily bread.”

Acts 2 describes how over 3,000 believers sold their possessions and gave to everyone according to their need. Acts 3 tells the story of Peter and John at the gate called Beautiful. They told the beggar they didn’t have any money, so it’s clear the proceeds from sales in Acts 2 went directly to the poorest. If this was so, when in Acts 4 from time to time believers put the proceeds of sales at the apostles feet it mustn’t have stayed with them in a Trust fund, saved up for a rainy day, but went directly out to the poor again.

We want to live like Jesus is coming back soon and follow his command to not save beyond our needs. Though it’s scary and rubs against a risk-averse mentality, we’re confident trusting God this way will attract His honour, that God will be happily generous to a generous church and it will be a sign to unbelievers.

What this means for our CP:

We want to be able to follow the lead of the Spirit (involving the discernment of our pastoral covering) in how we use our money. In theory we’d like to be able to see a need on our estate, seek God, then give all our savings that month to meet it, without having to get something bounced around a forum for approval.

Note regarding the wider church:

We do believe there’s a place for Trusts in administering the redistribution of wealth (there was a daily distribution of bread, after all, and the apostles got the gold to the poor somehow), but for us this has gone way beyond the organisational pattern of the apostles, who didn’t even appoint a team to hand out bread until Acts 6.

03 Autonomous

Here’s a question: can you have koinonia with people you don’t know?

In Acts 2 in Jerusalem there were 3,000 (and later in Acts 4 there were 5,000 men, so maybe 10,000 people?) who sold and shared, and apparently they were “one in heart and soul”, but these all lived in the same city and worshipped together in the temple each day. There wasn’t a constant flow of goods and money between the Way-followers in Jerusalem and Galatia, Corinth and Rome, hence why Paul had to make specific, deliberate collections.

If any group filled with the Holy Spirit meets every day or every week they can grow close enough to have heart koinonia, and therefore meaningful sharing.

It gives me pause for thought that I’m considered to be in community with Joe Blogs from Timbuktu because we use the same bank account. True community only reaches as far as our hearts, as far as the people we know and love.

The more unconscious sharing becomes, the more meaningless it is. Currently so much of our money is an unseen technicality and administered centrally, not by individuals or small groups giving to other individuals or small groups.

Out of sight, out of heart.

A scenario:

A community house is struggling financially and one of their cars dies.

Currently, they’d let JFV know and a board would make a decision according to standard policy, and probably give them a new car. That’s community of goods but not necessarily community of heart. There is also no need for the first community to pray “give us this day our daily transport”.

An alternative outcome with more autonomy would be if another community hears their plight and decides they’d like to help, so they buy the first community a new car. That’s koinonia, it’s community of goods springing from community of heart.

That second model trades off organisational efficiency for heart-ownership, but we believe it’s a price worth paying as over the years we’ve generally become more efficient while both our numbers and inspiration for community have declined drastically.

What this means for our CP:

A recap of the three models listed in the intro:

  1. Independent joint account with no agreed JFCT support
  2. Independent joint account with agreed JFCT support (on or off CP system)
  3. JFCT CP with agreed flexibility

We’d prefer the second model as it’s probably the best mix of all our core marks (especially risk accepting, freedom for generosity, not taking on too much admin burden) and its loose association with NCCC helps our third aim: to aid the renewal of all of our communities.

Talking about not taking on too much admin:

04 Simple

We’re looking to do a six month mission, not set up a new household as such. We’re seeing this as somewhere between a long campaign and a frontline house, though it’s not guaranteed we’ll stay in one place. If people find Jesus and we form them into a small household or cell-church we may make the venture more permanent.

Administrative simplicity

Finances on evangelistic campaigns tend to be more ad hoc and administratively light, preferable for limited timeframes and more suitable for small teams. A joint bank account separate from the Trust probably wouldn’t have the same recording and reporting requirements as a Trust CP. As we’re a small team accountability doesn’t need to be as formal as it does for a larger group. If we do grow beyond 10 people we’ll consider splitting into two CP groups to maintain the small group dynamic.

Simple for the future of the initiative

If people find Jesus and we form them into a small cell/ church group, if they also want to share their money the way we’ve demonstrated, how could we facilitate that? The more autonomous and administratively light a form of CP is, the more reproducible it would also be.

05 Open

There’s quite a network emerging of young christians from various churches across Northampton, with 15-20 of them regularly attending a young people’s bible study run by our guys. More of these are getting involved in what we’re already doing in Northampton. A few of these have expressed interest in being involved in our new house thing.

Flexibility is key for a medium term and (hopefully) growing initiative.

 

So there we have it. What do you think? Do leave a comment below.

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13 thoughts on “Common Purse 2.5

  1. I suggested to Aidan over the bank holiday weekend that I write a critical response to this post, and he encouraged me to do so. This is the result!

    What is presented is not so much about a CP, as about how the financial side of a “medium term mission” should be run, and so that pre-supposes quite a lot about that mission, which (as a précis of your post) is at least 6 month planting something, discipling and training, and experimenting. Great vision – what will be the state of what you plant after 6 months – will you be able to leave it, or is that where the “at least” comes in?

    Duration is important; NCCC was founded on people willing to commit the rest of their lives to the vision God gave, and so putting everything into the community was an obvious step, but if your duration is 6 months, then your response to someone getting a £10,000 windfall during that time will be different. Maybe that will not happen, so you will be able to bypass how to handle such a situation. Maybe your scene will so prosper that you prolong the 6 months, and end up having such a situation.

    So the prime purpose with your finances is to enable your vision, not create a new structure, to help create a “situation where faith is possible” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship). How much of a safety net do you want? While at school, I knew a teacher who used to always give all her salary away, and lived “by faith” on whatever was given to her. I did not know her well enough to see how well this worked, but that is closer to Matt 6 v 34 than accumulating a big bank balance. Your decision on what you do with money beyond your immediate needs can be very significant and on this you say it will be given to the church monthly – so why? I can suggest 3 possible reasons – firstly, that you so value the church (I assume you mean Jesus Fellowship Church, rather than any other entity) so much for all she is and all she has brought you into that you want to help her to prosper; the second is because you believe in something like tithing (but you are proposing giving from your residue, not from the top); the third is because you think that promising money to the church is more likely to gain goodwill from those in authority in the church (which is really seeking to be please men rather than please God). It needs to come from faith – faith that whatever you decide to do is done before God, seeking his kingdom.

    “Faith is spelt R.I.S.K.” (John Wimber), so how much risk are you willing to accept? You can not (at present) control the trust funds, but you can the amount of money left in your CP at the end of the month, you can decide to have such an open house that you never lock the doors (even when asleep or out), you can use the same services (doctor, education, transport) as the poor even when they are inferior. Will you be so living as to maximise the amount you can give into your mission, so refusing easy options of fast foods, with snacks and high levels of personal expenditure? Will the generosity you want as one of your marks be matched by discipling yourselves to live simply, or funded rather by the luxury of stable employment?

    You ask “Can you have koinonia with people you don’t know?”, however one of the definitions of koinonia in Wikipedia is “joint participation”, so if you are in the same CP as someone in Timbuktu, then you have a measure of koinonia with that person! However, it will probably be far short of “one heart and soul”, and my experience is that deep trust and commitment is far easier to work out in small groups. My covenant bond with the many members of Jesus Fellowship of whom I cannot remember their name (I am terrible with names) means that we share a common basic understanding and commitment, which, if the opportunity arises, should form a foundation for a relationship of depth. It is those relationships of depth which are most important- a good test of them being how easy it is for your will to be crossed by those people. How are you going to work out mutual accountability? How are you going to be aware of another community that needs a new car? Maybe you need an administrative structure – there is some evidence that it took less than a year to set up the administration of Acts 6.

    Jesus Fellowship is a product of its own history, which included being very cause centred (“This cause is my life..”), and so forming a single organisation mobilised for big tasks like reaching the whole nation. Now, the tendency is that “Small is beautiful” (Schumacher, 1973). Our large structures, however, now find they have responsibilities, like caring for vulnerable members of the Trust – be they old, ill, or young – and legal implications on trustees if they do not manage trust funds well. To neglect the requirement to care falls foul of James’ simple definition of “pure religion” – “care for the orphans and widows.. keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1 v 27) – which I interpret as “do the right deeds, have the right heart”, and both are needed. So what is the “right heart” within your vision, and how will you ensure that those you, in your openness to others, welcome into your scene also have the right heart?

    Simplicity is great, but fallen men make things complex especially by trying to find ways round things – I wish all we needed was St Augustine’s “Love God, and do what you please.” – but I find I don’t love God enough for that to be sufficient; and that is probably true for most of us – even St Augustine found it necessary to write a Rule(see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_St._Augustine). The “Rule of Jesus Fellowship”, although never one formal document, has included much on attendance at meetings, watching TV, Agapes – and is currently being modified, by initiatives like yours, and by other pressures within and on the church. I venture to suggest that the moment anyone becomes serious about discipling others in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, they will form some kind of Rule . As one of your stated aims is discipleship, if that is effective then I predict you will develop some kind of Rule. Your challenge is to maintain the marks of simplicity and openness within it, and drawing on the wisdom of others who, being outside the immediate situation, may see more clearly the core issues, will probably help you.

    Finally, refuse to have any regrets, and go for the best you can be in God with all you have! Things may go wrong (indeed, they probably will), and some people might be disappointed and hurt, but if God is with you, then do it, and leave God to sort out the mistakes – he is able to heal and restore people. In the process he will almost certainly test you, refine you, humble you, and take you places which you would never have gone by choice. Many old-timers in Zion have said that if they had known what the path was like, they would never have started on it, but they normally go on to say they have no regrets about having gone with God. So go for it, and God be with you.

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  2. You have highlighted some significant issues regarding the working out of community. Koinonia consists in relationships – relationships with those you rub shoulders with on a daily basis. Where there is an intimate day to day oneness of heart, vision and purpose, the desire to share possessions and money follows. With the approach that we’re all in this together, each member must consider questions such as how much do we need to pay the bills; what am I able to contribute; if our collective resources are tight, is my need for a certain item outweighed by my brother’s / sister’s need; have we got enough money to do this, and so on. Working out the answers to such questions means taking responsibility and builds mutual trust, whereas being part of a big organisation means you don’t really have to think about such things (even if you are the CP overseer).

    Be encouraged as you work out your way forward!
    Nick Lightbearer (Lighthouse)

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  3. Fascinating, Aidan! In Denmark, earthly homeland of Søren Kierkegaard, we have recently taken up the rod again to pursue something of what God took the effort to show us among you in the UK in the 90’s. And your challenging and refreshing attempt of renewal is more than welcome for all our sakes! Bless you onwards!

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  4. Still excited for you… And so the adventure continues. I applaud your vision and the way you have thought it through but have not over complicated things so as to get bogged down in restrictive and unhelpful so called accountability.

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  5. Sound excellent, bit scary, but im a big believer in trying new things. Be fruitful and blessed in this venture and may the next 6 months and beyond be a revolution for this community.

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