I seem to find myself having variations of the same conversations a lot. I’m not complaining, it just interests me. More often than not, the conversation is with other pastors who hear about “missional communities” and want to hear more. Church of the Cross, where I serve, organizes itself around missional communities (or, we also call them Gospel Communities on Mission) so I find myself explaining this quite a bit. This is great because it has forced our own church family to be clear about what we mean and what we don’t.
Part of the problem, though, is that “missional communities” has become sort of a “junk-drawer” term. Lots of homes have that drawer (we actually several) where you throw everything you can’t seem to find a place for. It is common for words and terms to take on similar status, adopting definitions (sometimes even contradictory definitions depending on who you talk to) along the way until no one is quite sure what the term means. This can be quite frustrating for someone who just wants to understand.
So, I want to take a few posts here and explain some of the things that we mean when we talk about organizing ourselves around gospel communities on mission (missional communities). I am not pretending that these are the only ways to undertand these terms or that we speak for everyone using the terms, just that this is what we mean.
The first thing to consider is the expectation of Scripture that God’s people will grow. This seems rather self-evident but consider the reality: we understand and accept the notion that: “oh, he’s just a baby Christian” and that someone can remain a “baby Christian” for a very long time. My wife and I have four boys. If any of them didn’t grow, we would be extremely worried and we would take drastic measures to make sure that they started growing as expected.
The Bible talks about salvation as a “new birth,” (John 3:1-15) as being “born again” from spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1-11). Peter says that, “like newborn infants,” we should long for that which will help us grow (1 Peter 2:2) and Paul says that we should not stay like children forever (Ephesians 4:1-16). This is common sense. People grow, they change, they mature; and the Christian life is no different. We are expected to grow, change and mature.
This means that part of the role of the local church is to create a context in which growth and change in the Christian life are most likely to occur. By this I am not saying that we can guarantee anything or even that we can make people grow in the Christian life. But I do believe that we should encourage growth as much as possible.
Another way to say this might be that we are called to make, mature and multiply disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). An apprentice sits under a master, watching, learning and doing until it is time for them to go do it on their own, hopefully taking another apprentice along with them. We call this process of helping each other change, helping each other “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13)” discipleship and if it is not at the center of our churches, something else will be.
I can’t find anywhere in Scripture where we are commanded to plant churches, but I can find where we are called to make, mature and multiply disciples. So we must ask ourselves: how well have we done at discipleship, at helping people grow, change and mature more and more to reflect Jesus and, if we haven’t done all that well, what (if anything) might need to change in order to place people in contexts where they are more likely to experience the change the Gospel (the good news about who Jesus is and what He’s done) expects of us.
We believe that people are more likely to experience Gospel change as the events on the church calendar are stripped away and the Truths we discuss are applied in everyday life and people are equipped to help each other (Galatians 6:1) experience God’s change in their lives. So we have intentionally cleared much of the traditional church calendar and focused on our Gathered Worship, our Missional Communities and what we call DNA (Discipleship/Nurture/Accountability) Groups and tried to move away from our Gathered Worship being the engine that drives our life together as a church.
This does not mean we don’t preach or value preaching. This does not mean that Sunday is not important or that we don’t strive to do it well. It just means that, it is common for churches to use Sunday as the thing around which they organize and energize people and we view Sunday as a gathering of people who have tried to live out the Gospel scattered throughout the week. It means that Sunday is a family reunion rather than a performance. It means that we believe that change is more likely to happen when people are asked to really live out what the bible says rather than simply learn more.
I realize that I haven’t defined or described much about missional communities yet. But it’s important to see that we organize the life of our church family this way, not because it’s a new fad but because we are sincerely pursuing the growth, change and maturity that God has in store for us. Your church may do it differently and that’s OK as long as the goal is spiritual maturity and multiplication rather than a big church.
Over the next few days, we’ll flesh out more of what a missional community is and isn’t. For now, I just want to say that it is the organizational principle for a local church that we believe is most conducive to seeing real, lasting change in people’s lives.