At Apostles Church, we are defined by 3 core values, Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community, and Prayerful Mission and our Community Groups aim to contextualize these values in their neighborhood. They are often guided by 3 convictions that we believe assist them in being a gospel community on mission. Those 3 convictions are proximity over affinity, rhythms over events, and integrating children.
A large shift in my understanding of church was moving from events to rhythms. Church has become a place to attend, an event to experience, rather than a people to partner with, a lifestyle of mission. Small groups aim to provide that expression of church, but can easily become another church event. So now church becomes Sunday & Tuesday night, but no community is actually built.
Let the Community happen all week
If a community forms a rhythm of life where interaction happens more often than once a week, then there is less pressure to accomplish so much in the formal group time. We try to cram prayer, bible discussion, mission discussion, accountability, confession into this time and it’s impossible. We then define success by whether we covered all portions of these or if the conversation was good. But the success of Christian community is so much more than great discussion, it’s the gospel applied to our everyday mundane lives and the gospel extended to our neighbors.
The challenge is to view yourself as part of a community that forms rhythms and patterns rather than a member of event that happens once a week. We all currently have rhythms of life for meals, work, rest and recreation. We must filter these through our faith and believe that the gospel informs and transforms our rhythms. We may need to transform our old rhythms and incorporate new rhythms.
Let the Community speak into your life
This type of Christian community only occurs when we reorient our lives with the community of God for the mission of God. Letting the community challenge the way we spend our time, letting them challenge our idols so we seek to build the kingdom of Christ rather than our own kingdom.
Jeff Vandersteldt describes mission as doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality. So it’s looking at current rhythms (when we eat, work, play) and asking how these can be shifted to incorporate our community and our neighbors so they become focused on the gospel. The kitchen table can be your greatest place of mission if you expand the reach of the meal you are already eating.
We may have to reorient our work schedules or be more purposeful with the little time we have. When I worked as a civil engineer, there were regular happy hours on Thursday & Friday evenings that I would typically miss to be home with my family. I discussed this with my wife and she encouraged me to go to these happy hours occasionally and I invited a guy from our community to join me. It was a great opportunity to develop relationships that led to great gospel conversations at and away from work. It only happened because I worked with my wife to reorient our schedules for the mission of God. Gospel enjoyment is so key here. We only change our lives so we can enjoy the things we love.
One of the most helpful things we have done as leaders was to identify the circles of people they current exist in. The people we interact with who do not know Jesus in our neighborhood, our workplace, our friends, and our hobbies. I encourage you to do this with the other believers in your community and identify where God has provided open doors for mission to your people group.
Then we brainstormed ways we can invite these people into our community and ways we can participate in their community. In the gospels we see Jesus enter the lives and homes of non-believers, then invite people to follow and participate in His life. It’s not just about asking them to come into our world, but it’s about going to their world, their turf and believing the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
Asking questions of your neighborhood
What are the rhythms of your neighborhood? When are they outside enjoying the neighborhood? When do they eat dinner? What type of cultural destinations do they participate in, what is the predominant religious makeup of your neighborhood? These are all essential questions to ask in order for your community group to form rhythms that naturally interact with the people group you are hoping to reach. God has sent you as a missionary to these people groups.
How does your Community Group need to change for each other and the mission of God? For some of your Community Groups, there needs to be a new rhythm for gospel confession and accountability, the creation of a time where each of them are challenged to make Jesus their greatest delight and then address their sin. Sin can be one of the greatest hindrance to the mission of God.
For others it is creating a rhythm where non-believers are regularly incorporated into the community. It could be a weekly pot luck dinner, participating in local concerts or events, or joining sports leagues with gospel intentionality.
Approaching the gospel for holistic transformation in every aspect of life, moves us from events to a comprehensive rhythm of life in the community of God for the mission of God.