Every community faces messy seasons where things are not perfect in the community. This is true in group therapy, where they call this the storming phase of group development, and this is true of every small group in the church. This is an important phase for a community and especially for a missional community in the church.
For the church, when messiness arises in the missional community, there needs to be an assessment of whether this is the result of good or bad messiness. Identifying the reasons for messiness guides the response, whether celebrating messiness for good reasons or seeking to change things for bad reasons.
Below are 3 good reasons and 3 bad reasons for messiness in missional communities.
The Good, Gospel-Centered Reasons
Gospel-Centered Confession & Transformation
Yesterday, I outlined the majority of this idea. When a community is centered on and celebrating the gospel of Jesus Christ, people bring out past hurts, current sins, and struggles to the community to seek transformation and change. This is to be celebrated, but can be difficult to recognize as good because of a false understanding that morality equals spirituality.
Raw Questions from Exploring & Potential Believers
Another good reason for messiness comes from people exploring Christianity, either new to the faith or exploring it for the first time. This typically leads to raw questions that are unfortunately uncommon in church settings, but must be dealt with as people explore how Christianity truly affects life. These questions can cause messiness because they confront people’s beliefs, their values, and way of life.
This is what missional communities are intended to be. The best place to explore Christianity amongst people that love God and seek to live for Him. One thing we encourage our leaders to be aware of is the desire to always have the “right” answer. We encourage our leaders to be comfortable in saying “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out.” It’s better to seek out the gospel-centered scriptural truth, than feel pressured to share personal advice. Missional communities have the best opportunity to cultivate this type of messiness as people from all walks of life are invited to explore Christianity.
Inter-Generational & Racially Diverse Convergence
This has been common since the establishment of the church as you see this type of convergence in the book of Acts and later Paul explains to the Ephesians church the benefit of racial diversity as a celebration of the gospel. This type of messiness results from misunderstandings and pretenses that can arise from interactions between different races and generations.
It can get messy as pride, ignorance, and poor understanding come to light that most of us can be unaware of. The gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to put down our preferences (conscious or subconscious) to value everyone based on God’s value of them, not their contributions, life stage, or race. Paul celebrates this in the church at Ephesus that their unity is based on faith and not racial preferences or similarities. It’s a mark of the gospel because the greatest treasure in a community.
The Bad, Avoidable Messiness
Undefined And/Or Unshared Leadership
Missional communities demand that shared leadership and defined leadership exist. A community needs multiple voices to guide the aspects of their community to insure that the community is cared for and the gospel is extended. It cannot be on one or even two people to accomplish all that a missional community is made to do.
When there is unclear leadership, things get messy. Despite some people’s ideas of organic-everyone-lead missional community life, a community naturally recognizes who is the leader over time and needs direction to be centered on the gospel. When leadership is not shared, it gets messy because it can feel as though the leader is simply inviting people to accomplish their ideas, instead of the community forming around a collective vision.
Unclear Vision & Direction
Another bad reason for messiness comes from a missional community that has not set the direction or vision. For some communities, this is about setting the aim for honoring God as Christ followers through the lifestyles that we choose to live while others involves setting the direction in extending the gospel so that the community is on mission together rather than a collection of individual missionaries.
Lack of Mission & New People
The last, but certainly not final, reason I want to highlight for bad messiness occurs from a lack of new people and mission. This typically results in a inward focus, trying to perfect the community, and eventually plays out in cattiness between people in the community. When new people come into a community, they can break up some norms that result from dysfunctional relationships that have formed.
Often people are nervous about including new people that come with new ideas and questions, but these new people often bring the community into a healthier life stage. Lacking mission will eventually be the death of the gospel-centered community because the gospel was intended to move outward to the rest of the world. It was not intended to be hidden and much frustration can result from a lack of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
What does a missional community do with all this messiness?
These are simply a few of the reasons messiness exists within missional community and each community could likely expand on these and tell specific stories. As each community faces this type of messiness, they must return to the gospel of Jesus Christ to explore how to respond.
On Thursday, I’ll take a look at how I have and would recommend missional communities respond to messiness.