I intended to go deeper into the Missional Community life cycle this week, but I realized that my posts from Tuesday & Wednesday assumed progress in knowing God, loving one another and loving the world. But what happens when a missional community starts to face the reality that they are struggling in those areas?
The community comes to a crossroads moment. Will the missional community end or change to avoid continuing in decline towards ultimately ending?
Before discussing these crossroad moments, a brief review of the intent of missional community. Missional Communities are a collection of people who have partnered together on the same mission. The name spells it out, but doesn’t necessarily explain it comprehensively. For the church, these communities are formed based on their gospel identity. They understand the need to cultivate a healthy community and that mission ultimately requires a healthy community. These communities see their role as forming Christ-loving disciples who embody the gospel through making other Christ-loving and following disciples.
This requires that they grow in their love for and obedience to God (we call this Gospel Enjoyment), that they grow in their care for and investment in one another (Intentional Community) and they grow in extending the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed (Prayerful Mission). This is progression in the gospel and its implications as a community on mission.
Missional communities face crossroad moments when progression in the gospel slows or stops. Then the community must discuss changing or ending.
Changing for Healthy Community
There can be moments when a missional community is to heavy on mission to the detriment of loving God and loving one another. The results are the community demanding reports of missional engagement and the value for each member becomes their contribution to mission not their value in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This crossroad moment allows the community to remember Christ as their first love and focus and return to the gospel as center of the community. This may mean increasing time together as community to have fun. It may mean to come together for more prayer or simply take the time to express concern and work through some of the struggles of people in the community. When a community stops bearing one another’s burdens, struggles, or even sins, their mission will ultimately suffer.
Changing for Healthy Mission
Many small groups that have transitioned to missional communities will face the opposite crossroad moment. Even among many missional communities, the tendency to turn inward and only show concern for one another is strong and can lead to the absence of mission altogether.
This crossroad moment forces the community to come to terms with their error of sacrificing the call of Christ to extend His message to all. The way out may mean ending the bible study focus for a while, choosing local restaurants, concerts, or events that provide more natural avenues to connect with people who believe differently than them. Their will need to be a season of correction while avoid overcorrection towards the error of sacrificing community.
One of the best ways to move forward from this crossroad is to pursue serving the poor and marginalized in the area. Engaging the brokenness of our local neighborhoods brings us back to the heartbeat of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It reminds us that Jesus came down out of heaven, a perfect situation, and entered into one of the most broken earthly situations being born to a outcast virgin in a barn. Christ did this to stop the mess in our lives and to begin fixing it.
This good news propels us toward mercy when we remember it, but we are propelled towards hiding from brokenness when we forget the gospel and seek to protect ourselves and the community from the brokenness around us.
Some Missional Communities Should End
Ending the missional community must also be an option during these crossroad moments.
I mentioned in the original post that all missional communities centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ face a time of messiness that is healthy, so I’m not referencing those situations. There are times when the messiness only gets worse and multiplies in the community. This happens when the messiness or community errors are not processed through the gospel as a community. In these situations, it’s best for the community to end and transition to other missional communities or new missional communities to disrupt the cycle of messiness.
In other cases, I’ve seen some missional communities end where there was a lack of shared leadership and the leader was burned out. A missional community dependent on one or even two leaders who do everything will suffer and hurt from lacking the contributions of all. The spiritual health of the leaders is essential to the health of the community.
For those that end, it’s not simply a failure, but acknowledging the reality that God is trying to do something different and following Him will require sacrifice of some kind. Sometimes this sacrifice is ending the current missional community in hopes of pursing gospel-centered community on mission in another community.
The Majority Should Simply Change
Most missional communities in crossroads moments benefit best from changing and adjusting through seeking God and processing the implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Seeing these crossroad moments and moving beyond them transform a missional community to a new level of healthy community and healthy mission. This is similar to when we each individually face challenges in our lives. We come out on the other end with more wisdom, and often unknowingly, a quality character that has been developed through the challenges.
Every missional community will face these crossroad moments along their life cycle that could lead to a greater understanding of and celebration of the gospel. It’s a beautiful moment for a community to evaluate themselves in light of the gospel implications and transform to become more like God’s desire for a community.