Does mission lead naturally to community?

I’ve been wrestling with a statement by someone I respect immensely and who has influenced my missiology greatly. The statement is:

“When we are all working on mission, community happens naturally. When we’re working on community, mission gets lost somewhere.”

I think this statement challenges the status quo for 95% of churches in America. The reality is that most churches are primarily concerned with their own community and never get their people on mission. I recently tweeted (Yes, I’m on twitter) that I’ve been starting to question whether the statement is reality or a pendulum shift. It resulted in great convos, so the next step is obviously blogging about it. I haven’t come to any conclusion, but here are my ramblings.

Both of these aspects of the gospel (community and mission) are good, godly results of the gospel, but left on their own will ultimately kill the group.  The point at question is, “Does mission together automatically build community?” The answer is no. If the group is so focused on serving, doing, and giving, you’re cooking a recipe for burnout, a byproduct of which is individuals feeling used and valued solely based on their contribution to “mission”. If their contributions in mission dwindle, they wonder and question their role in the group they are serving, will they be loved/accepted if they don’t contribute because mission is primary?!? Personal care of those on mission gets lost when mission is held up as ultimate and primary.

To contrast, community alone kills when the group loves each other so much they no longer want to see new people come into the group. They love spending time with each other so much that they refuse to seek out anyone or fully welcome newcomers. The group eventually becomes disgruntled because they aren’t doing anything because community has become primary. Christians were made to be on mission, so they become disgruntled and the group ultimately fades away and dies.

So there’s a problem, what’s the solution?

The statement above has the most gigantic caveat. It is based on the assumption of the gospel being primary in an individual’s life as well as in a group. If this caveat happens, if they understand the gospel, both community and mission flow out of the individual and if the group gets it, both community and mission thrive. If the gospel is primary, it becomes understood that the gospel calls people out of darkness into light, from being a slave to being a family member and being cared for solely because of Christ’s work, not solely their contribution to the group. If the gospel is primary, then it is also understood at the same time that the gospel calls that same loved individual on mission to the world carrying the same message they have just received and been transformed by.

But the gigantic caveat should never be assumed and the gospel must always be primary and should not be replaced by the primacy of mission or community. The problem is each of us is naturally bent towards making one or the other primary and lobbing bombs at the other side because they aren’t doing what we hold as primary. Only when they are seen as results of the gospel in our lives and mutually embraced will mission assist in developing deeper community and a community thrive on mission.

The original statement is absolutely needed for the American church and I need to hear it often.  But we must be certain that we don’t forget the gigantic caveat.

When the gospel is being held, valued, proclaimed as primary within a group of people then community and mission happen naturally.

The question remains of how this can be accomplished. How can the gospel stay primary in an individual’s life and primary within a group of people? I’d love to hear your thoughts and hopefully I’ll add mine soon.

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3 Replies to “Does mission lead naturally to community?”

  1. First, yes, this is the second comment I’ve made recently on something you’ve written. But, I am so glad to read this blog entry because the ideas of community and missions are topics I’ve reflected on/wrestled & raged over/prayed about for literal years.

    You ask the question: How can the gospel stay primary in an individual’s life and primary within a group of people?” and it reminds me of something from Oswald’s devotional for yesterday:

    “The Lord suffereth long. . . .” Let me look within and see His dealings with me. The knowledge that God has loved me to the uttermost, to the end of all my sin and meanness and selfishness and wrong, will send me forth into the world to love in the same way. God’s love to me is inexhaustible, and I must love others from the bedrock of God’s love to me.”

    This is similar to what you say in your 5th paragraph. And thinking on these things and what God has been revealing in my life, is that maybe the missing element is brokenness. And, if we’re real and transparent, I think we could admit that–as the church, we’ve lost that in very large part.

    Let’s put it in context. Suppose that your brother has a terrible accident and is in a coma. The doctors have prepared you for the worst, that death is imminent. Of course, this would wreck you and devastate you and you would cry and pray incessantly. And what if he is miraculously restored? Immediate joy and celebrating, sure. But, I think also the inclination would be to not let him out of your sight for a while–and probably a very long while. Because, suddenly, the time you have together seems more precious and you can’t get enough of being with him because he was once close to death but now you have the privilege and the joy of living life -communing– with him again…and you see the time together as more purposeful and valuable….you want his fellowship…but it took the brokeness to bring that awareness.

    Now, suppose it’s your neighbor in that hospital bed, that death is imminent. The doctors continue to try everything, but he is not responding to it. Do you continue until the end to love and support and care–do these things become your mission? Or do you give up because it is too much? You keep going in love because your brokenness over the situation compels you to.

    As much as we are broken for the physical, we need to be moreso for the spiritiual.

    So why do we lose this brokenness? I think busy-ness is tops. Our lives are jam-packed and when we (and I include myself) do have time we settle for entertainment, computers, etc. instead of loving. And, in our busy-ness, it’s easier to write a Facebook comment or send a text instead of embracing others. It’s so much easier to turn to these things and fall into these habits instead of turning outward which would mean we have to remember that we are in a fallen, broken, desperate world–forgetting that if we do turn, we can do so in the confidence in His glory and the promise of His eternity.

    I think the brokeness is also lost because we have lost sight of the value of prayer. How can we love according the heart of God if we don’t earnestly seek and listen to the heart of God? How can we remember the brokeness if we forget His glory and His gradeur and His sacrifice so that we–an undeserving lot–get redemption and eternity with Him? If we forget Him?

    I don’t think my statements are exhaustive (and I’m unsure if they make complete sense!). Surely, your question is one we (the church) have to keep discussing. This issue is one many are stuggling with. Perhaps groups of interested parties should gather to chat and more importantly PRAY about such things. There are a lot of lonely, isolated folks out there who are missing the community and the mission.

  2. To the individual, examine Paul’s words to Timothy:

    This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. -1 Tim 1:18-19

    Practically, keeping the gospel center in one’s own life means “holding faith and a good conscience,” which means unceasing repentance. The human soul is prone to wander and break its faith with Jesus, and therefore must be constantly corrected. A repentant soul, holding to its faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, will have a clean and unstained conscience and will be correctly oriented on its path, “mission,” handed to it by God. The one who strays will “make shipwreck of their faith.”

    To the group, examine Paul’s words to Timothy:

    “Remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

    In the order of Paul’s instruction to Timothy, faithful leadership seems to be the crucial ingredient to a group holding fast to the gospel. Bold men who will steward well their charge to lovingly correct and rebuke those wishing to “teach any different doctrine.” Any false gospel will promote endless speculation and ultimately seeks to bind God’s sheep entrusted faithful men, stewards of the gospel that is “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

    Key word for the leader: take note that not only the “aim,” but also the root of this charge must be love. The end goal, or aim, that is the gospel can only be reached when it issues from a heart washed clean and made new by the love of Christ. Functionally, we leaders can not trust in any different gospel, of community, or of mission, when pursuing our true aim, the gospel of love.

    I’ve been meditating on 1 Timothy one for the past week or so. It’s all about the gospel. Hope you comment on my comment bud.

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