The History of the OMS
The original Order of the Mustard Seed was started in 1716 by a group of school friends at the Halle Academy in what is now Eastern German, led by a young nobleman called Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. They saw their society as a kind of spiritual order of knighthood, dedicated not to personal honour or self-advancement but to radical service of Jesus Christ the King. The rules they committed to live by would change and mature as the Order grew, but the heart of their promise always remained the same:
- To be True to Christ
- To be Kind to People
- To take the Gospel to the Nations
For these young men ‘True to Christ’ started off expressed mostly as personal holiness; it would develop to include the complex challenges of working with integrity in the midst of opposition. ‘Kind to People’ encompassed a commitment to helping the poor but also learning to love your enemies in practise. And their aspiration to take the ‘Gospel to the Nations’ would lead to pioneering missionary work across Europe and in every part of the known world.
Zinzendorf and others went on to become the leaders of the Moravian renewal, which has been described as “one of the purest moves of the Spirit in church history”. Zinzendorf’s commitment to be ‘kind to people’ led him to accept religious refugees fleeing persecution in Moravia (modern day Czech Republic) on his estate at Herrnhut in Germany – a present day image of which is on the front page of the website. In August 1727, they experienced a dramatic move of the Holy Spirit which led them to start a prayer watch that continued day and night for the next 100 years. The community at Herrnhut became the centre of a spiritual revival which led to the planting of radical missional communities all around the world. Within five years they sent out their first overseas missionaries to work among slaves in the Caribbean, even offering to become slaves themselves if that was what it took to reach those whom no-one else seemed to care about. These early Moravian pioneers were the first ‘lay’ missionaries and the first to be sent by a non state-sponsored organisation in modern history. They were soon followed by missions to Greenland, North America, Africa, and the Far East.
Throughout this remarkable period the Mustard Seed covenant was the guiding principle which urged them on in mission and service, and led them back onto the right path when they got it wrong. Its members came to include people of influence like the King of Denmark and the Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘outsiders’ like the Chief of the Cree tribe of Native Americans, and ordinary people from many walks of life, all committed to doing extraordinary things in God’s Kingdom.
As far as we know the original Order of the Mustard Seed did not continue much beyond the late 18th century. We don’t claim to be a direct continuation of the Order, but we do acknowledge them as an inspiration and a challenge to serve Christ as faithfully in our generation as they did in theirs.
OMS and 24-7 Prayer
In the early years of 24-7 Prayer as we were discovering kindred spirits in the Moravian community at Herrnhut, a 24-7 Prayer community in Reading, England, were pioneering a community based on new experiments in monasticism – what we initially called Boiler Rooms.
Boiler Rooms are communities that are centered on a disciplined rhythm of prayer and committed to the outward and upward practices of creativity, hospitality, learning, mission and justice. It’s not exactly a new idea, of course. The Boiler Room model is derived from the descriptions of the Early Church in the book of Acts who “all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14) while preaching the gospel (see Acts 2:14), teaching the Scriptures (see Acts 2:42) and caring sacrificially for the poor (see Acts 2:45).
We’ve also been deeply inspired by the ancient Celtic Christian communities that combined prayer and mission so successfully more than a thousand years ago. Their monastic settlements (called muintir) shaped the culture of northern Europe and evangelized the British Isles more effectively than any other mission before or since.
These experiments in monasticism were no mere romanticism for times gone by. Nearly every major monastic movement began as a violent reaction to compromised religion. Monasticism, at its best, has always been a cry for change – in our own hearts, in an over-accommodating church and in society at large.
In September 2004 we drew up a simple document to define the vision for boiler rooms and offer guidance for how communities could live out the 6 practices day to day. A little later we showed this document to a wise old monk at Turvey Abbey. He laughed. “This is marvellous,” he enthused, “you’ve drawn up a monastic rule.”
The heartbeat of the Boiler Room rule came from the inspiration of the Moravian community at Herrnhut; true to Christ, kind to people, and to take the Gospel to the nations. What does it mean to outwork these principals practically? How could we live them as naturally as breathing? With great excitement, we realised that our six Boiler Room practices flow from the three principles, bringing lofty ambition down to earth in practical action.
- What does it mean to be true to Christ?
- We live prayerfully.
- We celebrate creativity to His glory.
- What does it mean to be kind to people?
- We practice hospitality.
- We express God’s mercy and justice.
- What does it mean to take the gospel to the nations?
- We commit ourselves to lifelong learning that we might shape culture and make disciples by being discipled.
- We engage in mission and evangelism.
Over the first 15 years of the 24-7 Prayer movement, as we lived with the Boiler Room Rule in a community context, we have also been journeying with what it means at a more personal level. This journey has resulted in the creation of the rule as it is followed by individuals, which we call the Order of the Mustard Seed Rule.