A Missional Community

The following is a cross-post from The Argosy Project, a community of believers that I’ve helped start this year.

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It started as just a small whimsical hope. It was January 2011, and I knew soon that I would be leaving Hampton House, the motley community of believers that had become my only true home since I had returned from the World Race. I knew it would be time to move out soon, but the outlook for post-Hampton life looked bleak.

What do normal people do in this country? I remember. They live with one roommate, or perhaps none. They organize their own spaces just the way they want them, which makes certain that their lives have no problems. When they want to spend time with other people, likely they’ll need to make a plan, and probably get into their cars and drive across town. Their communities exist in a tangled web across cities, united by things like the day job, and by sports leagues, and by church, but probably not by proximity. And they probably don’t know their neighbors.

Granted, the above critique may be cynical. But neither is it a gross exaggeration. After having spent the previous three years in virtually uninterrupted proximity with communities of people, I came to the realization that America is a culture of isolation. I didn’t want to bother with that.

So I prayed and asked, and soon I was given an idea. I knew of many people in my life stage. Young professional twenty-something transients looking to find themselves in God’s stories, not yet obligated and not yet captured by the conventionalities of our culture. What if God could bring together a bunch of us at one time and place, in a single apartment complex, making a new missional colony of believers in a place. Starting a community from scratch. A flash mob, but one that wouldn’t disperse.

I prayed some more, brainstormed about neighborhoods and complexes and people I’d invite, and talked to mentors and dreamers and builders of communities. And in time, I grew certain that this plan was good, that the Spirit had given it, and that it was worth a try. I sent out the invitation through every conceivable means, to every community of Jesus people that I could find in Austin. And it somehow worked.

And so by August 2011 we had all moved into this complex called Argosy. There were twelve or fifteen of us. Some close friends, some people I’d never met before. The thing was on.

We talked about vision for our time together. We talked dreams, we talked nuts and bolts, we laid down times to meet together on a regular basis, and neat ways to outreach to our neighbors, and how to serve the people in this complex, and how to begin to transform the place. We discovered other believers here who wanted to hang with us, too. And we attracted the company of some who don’t live here.

We hit the ground running a bit too fast. I realized after a while that I didn’t really have a vision for what we were going to do or be here. All I’d ever been certain of was that I didn’t want to do the American emperor of isolation thing. In response to that simple aversion, the Argosy idea was born, and then somehow we ended up here by August. But I didn’t know anything else about why we were here. Doing a bunch of meetings and trying to force vision to happen spontaneously wasn’t quite working for some of us. It wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t sure what we were running toward, exactly. A lot of us, to be honest, weren’t. And we were busy.

We had a meeting with some pastors, some mentor guys I know who have done community in their time. They told us to slow down and let the group gel. We needed this phase. We needed to form. Take steps toward structured vision slowly, and only with the confirmation of the Spirit, rather than the force of our enthusiasm. Don’t try to shift from 1st to 4th. Stuff like that. I heard a story of a transformative community of believers in Baltimore that just simply lived in a rough neighborhood for two years before they tried to commit to any kind of structured vision or game plan.

And so, humbled and quite a bit relieved, in October we eased back a bit. I eased back a bit. We reduced the frequency of our meetings, and just started focusing on getting to know each other, and enjoying this wonderful set of companions that we had all somehow inherited. At our weekly dinners we started sharing our life stories, one or two a night. We did this throughout the fall, and it was wonderful. And together we ran from zombies on Halloween, and feasted together for Thanksgiving, and drank booze together for Christmas (of course). We played a fantastic football game with some kids in east Austin. We laughed together a lot. Somehow in the slowing down of attempted structured things, all the really rich community things started to pick up. We discovered each other this fall. It was actually working.

So it happened that the Argosy collective began to congeal into an Argosy community.

And many of us have continued to wonder — what will we do and be together? What is our shared purpose in this place, aside from support and companionship for each other? And for a few weeks I felt again impatient. I thought back to hopes of truly missional community, this beautiful ugly idea where you have a group of people who live and serve together. And I realized recently that much of the reason that short-term mission trips are so moving is that for a few short days or weeks, you’re bound up in a de facto community, and you co-labor together for a single project, goal, or group of people. And it’s beautiful, and often rocky, and incredibly powerful. And this too is a large part of why the World Race is so powerful.

And I began again to wish that for Argosy, and soon. Because we enjoy each other well, and in bits and pieces we have collaborated well. But mostly, in our vision and efforts, we are still fractured.

But I’m favoring patience still, and favoring the timing of the Spirit over my own agenda for things.

And then this past Tuesday, at our regular weekly dinner, I was surprised by something the Spirit did. Suddenly there was this confluence that showed itself — that nearly half of us have plans for moving soon into some greater journey of ministry or mission, and we all wanted to share that night, and ask for prayers and prophecy and confirmation, from our community. And for one it was seminary, and for two more it was returning to mission in South Africa, and for another it was heading out for the first time to spend two years among unreached peoples, and for me it will likely be the Middle East; and there are more still. And even aside from those who are moving directly from Argosy into some far-flung missionary journey, we are all at a critical formative stage, and we’ve chosen to be together and support each other here at this time.

And there was so much that we ran out of time for everyone to speak and receive prayer, and so we’ll have to continue at our next meeting. And the prayers were rich and full, even though we haven’t all known each other for long, and we haven’t all trusted each other fully yet. It didn’t seem to matter, that night.

And so I returned to this thought that Becca had a while ago: what if, among many things, Argosy is a launch pad? And I pictured us, a small cluster of vagabonds, meeting at an agreed upon waypoint, down on the dark plains, en route to the mountains; and I saw our outfitting each other, strapping on armor and equipment and spiritual gifts and blessings and hope to one another. And then we each set off, in twos and threes and ones, each companion parting after a time with the others, headed out for destiny and purpose.

And my heart beat a little bit faster at this picture, and I imagined that if the Lord had dreamed Argosy solely for us to laugh and worship together, and to realize this picture of helping each other launch, that that would be a worthy mission for us to partake in together.

And I believe He will do more than that small dream, in this place. May He do so much more.

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