As I mentioned on Monday, I seem to find myself having variations of the same conversation over and over again. I’m not complaining. In fact, I enjoy being forced to present ideas in a variety of angles, being forced to whittle them down until they’re concise and clear.
One of the reasons the Church of the Cross family organizes itself around missional communities, or as we sometimes call them, “gospel communities on mission” (which we’ll talk more about today) is that we are convinced that we should, as much as possible, place people in contexts where change is likely to occur.
By no means are we saying that we can really make people change. God does that. However, we do believe that local churches should do as much as possible to encourage and facilitate that change in people’s lives. We believe that this change is more likely to occur when we place people in the “sweet spot,” the intersection of Gospel, Community and Mission.
I’ve never been a big sports guy, but I did play tennis for several years growing up. In tennis, as with several other sports involving making contact with a ball, there is, on the racquet, a “sweet spot.” There is a spot on the tennis racquet where, you know it when you make contact. The ball responds better. You have more power and control. You can hit the ball across the net with just about any part of the racquet; even the frame. But when you make contact with the sweet spot, it is better. You’re still playing tennis if you’re just getting the ball over the net, but you’re not experiencing the fullness of the game without learning to connect with the sweet spot.
Likewise, in envisioning what a missional community is, it helps to envision another sweet spot. This time, it is not a place on a racquet, but the intersection of three life-factors: Gospel, Community and Mission. It might look something like the overlap of three circles. As much as possible, we are looking to facilitate the life of the missional community within that “sweet spot” (the little white space where all three factors intersect).
This means that each factor is not negotiable and, as much as possible, all three at the same time are necessary. If we take away just one factor, the entire dynamic changes and it is no longer what we’re looking to foster. For example, if we remove Gospel, leaving Community and Mission, we have the possibility of some good being done in the world. We might have something like the Peace Corps or the Scouts. We have people coming together to serve but but not out of gospel motives so it can’t produce the sweet spot missional communities strive to exist within and we’re less likely to see real, lasting life change.
Take away Community, leaving Gospel and Mission. We might have a street preacher, “out in the world preaching the word” but it is often removed from daily life and it is often done in isolation. Or we might have a great short-term missions trip. You and your friends are going to change the world in a week and you come back with the church-camp high and you feel on top of the world but as the rhythms of real-life begin to pull you under again, chances are that most of those relationship you thought would last forever have deteriorated; that long-term shared communal life is just not there so it can’t produce the sweet spot missional communities strive to exist within.
Or take away Mission, leaving Gospel and Community. We might have a truly moving gathered worship experience or a moving and challenging group bible study. But if mission is removed, the external-focus is taken away, it will, by default, be inward focused so it can’t produce the sweet spot missional communities strive to exist within.
Gospel, Community and Mission are non-negotiable for missional communities. But it is not enough simply to have all three; we are looking for their intersection and the space it creates, you cannot have a missional community without all three Gospel, Community and Mission being present. When all three are present and the “sweet spot” of their intersection opens up, we believe that people are more likely to be changed into maturing and multiplying disciples.
In days to come, well flesh out a bit more how some of this might look in the life of a local community but for now, I just want to paint some very broad strokes of what a missional community (as we understand and practice them) is and isn’t. Though it may look different for different missional communities, I have come to believe that some attempt to place people within this sweet spot is part of what a missional community is always aiming for.