So I have told you that I used to hate missional communities and that a church community that puts mission at the center leads people to burnout, kills community, and puts the Great Commission over the greatest commandments. These are things I’ve watched in communities, experienced in my own life, and try to my best to prevent as I seek to pastor 30+ communities in New York City.
The more subtle danger for missional communities is to make the community the central focus. It’s natural for us to care for those we already know and we know God calls us to care for and love people that share our faith. It’s subtle because we can use all of our energy and fill our schedule with church activities without realizing we have stopped giving time and love to those who do not share our faith.
It’s dangerous because the intent is to develop the community, but it ultimately stifles and kills the community.
3 Major Failures when Community takes on the central focus
1. Community turns Inward
When a community turns inward, eliminating the opportunity for people outside the community to participate, the goal becomes creating a community of perfection. We cannot neglect caring for one another and helping people become like Christ, but the goal is not to be perfect people, but to know our perfect Savior.
Eventually the community will consume itself. It won’t happen immediately, but eventually the community will become stagnant, no longer becoming like Christ because they are not welcoming to those outside of the community.
Have you ever seen a church split over a seemingly foolish issue? It happened because the community turned inward, began arguing toward perfection on secondary issues and drawing lines in the sand that everyone must follow. The gospel no longer became the only close-handed issue that couldn’t be compromised. It became a Christ+ community. You have to not only follow Christ, but you have to act in a very specific way like the community. Christ + specific belief/way of life is now the measure of your belonging.
2. Community becomes savior
Eventually the community becomes your savior. You can’t imagine living without the community and even the idea of creating a new community for new people is seen as evil and destructive to the community.
Yes, the Christian faith is a community faith. It is not simply a me and my God, but a us and our God faith, but an overdependence on the community for our spiritual relationship will kill the community. The Christian community was not intended to be Jesus, but to point us to Jesus.
When this happens our identity, the guiding reality of our life, shifts from being a son or daughter of God to the community identity. If this is our life-stage, job, or mission, we take on this secondary identity as primary. So when someone from a different life-stage, job, or outside the mission comes along, we don’t welcome that and actually reject them to maintain our community.
The gospel community maintains Jesus as the goal and maintains our identity in Christ. This frees us from clutching onto community to make it welcoming to others and even leave it when the opportunity to glorify God elsewhere presents itself.
3. The community bears no fruit indicating death
Throughout the scriptures and very pointedly in John 15, Jesus describes those who depend on God as people who “bear fruit”. They display by their character, convictions, and actions a Christ-likeness with joy, patience, love, self-control, faithfulness, and peace. In addition a community of Christ followers is to grow and expand to include more Christ followers.
This faithfulness to God in lifestyle and mission is what God asks of Christians. He will take care of the results of seeing people come to a saving faith in the loving work of Jesus Christ on the cross and in the resurrection.
If something is intended to bear fruit but does not, it is dead. An inward facing community is typically unwelcoming and tends to be judgmental. No one who does not share that attitude wants to be around people who are judgmental. A judgmental community conveys a solely judgmental God. We serve a God who is just and will judge everyone, but extends a gracious opportunity to avoid judgment through faith in Jesus Christ.
Gospel-Led Community Enhanced by Healthy Mission
A community that embraces Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior should become the most welcoming community. The results of the gospel taking root is freedom to love anyone and everyone.
A gospel-led community grows and is made healthy by mission. We’ve seen this repeatedly in our communities. When we extend hospitality and love to those we disagree with, to those who don’t live “just like us” or believe differently, we get to experience how Christ lived on earth.
The judgmental community of Christ’s day and culture, the Pharisees, were shocked that Jesus welcomed people who disagreed with him, who weren’t righteous like them. The scriptures show that Christ was quick to extend grace to anyone who needed to be welcomed and loved.
The gospel-led community does not sacrifice community on the altar of mission, but it also does not exalt community to replace Jesus. Starting with the gospel leads to a community that loves Jesus, loves one another, and loves anyone outside the community.
This is what I have seen in the past and at times currently. It has shaped my approach to missional communities which I hope to elaborate on in the weeks to come.