Last week I intended to complete this small series on missional community messiness that every community will face. Last Tuesday, I focused on the 3 bad and 3 good reasons missional communities get messy and today will be about engaging this messiness.
Engaging vs. Ending the Missional Community
Many people would prefer to simply end the missional community and then move on to the next one when messiness arises. While that seems like an easy solution, it doesn’t address the root issues that will eventually repeat themselves and it doesn’t model the gospel of Jesus Christ at all.
The gospel of Jesus Christ informs us that Christ came to us specifically because we were a mess and his love for us compelled Him to enter into our world. He then took our mess on Himself on the cross, enduring the punishment our mess caused so that we wouldn’t have to face it. In His resurrection, we have hope that our mess can be addressed and transformed. God did not end the world, but sought to redeem it through Jesus.
This gives us hope when we find that our missional communities are messy and dealing with challenges.
Engaging the Bad Messiness Through a Missional Reset
Bad messiness in missional communities is the result of undefined or unshared leadership which usually leads to unclear vision and direction so the community lacks mission and is no longer seeing new people added to their community.
The best way to address these issues is to have a missional community reset. Take a few consecutive weeks to redefine the intent and direction as a community. This involves the leaders developing their general vision and then inviting the community to speak into the overall direction. (I plan on elaborating on developing a collective vision in the coming weeks.) Spend time as a community bringing to light the dysfunction. This freedom to face dysfunction comes from the gospel because we don’t have to pretend perfection; the gospel shows us our imperfection. This allows us to embrace our weaknesses, bring them to the community and address them collectively.
There may be natural times to do this like the beginning of a new season of community groups or it may need to be done in the middle of the season so the messiness won’t continue. The aim of the community to embody Jesus in His holy life and compassionate action needs to be clear or the community will sacrifice one while embracing the other which is unsustainable.
This missional community reset provides the arena for the community to share their desires for change and invite full engagement in the future direction together. Despite this messiness being a result of bad leadership, it is easier and quicker to address than the good messiness.
The Good Messiness Requires the Long-Suffering Love of God
Confession & Transformation
When the gospel sinks deep into the lives of people in community, they begin to share long-term struggles they wish would go away. These can often be tremendously challenging and habitual issues that require long-term care from the community. If we are honest with ourselves, we’d prefer not to long-suffer with people when there is no end in sight, but nothing can convey the love of God like long-suffering with others for transformation.
Jesus redeems us from our sin by faith (theology term: justification), but also promises to make us more like Him over the course of our lives (sanctification) until death when we fully become like Jesus in the life everlasting (glorification). That’s a long process, but God chooses to use His people to help us through that and the community that assists one another through trials, struggles, tragedies, and transformation from sin will know a depth of the gospel love of God that others don’t. Throughout this process they will also proclaim to the world that the power and love of God is greater than the mess of this life.
Raw Questions from Exploring & Potential Believers
A community that can endure the raw and messy details of life will likely find themselves faced with people exploring Christianity or new believers who have genuine questions about how faith shapes the world that will be incredibly challenging. We all want easy black and white questions and answers, but most raw questions deal with questions about Christianity’s encounter with our current culture.
This is when issues of sexuality, work and faith, theological convictions that separate faiths, and Christian values conflict with the norms of culture. In some cases, the missional community leader won’t know the answer and that’s ok, as long as they join the community in seeking the answer together. In other cases, the answer will confront the norms of the lives in the community that are shaped by the culture instead of Christ.
We’re not comfortable with this type of confrontational grace (though some are too comfortable with confrontational culture wars) that extends love by way of truth presented with gentleness. I recently had a conversation where “all the cards were put on the table” and the disagreement was clear, but the result was not separation and end of friendship. The result was a continued commitment to explore these ideas together. I was very encouraged by that and I have seen the same thing occur in a number of our communities.
Each missional community can create a gospel-centered culture where rawness is embraced over always being right. It’s challenging, but it reflects the work of Jesus in our own lives, as God peels back layers little by little to reveal His desires for our lives over our own.
Inter-Generational & Racially Diverse Convergence
The church community can unfortunately be more segregated than the rest of the world. It was not supposed to be as evidenced by the scriptures speaking of a gospel that reconciles beyond age and race. For the missional community to seek to be gospel-centered in a way that embraces diversity, the community must be aware that diversity brings its own challenges. Our unspoken preferences can often be shaped by our culture, race, and age in ways that we have not confronted or acknowledged.
Living with a community of people dissimilar to you in life circumstances, but similar because of Jesus will bring these things to light. Embracing diversity allows us to see the beautiful design of God in culture, age, and race that fully magnify Him with their uniqueness over sameness. There may be times when conflicts arise, but letting the grace of God that is extended to us in Jesus guide our response will lead to a healthier community. The wisdom and strength of a diverse community speaks powerfully of the gospel of Jesus Christ to move beyond preferences and maintain God’s glory as the goal.
Every Missional Community will face messy seasons, but the gospel of Jesus Christ defines our response so that our community can continue to proclaim the good news of Jesus to the world.