October 25, 2020

iMonk 101: What Did Jesus’ Version of Community Look Like?

From May of this year. It’s “Spiritual Emphasis Week” for the next three days. Very busy.

Commenter: Please explain what you mean by:”community as Jesus exemplified it”. Thanks

It is the community that Jesus created and demonstrated during his earthly ministry.

I would describe it as:

Cross cultural: Jesus crossed every available cultural barrier to announce and practice the Kingdom.

Counter cultural: Jesus was offering an alternative to the dominant cultural and religious options in his world.

Inclusive: Jesus was creating community that included all of the excluded at every level. He dd this– as he did all of his community movement– with total intentionality.

Kingdom Gospel-centered: Jesus the King made the reality of the present and coming Kingdom of God the center of his movement. This center was clearly seen, and stood in contrast to the “Kingdom boundary” thinking of other Jews.

God-centered: God is present and active, as Father, creator, and redeemer of a broken and lost world.

Confrontative: Jesus confronted the powers at every level, using the weapons of love, truth and the Holy Spirit.

Radical: Jesus’ version of community was radical in its nature and demands. Compare it to the expectations people had of family and religion.

Sacrificial: Jesus’ community was identified with sacrifice, i.e. a willingness to suffer that God’s will might be done.

Healing: Jesus’ movement was restorative, including praying for and working for healing of persons and relationships. (This included spiritual warfare and deliverance.)

Didactic: Jesus constantly taught his disciples his constantly reflect on the meaning of the Kingdom of God.

Prayerful: Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

Invitational and Open: All were invited to come. All were invited to believe in Jesus as the messiah.

Non-institutional (in its continuing essence): Jesus gave few if any indications that his movement would take on serious institutional forms. It may have institutional expressions and fruits, but that isn’t the essence of the movement. At its core, it is a movement of the Spirit that does not need institutions to exist. (Sorry people who I’ve just offended. I’m NOT saying institutions AREN’T the church. I’m saying “Institution does not EQUAL Jesus’ community.”


Missional: Jesus’ movement was focused on the Gospel ministry and engaged in other kinds of ministry that established the presence and power of God’s compassionate Kingdom.

Jesus shaped and Jesus centered.

Becoming part of this movement was what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.


  1. Mark Hewerdine says

    Hi Michael

    Very helpful list, but could you explain/expound “non-political”?
    I’m inclined to think that the vast majority of Jesus’ teaching and activity was political but perhaps in a sense other than what you mean by “political”.

    • You are right. That’s a bigger topic than one word. Much more to be said. Simply meant “my Kingdom is not of this world.”

      • My 9yo daughter is learning about maps in geography and, in particular, political maps. When we talked about the Kingdom (mustard tree), there is no boundary. No lines between countries or states or anything. The Kingdom has no limits.

  2. I think he probably means that the community didn’t participate in the political process (?)

  3. While I in large part agree with your list, we have to be careful with the “what would Jesus do?” question. Ultimately we cannot do what Jesus did. Jesus’s primary purpose was to joyfully obey the Father by living a perfect life and by dying to redeem his people. The primary purpose of Jesus was NOT to serve as a nice example of how a church should look. There was no new testament community until the apostles were given the Holy Spirit after Jesus’s death and resurrection and ascension. The apostles then should be our primary example of community, not Jesus.

    • The apostles’ idea of community would have been based on their community experience with Christ.

      • Not just on their community experience with Christ, but also on their inherited experience as Israel, the people of the covenant.

        • To some extent, but I don’t see much Jewish influence in the communities Paul initiated within the Gentile world.

          • Jenny Bluett says

            What of the expression of comunity in early Christian worship? The liturgy is greatly influenced by the Jewish tradition.

          • I don’t see evidence that liturgy as we know it existed in the very earliest church planted by Paul.

          • I don’t see evidence of liturgy as we know it present in the earliest communities planted by Paul. His instructions in 1 Corinthians 14:26-39 does not follow the liturgical patterns that we see develop in later Christianity.

  4. I love how you just left that one blank. I totally think that Jesus was non-political. Not sure how to see it otherwise. Anyway, otherwise a great list as well. I like the thoughts on institutionalizing the church as well. Some institutionalizing is necessary, of course, but I like that you didn’t focus on it.

  5. Gary:

    >The apostles then should be our primary example of community, not Jesus.

    I say this with the deepest respect.

    This evacuates the meaning of Christianity for me. If I believed it, I would stop being a Christian tomorrow. It’s a devastating statement to what I understand to be the entire purpose of the Holy Spirit: making us Christlike.

    Most of my book is premised on the fact that there is a growing “disconnect” between Jesus and those who follow him, based more and more explicitly on the idea that Christians are to be like other Christians, not like Christ.

    peace brother


    • This evacuates the meaning of Christianity for me. If I believed it, I would stop being a Christian tomorrow. It’s a devastating statement to what I understand to be the entire purpose of the Holy Spirit: making us Christlike.

      Said another way: the apostle’s example is only useful to us as far as they are like Christ, and they (like us) were not always 100% in that. This is actually helpful for us to know that: then our trust is in Christ, and not leader x, y, or z.

      A little off topic: Monk (or others), do you have recommended reading on community building, and/or mentoring ?? I’m in a spot where I’m looking for that.

      Greg R

    • This interesting in light of the discussion of Sanctification going on elsewhere in the blogosphere. Some seem to have completely despaired of becoming Christ-like.

  6. The earliest Christians did not call themselves “The Church”, they called themselves “The Way”

  7. Loving this list.

    I noted and appreciated your Counter-Cultural description as *offering* the alternative, not shoving it down people’s throats as in “culture war”.

    I struggle w/ the whole Non-Political idea, but it must be right. As a citizen of heaven, I truly don’t have a big stake in politics. Not that it won’t affect me and my family, and I do vote, but to get all bound up in right vs. left and forget that Jesus’ love crosses that boundary as well is somewhat of a waste of effort.

    The one I want to ask about is Non-Institutional. I agree that what Jesus instituted was not the crazy big hierarchy that is impemented in most churches today, but to say it’s Non-Institutional, or has only institutional expressions or fruit, is debatable in my opinion. Can you explain your stance regarding elders, orderly service, and other such institutional references in the Pauline letters? Or are you limiting your description only to the church as it existed during Jesus’ earthly ministry, and if so, isn’t that an artificial limit considering the trinitarian equality of the Spirit which took the reigns after the ascension?

    Thanks for helping me understand.

    • Just read your response to Gary, his post and your response must have been put up while I was writing mine.

      I’d be grateful if you’d dedicate a paragraph or two to helping me understand where you’re coming from with the whole “disconnect” thing.

    • Debbie:

      I clearly said that the movement Jesus began has institutional expressions. I’m an ordained minister. I work for a church sponsored school. I am a member of a church with leaders, etc.

      I also said that Jesus’ movement was not institutional in its essence. At its core, it is a movement of the Spirit in the lives of believers and the most basic forms of community do not need to be “institutional.”

      So as I said in the post, there is an institutional aspect, but it’s not the essence.


  8. Gary.. Two things.

    How can the community not be about Christ. Community in itself IS the Body of Christ.

    Also, it is not what would Jesus do? He is still alive so the word would is not correct. It should be What WILL Jesus do. Jesus = the church = community.


  9. Jesus consistently sidestepped political questions, and maybe the reason he didn’t want the disciples telling people he was the Messiah, because so many people thought that meant a political-military leader. But at the same time, he was killed because of the political implications of his teaching and his existence.

  10. I could say this about most so-called nationwide events (“Right” or “Left”) to protest this or that, but I certainly didn’t see much of this in what I watched on Saturday from protestors in Washington–many of whom would have claimed to represent the Christian community. I am concerned with the anger that I heard from many participants–I’m not really picking on them per se, but on any such gathering where anger seems to be the unifying element rather than love and community, however you view them. We need the kind of community that you describe here, but even suggesting that to some would be seen as a sell-out or as being unfaithful in some way. I am concerned about this and pray much about the situation and for the kind of community that you describe.

    • I understand this thinking, and sometimes it seems right to me. However; I always come back to the centurion though. Should he have quit because he believed Jesus?

      Should Christians be apolitical? What can Christians validly express their anger against? Is it fair to assume that the Christians at a rally are only and always angry people because that’s when they’re put on TV? Can a person who practices good community, charity, and and interpersonal kindness be an angry protester also?

      • As regards the centurion, isn’t that covered in Luke?

        “14Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

  11. i don’t know if this question will make sense, but how can we be “confrontative” while “offering an alternative”? In my mind, at least, confrontation usually isn’t grouped with words like love. Solid, and willing to stand their ground when confronted, but I don’t know how, in practice, being confrontational fits in with being Christ-like. Can anyone explain that to me?

    • After thinking about it a little more, perhaps a better word for what is meant would be challenging? If, that is, I’m interpreting your meaning correctly? The Gospel certainly challenges “the powers at every level.” And there will certainly be confrontation. But saying that a community of believers should be “confrontative” suggests to me that they should look for confrontation, and I never did see the point in looking for and stirring up trouble. True followers of Christ will get enough of that as they simply spread the Good News. We should be willing to stand our ground in confrontations. But to place “confrontative” in the list of things a body of believers should be, tying it to earthly “powers,” suggests misplaced focus. If the community of Christ is non-political, looking for confrontation with the powers that be is rather contradictory, I think.

      Unless you say “non-political” meaning that a community of believers should not be separated by church politics and such.

      I hope that makes sense…

      • Someone else mentioned about the connotation of “confrontive”. Confrontation does not have to always end up in conflict. Many folks see conflict and confrontation as meaning the same thing. One of the definitions (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/confrontation) of confrontation is “a face to face meeting”, leaving no indication as to the tone or intent of the meeting. That’s up to the participants, it seems.

        I agee that we should look for confrontation, the opportunities to meet face to face with others. Not for the sake of stirring up trouble, but of stirring up hearts toward His.

        Further, the nature of the community being non-political vs. confrontive (in this discussion) is not contradictory. We can confront someone on some ill-conceived notions about Jesus being political (he wasn’t) in such a way as to promote unity in the body. As opposed to convincing another believer to go to DC and march in a rally with sandwich board signage.

    • When Clarence Jordan created an integrated farm in the midst of south Georgia segregation, he was practicing confrontation of the dominant culture with an alternative counter culture.

    • Maybe examine what the word “confrontational” means to you, and then to others. For some , the word brings up “belligerant”. or “argumentative” or something along that line. If you go with something more like “radically different than the status quo”, then you need not make that connection. Jesus welcoming children and women was radically confrontational. THat’s what I make of it.

      greg r

      • perhaps it is nothing more than a difference in perceived meaning… but I’m still having trouble with it…

  12. And of course, community as Jesus knew it also included the earliest example of church hopping:

    “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” …From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

    Interesting post, Michael, especially since Sunday’s Gospel was the reading from Mark including the question “But who do you say that I am?”

    O/T: Happy Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross to all them as celebrates it today!

    • Merry Roodmass to you, too.

      I’ve always liked this post, as well. It’s very clear, brief and thoughtful. It would be a good format for a start-of-the-year homily, especially on the feast of Christ the King.

      • Curtis, I have some qualms about posting this link, but over at LOLSaints, there’s a wonderful(!) image for this feastday.

        Not to sound as if I’m bashing our separated brethren, but although I have no idea where this picture came from, I feel confident that I can say, hand on heart, it’s Protestant, not Catholic 🙂

        There are, Lord knows, some kitsch/gruesome Catholic images out there, but I’ve never seen nuthin’ like *this* ever before (and I’ve personally myself with my very own eyes seen the Sacred Heart pictures with the special holographic eyes that follow you as you change your angle of direction):


  13. Confrontative: Jesus confronted the powers at every level, using the weapons of love, truth and the Holy Spirit.

    It sounds nice to say “love, truth, and the Holy Spirit”, but that is at best vague. Absolutley we are to confront in love. But what kind of love? Do we love our muslim brothers by participating in Ramadam and attending the muslim prayer rally in DC on 9/25/09 in a supportive manner like many leaders in the modern “evangelical” emergent church are doing and recommending? Or do we tell them the Truth that Islam is a false religion? I loved my daughters enough to warn them of danger before they got hurt. And if they did not heed the warning, I held their hand, even if they wanted me to let go. The other vague terms are “truth and the Holy Spirit”. What does that mean? The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. It is the Holy Spirit who has given us God’s Word. We are to test whether or not we are hearing from the Holy Spirit in the light of God’s Word. It is very difficult to seperate “truth and the Holy Spirit”.

    Jesus confronted with the Word. The Truth is in His Word. The emergent method is to ignore the Word of God, the Bible, and open our minds to the spirit(s). When confronted by the devil, pharisees, or anyone else Jesus responded with Scripture. He said “It is Written”(Matt 21:13),”have you never read?” (Matt. 21:16), “Have you not read in the Scriptures:” (Matt. 21:42). I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the point. The weapons we have as the armor of God in Ephesians are God’s Word and All Prayer. Everything else is defensive in nature.

    I would reword it: Jesus confronted the powers at every level with God’s Love and the Truth of His Powerful Word, the Bible, given to us by the Holy Spirit.

    • I think Jesus used the Scriptures to rebuke the Pharisees because they thought they were following the Scriptures perfectly or, at least, sufficiently well.

      To the poor fellow who knows perfectly well he isn’t up to snuff Torah-wise, I don’t think he’d slam them with a series of “It is written”‘s.

  14. Non-political

    I think I know what you mean, but be careful with this one. Jesus was king, so everything in the kingdom is political. We obey the King rather than the king. I think He meant for us to go about our kingdom business using God’s rule to accomplish things, not man’s political rule (i.e. coercive use of the sword). Matthew 20:24-28.

    • You totally lost me. Politics is defined as a process by which a group makes decisions. We follow the King, He makes decisions, therefore we as a community can be apolitical. Jesus told us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, so in that way we must follow the king as in 1Pe 2:13 and in 1Pe 2:17. I think he meant for us to go about His business guided by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Fruit thereof, thereby enable us to avoid politics in The Bride.

  15. Michael, thanks for this post. Since “community” is a watchword of mine this year, I was compelled to reproduce this entire post on my blog here.

  16. Ah, but Jesus did not “offer” an alternative to the options available. He commanded it.

  17. never seen one of these. maybe its an urban myth?

  18. I have a question about the “inclusive” statement.

    While I don’t disagree that Jesus “included all of the excluded at every level” who came to Him, He did “require” that they come with a certain “desperation”, a totality, a humility. (the Rich Young Ruler for example)

    Jesus was most definitely not an elitist.

    I think his statement that His statement that, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” could be viewed as exclusive.

    He was starting a new tribe. Made up of the broken, the soiled, the defiled, the failures. The desperately willing.

    The arrogant, those looking to make a deal with God do not seem welcome in Jesus community until they meet the exclusive requirement of brokenness and desperation.

    I think Jesus was inclusive. And exclusive. But never elitist.

  19. Jonathan Hunnicutt says

    I know I’m a little late to the discussion. I too an deeply bothered by the “non-political”

    The facts are really simple: Jesus announced a Kingdom, which is an inherently political term. He was politically executed by the political authorities of his day, with a political title above his head.

    If that’s not politics, I don’t know what is. I mean, did Jesus have to go to the Roman senate and proposed legislation to be considered political? Did Jesus have to advocate violence to be considered political?

    And Jesus did not say “My kingdom is not OF this world” He said literally: “My kingdom is not FROM this world.” But the Kingdom is invading, hence “Thy Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.”

    C’mon iMonk, you’re supposed to be a big fan of Mark. Didn’t Jesus draw out the political implications of the cross in Mark 10:42-45?

    Seriously, if Jesus meant his movement to be non-political why use a term like Kingdom at all if it would cause so much confusion? Maybe Jesus was just stupid and Kingdom was just a poor word choice?

    I’m not saying that Jesus was a proto-Che Guivera, nor that Jesus was a republican or a democrat, but to say that Jesus was non-political flies in the face of the most basic facts about him.

  20. From reading the Gospels, it seems that Jesus was creating a diverse collection of communities, each somewhat different from the others. There was the traveling community of His disciples and closest followers. Then there were those who recieved Him and His message but didn’t leave their lives and jobs and follow Him around all the time. There were particular villages and households where He was welcome and which He used as bases for His ministry. There were some towns where most the people believed in Him, and others where only a few believed. And there were individuals who heard His message while traveling abroad, believed, and then took that message back to their own hometown or country.
    I list all of these examples because, if you think about it, each different circumstance would likely breed a different kind of community, from whole towns and synogogue congregations joined in their belief in Jesus to just two or three scattered here and there, trying to maintain fellowship in a hostile environment. The community the apostles founded in Jerusalem is just the one the Bible tells us about, but there were almost certainly numerous Christ-centered communities in other places at the same time — and Acts bears out that the message of Christ spread and traveled at a faster pace than the missionary journeys of the apostles.
    All that to say that Jesus’ version of community probably looked like a lot of things. But I think they all bore His image, in that lives and the way people lived and treated each other were being transformed by His message and His Spirit. LIfe dominated by the love of God and one’s neighbor is Jesus’ version of community, both 2000 years ago and today.