The next month for me will be pretty much consumed with this idea of Missional Communities. Not only is it my job as a pastor, but I will be attending the Verge Conference at the end of February, which should be worth it. So over the next month I’m hoping to describe my experience with missional communities and our churches approach to being a gospel-centered community on mission to love and serve each other and our city.
This past Sunday, we started the first of 3 open invitation Community Group trainings, this one focused on Gospel Enjoyment, with the aim to provide equipping to anyone in our church to be an effective part of and eventually lead a Community Group.
I started out with my story of encountering missional communities and absolutely hating it.
My wife and I had just finished the 2nd year of leading a college community group at our church. I was part of the leadership team for the college ministry and our church had decided to transition from community groups to missional communities. One of my first interactions with this idea was that missional communities are NOT a small group, a bible study, a support group, a social activist group or a weekly meeting.
Everything I’ve just done for 2 years is wrong?
What I heard from that, though it was not intentional, was that everything I had done for the last 2 years was wrong. We had led a bible study during our community group, we had seen people come to faith in Christ, people sacrifice for one another, people prayed for and healed, and a community formed that loved one another well.
So I initially hated the idea, I thought it would destroy communities instead of enhance communities. I had to understand this idea more and had to figure out scripturally what God calls us to as a community who believes that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the grave.
Let the Research Begin
I started with Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch, Organic Church by Neil Cole, and Church Planting Movements by David Garrison. I’m not smart enough for Alan, I understood Neil’s angst against the institutional church, and was encouraged by David Garrison’s descriptions of what God was doing around the world.
But honestly I was left asking what it practically meant. It wasn’t until I picked up Total Church by Steve Timmis & Tim Chester, read the book of Acts about 10 times and learned more about The Crowded House and Soma Communities that I began to grasp what missional communities could really be.
Total Church does an amazing job of laying the groundwork for how the gospel of Jesus Christ defines a community of believers. In the gospel we are invited into the family of God to be a blessing as the family of God, to enjoy a loving, Christ exalting community and then to extend it to our world.
This was helpful in stepping off of the reactionary pendulum that pointed to mission as lacking and tried to over-correct at the cost of community. At the same time it brought me away from community as the purpose of the church to the neglect of mission. It pointed to Jesus as the center of all things (just like the Bible does) and outlined how community and mission flow from a right understanding and embracing of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Not Wrong, But Incomplete
This process helped me realize that our Community Group that we had led was great and God used it in mighty ways, but it was incomplete.
We had been based in the scriptures to know Jesus, we had loved one another really well, caring for each other’s needs and serving one another. These college kids were helping raise our son, they were finding their identity solely in Christ and seeking to honor Him with their school, their work, and all of their lives. They were getting engaged and married; a few were coming to faith, prayers were being answered, it was a joyful community.
But we were not consistently seeking to extend our community to those who disagreed with us or to those who were in the midst of broken lives and truly needed the mercy of Christ. We were missing how the gospel propels a community toward loving our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors as Jesus had loved us.
I could not be more thankful for wrestling through this, for the patience of my pastors at the time, and for their continued investment in me as I processed my disagreements. I went from hating missional communities to embracing, promoting and seeking to live it out and help others do the same, not because of how special a method is, but because of how gospel-centered it is. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that changes us.
I learned much from watching The Austin Stone transition to missional communities and continue to learn much as our Community Groups at Apostles Church do the same.
Tomorrow and Thursday I plan on expanding on how a missions-first focused community or a community-first focused community misses the gospel and misses the opportunity to display Jesus to their community.