I’ve long been helped, inspired and encouraged by the teaching of Jeff Vanderstelt. I must have saved about 30 articles that I went through yesterday as I thought through being a church on mission. Although I’ve already collected a guide to missional communities (purpose, reasons, rhythms and marks) I think there is so much good material here worth considering. So here are some key questions and answers to this particular way of building and being church.
Missional communities are actually a response to a different question. What does it take to form disciples? They arrived at three answers:
- Life on Life. “Life-on-life discipleship—life that is lived up close so that we are visible and accessible to one another, so that others can gently peel back the layers and join us in our restoration”
- Life in community. “The church is Jesus’s body. It has many parts, but it is one body, so it takes many of us committed to each other’s development to help us each become more like Jesus … We all need many people who love Jesus around us to do this. Every person in Christ’s body is meant to work this way.”
- Life on mission. “Jesus taught them the basics of making disciples while they were on the mission of making disciples.”
Thinking through these three environments led them to missional communities.
Instead, the best venue for living as disciples of Jesus happens in the context of a few other disciples, mutually committed to growing each other’s lives and faith, pursuing God’s mission together. Missional communities are not programs of a church; missional communities are the Church. In other words, the way God intends his people to live and thrive as disciples of Jesus is in the context of a community, growing in the gospel and on mission together.
Which gives them this definition: “A missional community is a family of servant missionaries sent as disciples who make disciples.”
All that might sound great but it’s worth the asking the following question:
Of course, they’re arguing that they’re very biblical. I think we need to separate the elements from the expression. In other words you have to do some contextualisation. The key elements are:
- Children of God who love one another like family
- Servants of God who show what the Kingdom of God looks like in tangible form
- Missionaries sent by God to show and tell the truth of what God is like and what God has done
How we work out what it means to love like family may continue to take on different shapes and forms depending upon the culture and time we find ourselves in….Our identity is the same, but how it gets expressed is always changing. The mission will not change, but the means likely will. The gospel will not change, but how we proclaim it must. Yet no matter the place, the culture, or the time, the church is called to be a family of servant missionaries sent as disciples who make disciples.
But missional communities are just one part of a larger picture.
They are three (of course) main elements. Gather, go, grow.
Gather – the celebration or church meeting
We are no good alone. We need to be in community. A people on mission all week long need to gather with the larger family of God for ongoing encouragement and equipping. Hebrews 10:24–25 calls us to gather regularly to spur each other on to good works and to encourage one another for everyday mission. As we gather together, we remember the gospel, our identity as the people of God, and the collective mission we all share together. We need to hear each other’s stories for encouragement and rehearse the bigger story of God’s redemption for our exhortation. We also can receive equipping from a diversity of gifts found in the larger body of Christ as we come together. Our coming together also reminds us who we are as we scatter throughout the week.
Go – this is the place of the missional community.
We live our mission out in smaller communities of anywhere from twelve–twenty-five adults and children called missional communities. Missional communities love one another as the family of God, tangibly serve others as servants of Jesus, and are sent to proclaim the gospel as missionaries sent by the Spirit. They meet throughout the week to share meals, encourage one another, and identify who the Spirit might be sending them to as good news people. A missional community might serve a neighborhood, school, or other group of people with the goal of making disciples of Jesus in that place.
Grow – this is personal discipleship & accountability
Some call this DNA groups or Life Transformation Groups – they all operate on similar principles.
Groups of three men or three women (sometimes a few more) meet regularly to grow together. We encourage people to be reading their Bibles on a daily basis and the minimally connect once a week to discover, nurture, and act on what God is saying to them through His Word.
The key behind it all is one very simple principle:
The one principle behind everything I’ve just described is to give your whole life to God: your time, talents, and treasures. Give everything you have to Him and for His work.
All good? Ok let’s deal with
You may have to undo some wrong thinking or deal with these three problems.
- You can’t study the Bible in a missional community. “Any community that is taking the mission of God seriously and remains a community will regularly read and study the Bible together. If you are committed to following Jesus and living all of life under his authority, you will regularly learn from the Bible.”
- Worship gatherings are a necessary evil. “Gatherings reorient our worship. At gatherings, we are challenged and invited to worship the one true God. We return to worshipping God instead of ourselves, other gods, and idols. Essentially, worship gatherings are rhythmic celebrations reminding of who God is and what he has done. They call us to remember who we are. We proclaim the gospel in song, we hear the gospel in preaching, we pray for gospel understanding and repentance, and we touch and taste the image of the gospel in communion. The elements of a worship gathering remind us of the gospel. Everything we do when we gather reminds us of the gospel, who we are because of the gospel, and our role in God’s mission.”
- Multiplying communities = success. “Multiplying disciples isn’t as simple as getting eight people to know and desire living a missional lifestyle together. Multiplying disciples takes years of faithfully speaking and demonstrating the gospel. It isn’t sexy but it’s beautiful.”
I can really recommend that you check out Saturate – it’s really rich in resources.
Photo by Arild Vågen