Obviously I’ve written a lot about missional communities lately, but it must be recognized that missional communities have holes. They don’t solve every problem in the church despite reflecting the nature of Christian community described in the scriptures.
The brilliant Todd Engstrom talks about seeing the church as both a collection of missional communities and as a missional community collectively. It’s an absolutely essential way to recognize how to supplement missional communities in order for the gospel of Jesus to thrive throughout a church.
Here are 4 of the major holes for Missional Communities that I see. I do not pretend this is comprehensive as I surely have blind spots and you don’t want to read a 3 page blog despite my typical long-winded nature.
What Missional Communities are Unable to Accomplish by Themselves
Missional Communities are not intended to be a Bible Study. Bible studies are useful, but too often end on knowledge rather than a community on mission. Missional communities don’t abandon the scriptures, they must be word-centered (Bible-focused) in their approach to encouraging and challenging one another and extending the scriptures to those who are seeking to understand Christ for the first time.
But they are unable to provide the depth of scriptural theology that can often empower people to love fellow Christians appropriately, become contributors instead of consumers, and have a life that matches their beliefs.
There is a need then to supplement missional communities with theological training and bible studies. The important thing to consider is how these training environments and bible studies propel the gospel communities on mission rather than operate in contrast to them. Similar to a Sunday worship gathering, these environments must include inspiration toward missional community and application as a community to truly supplement and propel the gospel through a community on mission.
Missional Communities are not intended to be a support group. They provide and promote aligning with the gospel in our everyday lives, they remind us of the goodness of God over the allure of tempting vices, and they help us see where the scriptures address various sins in our lives.
But they are unable to provide the depth of counseling that can often be needed for marriages, pre-marital counseling, grief counseling, deep-rooted issues from the past and even in some cases counseling through addictions.
This doesn’t mean that every church should have a counseling center (though it would be cool to be based in a church and not outside the church), but it will mean that churches must do their due diligence to partner with Christian counselors who understand the mission of the church. For many churches, this has given rise to redemption groups.
While this is definitely the intent of missional communities, transitioning a church to missional communities will not automatically solve the need for discipleship. Discipleship must be modeled and eventually will take place inside of a missional community.
So this as a hole is a little deceiving as they eventually will be the places where discipleship happens most regularly. But discipleship is a church culture issue and not merely a community issue. Community is one aspect of discipleship, but discipleship must occur from the top down as Jesus models for us for it to truly take root in an entire community.
Transitioning or starting with a missional community approach will not insure discipleship, discipleship happens with thoughtful intent with the aim toward cultivating disciple-making disciples.
While I completely advocate for families to welcome young marrieds and singles to take part in and own the discipleship of their children in a missional community, it must be stated that equipping parents as the primary disciple makers is essential.
Missional communities assist and relieve the parents-only burden as the only Christian influencers of their children, but the church has a responsibility to cast a vision and equip families from pregnancy to graduation and beyond. Parenting brings out the deep-rooted fears, concerns, and desire for comfort that often plagues every individual and impedes the ability for a community to be on mission.
A family equipping model looks to empower parents to disciple their children while providing age-appropriate peer community to also be on mission within their schools and extending the grace of the gospel to their classmates and friends.
What Missional Communities Can Accomplish
Now before we begin to outsource all of these holes, we must acknowledge that gospel communities on mission can do more than we think in all of these areas. This is because of the nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel transforms our entire lives, giving us new thoughts, desires and a new understanding of the scriptures. We become empowered with the Holy Spirit of God dwelling inside of us to grasp the truth of the scriptures, apply to our lives and once applied to our lives, we begin to grasp how the gospel and the Bible can shape the lives of an entire community.
This enables us to provide more depth in our application of the bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ to our lives. This enables us to counsel people and exhort people away from the destructive patterns of sin in our lives. This enables us to become the disciple-makers that Jesus models and sends us to be. This enables us to be gospel-centered parents and families through the wisdom of the Word of God and the community.
We can too often sell short the work of God in our lives by not acknowledging the gospel as the power of God. If it’s powerful enough to bring people from death to life, it is powerful enough to grow us deep in knowledge, zeal, and life application. It is powerful enough to let us hear and empathize with the sins of others and instead of recoiling back, enabling us to enter into the challenge of helping them overcome their sin.
This is why I love the gospel so much. To enjoy the gospel with an entire community is to ignite a desire deep within Christians to embody Christ through our entire lives. When the gospel shapes a community, there is no greater expression of love.
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