Every gospel-centered missional community goes through a life cycle of forming and then having a time period of fun as they seek to enjoy and extend the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Eventually, the community will find themselves in a period of messiness. Every leader I have known and I myself have felt like a failure when the messiness comes into the community. When I speak of messiness, I mean the difficulties in the lives of people who are a part of the community coming to light.
Most missional community leaders think of the ideal community as strong people on a powerful mission affecting the lives of others. We have a tendency to paint this picture in the stories we tell about the communities we hope will exist. The problem is that the gospel of Jesus Christ explains to us that we are a broken people extending a perfect gospel to other broken people. None of us are perfect and our perfection is not our qualifier for being on mission, though too often we think our moral record justifies us before God and other people.
So when the ideal community we hope for ends up being people with past hurts or filled with people struggling to move away from habitually destructive behavior in their relationships or private lives, as leaders we think the community should end. Leaders tend to see this as failure, but the messiness reveals the exact opposite.
The Gospel Freedom to Share Flaws
A gospel-centered community is a group of people built upon the belief that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and affects the rest of our lives. It is believing that Christ chose to die for our imperfect lives and give us His perfect record so that we could know God and live for Him.
While it can be easy for all of us to see the flaws of others, we also see the flaws of the person in the mirror every day. We do our best to hide those flaws from the world as a result of believing the world’s acceptance is contingent upon our perfection. Maintaining a perfect reputation eventually becomes exhausting because the effort is too much, depressing because we can’t attain it and leaves us longing to bring down the façade. We are looking for acceptance from imperfect people by presenting a perfect self.
A gospel-centered community establishes the environment where people feel most comfortable sharing these flaws. The gospel of Jesus Christ frees us from this pursuit of perfection acceptance from others because we have more acceptance than we can imagine in the perfect God of the universe through the gospel. Not only this, but God promises acceptance as you are and assistance in processing and overcoming your flaws and sins over time.
Eventually, the people in your missional community begin to take this truth seriously, believing that change is possible they confront and share their flaws. The gospel freedom to do this inside of a community is part of the aim of the missional community in making disciples. Disciples of Jesus Christ continually experience freedom in sharing their weaknesses, temptations, and failures in sin and by confession seek forgiveness and strength to overcome the power these things hold on our lives.
It’s Messy & It’s Good
The freedom side of this idea sounds amazing, but the initial stage of revealing hurt, pain, mistakes, and errors make things a little bit messy. The messiness is good for all of us because it becomes the path to be empowered by the gospel. When we let the truths of God established through Jesus Christ transform us within a community, the community celebrates the gospel of Jesus Christ by extending it to others.
Gospel transformation leads to mission because experiencing joy from freedom in Jesus overflows in telling others of that in which you have found joy. When the gospel is applied to our communities and it sinks in deep, sin is confessed and brought out in the open ruining any power it has in hiding. This causes delight in Christ for those revealing their mess, but also for the community that walks through the mess with them.
This can be such a good and unique time for the community to value and treasure Christ most because they are not merely enjoying each other for the fun and ease of social events and bible discussion. They are caring for one another to see God bring hope, joy, and love to an area of life where none has existed. It solidifies the love of God in a community and the love of God naturally finds expression in loving others.
Bad Messiness & What to Do When it Gets Messy
This type of messiness for a community can be really healthy as it expresses a depth of the gospel, but there is other messiness that can be bad for the community. Whether a community finds themselves in good or bad messy seasons, they also need to know how to move forward together.
In lights of this my hope is to discuss the good and bad messy areas for a community tomorrow and then write about how to address the messiness in missional communities on Thursday.
Check back then and feel free to add feedback, questions, or your own experience below.