As you make choices about what to do each time you gather, always run everything through the filter of your mission context: you are there to reach those people. Don’t expect your unchurched friends to do the culture jump into the church world – you are there as missionaries to that people group, so you must do the shifting!Read More
As someone who helps lead a local church, and as someone who regularly coaches pastors wanting to learn how to lean into this whole 'missional' thing, one of the most frequent questions I hear is, "How do I start a Missional Community?"Read More
Missional communities come in all shapes and sizes. And this goes for Missional Community leaders too!
Over the years and in many contexts, my observation is that there are four main, but different, ways Missional Communities have developed.
A core team of Christians (around 3 - 8 pioneering leaders) with some others interested & connected around them (anywhere from 0-10 others) start with a missional vision & building community/household in the missional context. This is how the early adopters at a church start to get the vision and live out MC life. Most of these take time to develop in the first & second generations and actually produce fruitful third generation Missional Communities. This is because it takes a few stages for the leaders to sharpen their missional vision and for deep relationship to form. It is the leaders that go first and 'give it a try' and, over time, it becomes /normal' and an integrated part of life.
Existing groups (existing average-sized small groups or larger small groups which are almost MC size) start moving towards identifying a missional vision / opportunity / focus and then starting to live towards it/more defined by it. This could mean that a small group becomes more missional itself or that it joins with another small group with a similar missional vision. This is the transition model of how most churches move towards MC transition with the early majority - not moving too fast so not breaking what is in place already.
A small number (2-6 people, always pioneers!) who move into an area (incarnational mission and look for a Person of Peace in the neighborhood) or find a Person of Peace in a network/people group (i.e. a keyholder into a community/existing household) and will actually build community in the person of peace's environment and/or household. This is a model that can work for only approximately 5 to 15 % of the congregation (as it is a high bar for the leader & most communities don't have functional extended households).
There is a need for some expressions of Missional Community for the congregation to experience what is being talked about / suggested and to allow space for the smaller, new Missional Communities to keep their vision strong with those members of the Missional Community. These 'Pastoral' Missional Communities usually have a limited lifespan (6 weeks-6 months) and are used an a pilot experience with which people can experience a Missional Community environment and through it be helped to process whether they should join or start a Missional Community with an authentic missional vision.
Remember Missional Communities are just a vehicle.
There needs to be the engine of discipleship and the passion of missional vision that drives everything. Missional communities are the disciplined first step to help people to start to think & act as missional disciples. They are not an end. The aim is that, through using Missional Communities, they move to discipleship & mission being integrated into their thinking & living and so the structure produces life for your people not programs for your diary.
By Jessie Cruickshank For three years I played on an all-women’s flat-track roller derby team. I joined the team at the behest of my husband after the MMA gym closed and I no longer had an appropriate outlet for my energies. Always up for an adventure, joining roller derby held possibility. I knew going in that I wanted to be an example of Christ’s love to the other girls. I was the only Christian on a team of 30 people, and I took that responsibility seriously as I was likely to be the only Jesus they had ever spent any time with. There was no place for judgment, only acceptance and compassion. It was a chance to live out the incarnational values I believed in.
My motivation in joining was not to evangelize anyone. I just wanted to play roller derby. But I knew who I was in Christ and the opportunity I had. Instead of telling them I was a Christian, I endeavored to live in love and in the active presence of God, and let Him do what He was going to do. This was not a Christian exercise, as I wanted my heart for them to be organic and authentic. But I also wanted to represent Jesus well, so I looked for open doors to speak love and of a different narrative of Jesus than the ones they had likely heard. Sticking to my “waiting until they ask” policy, it took a year before I had my first opportunity to share about my thoughts about Jesus with a girl with whom there had been a distinct spark of friendship from early on. A couple weeks after that, after a bout (game), I told this girl that I enjoyed her friendship immensely and that we should be good friends, not just casual friends. We agreed to be roller derby best friends. That night I was fully accepted into their world and I had accepted them into mine.
It was at church the next day that something remarkable happened and the Lord taught me a significant lesson about love. I was praying for them, like I often did, when my heart broke in two and I began to weep for them. Suddenly their distance from Jesus was not merely factual, it was personal. It felt very, very real.
My foray into evangelism ended up not with conversions (not my goal), but life-long friends. I was strong enough in the Lord to know my identity. Outside of that core, I learned to be vulnerable to them, influenced by them, loved by them. Only from that place could I truly love them back and pray with a full heart of compassion. I believe love and faith makes our prayers more powerful and that prayers I whispered through those tears of longing were probably more powerful than all the others combined. Perhaps the seeds I was sowing of love were not only in their hearts, but also in mine.
I learned in this new way that true love is a vulnerable love, and it contains a willingness to be changed. I learned what it meant to really meet the girls where they were, not as a visitor on a vacation, but an ambassador who lives and loves among the people. I very experientially understood how Jesus came not just to be an example for us, but to be touched by us, moved by us and loved by us. His message was made powerful by his vulnerability. Before roller derby I knew that evangelism without love just resulted in law (and the law brings death as Paul discusses in Romans and Galatians). But what I realized was that I had greatly reduced love to a spiritualized experiment of class-based compassion. Only in my willingness to be changed by them was I able to truly love them back.
The thing about the incarnation and living a missional life is that we have to realize the incarnation for ourselves first. Are we merely saved, or do we actively engage in the mystery of Christ inhabiting our life? Once we yield to the beauty and mystery of the indwelling, being missional is no longer a project, task, or ministry objective. It is life. Galatians 2:20 becomes real, tangible, visceral. Then we walk through life actively engaged with Jesus and we can bring Him anywhere our two feet go. We can carry our spirit on the outside and when people encounter us, they encounter the Spirit of a living and loving God. When we let people love us, influence us and we truly join with them, we give them the opportunity to love Jesus and to touch the heart of God. The incarnation is meant to create a two-way street. It is not Jesus living in some sort of virtual-reality through us. Jesus was vulnerable to and impacted by those he came to save. We can do no less in truly being His hands and feet. It is messy, it is hard, and it is beautiful.
For more on this topic, listen to Jessie’s sermon about bringing the presence of God to create crave-able community.
By Neil Cole I read an article once highlighting the missional strategy of a church. At Christmas time they sent their choir to the local mall to sing Christmas carols at the patrons walking past as a means to get the Gospel out. This was presented as a successful outreach. No one was spoken to. No relationships were made. No one was able to ask a single question of the religious people singing in strange robes. People heard the same songs already playing over the piped-in music throughout the shops, that’s it.
Like a flight attendant at the start of every flight, the choir was singing an important message of life and death significance to people who had no time to listen because they’d been inoculated to it. And the “churched” people are convinced that this was a significant work for God. One can argue that this was missional, but it certainly was not incarnational. I believe that those who would represent Christ must be both missional and incarnational or they are not Christ-like. Jesus challenged us: “As the Father has sent me [in the same way] I send you.” (John 20:21)
The heart of our message is that God didn’t expect us to make our way to Him in heaven. He came to us––on our terms, on our turf. God became “incarnate”. This is a theological word that is worth explaining.
Incarnate means He was “in flesh” or “in a body.” When I order chili “con carne,” I am ordering chili with meat…or flesh. Jesus was God incarnate. He was God with meat on his bones. Jesus was truth “fleshed out” for all to see. He “became flesh and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only Begotten, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
There is nothing more remarkable than the humiliation and incarnation of Christ. Ironically that is what that choir was singing about in the local mall as masses of people walked by without a second thought.
Incarnation is not easy and certainly not comfortable, but it is an adventure. When Gandalf approached Bilbo and proposed an adventure, at first the hobbit declined the wizard saying, “An adventure? They’re nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things…they’ll make you late for dinner!” I’ve often said, “If you want to win this world to Christ, you are going to have to sit in the smoking section.” Jesus went a whole lot further than that.
Jesus Was Incarnational
Jesus is fully God. Jesus is fully man. This is a profound mystery to amaze our minds for all eternity, and I might add, is worthy of all our songs and more. He knows our struggles and our temptations first hand. He relates to us and represents us. When Jesus came He didn’t keep His distance, singing songs at the public.
Jesus relates to us in all the ups and downs of life’s mess. In fact, it is in the mess that His beauty is beheld most. He brings goodness and light to the darkest and ugliest edges of our lives. He is not the sanctified and sanctimonious spiritual guru untouched by the world that is so often portrayed in cinema. He didn’t arrive with flowing robes and an angelic back-up choir (well, actually there was an angelic choir).
God the Son was painfully squeezed, naked and slimy, though a birth canal like the rest of us. He was delivered by an unwed, teen mother without a hospital or home. Omnipotence became dependent upon a teenager for survival. God incarnate had to have someone change His diapers (or swaddling cloths, depending on your translation). The God who spoke the universe into being could only communicate by crying like every baby (don’t believe the propaganda of Silent Night…“no crying he made”).
Omniscience had to learn how to eat solid food, to walk, to speak. Holiness had to be potty trained. The One who walks on water had to learn how to swim. The Logos had to learn how to read.
Jesus lived a real life with real problems. He dealt with sibling squabbles. He disappointed and embarrassed his mother. He buried a step father. He got hungry, thirsty and tired. He swung a hammer and probably hit the wrong nail at times. He smelled like sweat after a hard day of work. His calloused hands got dirty, deep under the nails.
Jesus can relate to all peoples. His followers should as well if we wish to claim His name. As a child He was a refugee in a strange land on the run from a hostile regime ruled by an egomaniacal king. He dealt with frustrating people and corrupt politicians. He paid taxes he shouldn’t have had to pay. Many times He was homeless and dependent upon the kindness of others. In spite of having so little, people stole from Him. He was the object of bigotry and hatred as a minority in a world that didn’t understand Him or His people. His own people turned on Him and had Him killed. He was betrayed by a friend and denied by his closest comrade. He was slandered with lies and falsely charged for a crime He didn’t commit. He received unjust violence from law enforcement officers and was sentenced by a bogus system. He was wrongfully executed by political powers stacked against Him.
He came to us as one of us and died for all of us. Eventually, He even came to me somewhere in the 20th century in the midst of my own mess. We need to let Him come to the lost today as well, wherever they are found. People need to see Him as one of them, who experienced all their challenges and temptations. He’s one of us, in fact, the best of us. He bore our evil and gave us His good. We should live that way. That’s the adventure we were born again to experience.
Jesus Is Now Incarnate In Us
Jesus is still incarnate—we are now His feet, His hands, His eyes, His ears and His mouth. We are the body of Christ. We are His temple and His Spirit dwells within our flesh (1 Cor. 6:19). We are not deity, but Deity dwells in us. I propose that this truth is a dramatically life-altering reality that people should notice. The fact that people don’t notice is an astounding failure on our part. We have covered up the best part of us with the less impressive parts in order to win the approval of those in the world and entice them to become like us. What fools we have been.
Several years ago, Sir Walter Moberly in his book The Crisis in the University identified the failure of evangelicals to penetrate university campuses with the Gospel. To those who claimed to follow Christ, his indicting statement still has teeth:
“If one-tenth of what you believe is true, you ought to be ten times as excited as you are.”
Ouch! This is the word of a non-Christian that has listened to our message and studied our behavior. It stings because it’s true. We must begin to let the Word of Christ and the Spirit of God richly dwell within us so that His divine presence is noticeable because it leaks in our words and actions. It was for this that Christ came, died and rose again.
Theologian Leslie Newbigin rightly says, “The Church is sent into the world to continue that which He came to do, in the power of the same Spirit, reconciling people to God.” (John 20:19-23)
Just as Christ lived the gospel out among people, we must take our lives into the world and live out the gospel. In fact, a gospel that is not “fleshed out” is not a true gospel. I would argue that if we do not live out the good news among the people who need it, we are not representing the real gospel but a caricature. A false gospel doesn’t change the world, it doesn’t even change a life…it just lulls people into a self-centered state of isolation and ineffectiveness. We can no longer afford to only sing about the incarnation; we need to be it. It starts with an awakening inside that soon finds itself outside, furthering an adventure that Christ began in a manger two thousand years ago.
“As the Father has sent me, I send you.” ~Jesus
By Neil Cole When I was a younger man, pundits often spoke about curtains that needed to be removed so that our societies could be open and influence one another, hopefully for the better. The bamboo curtain that kept communist China from interaction with the world eventually parted. The iron curtain that separated communist Russia was torn down with sledgehammers. There is one remaining curtain that needs to come down if the kingdom of heaven is to impact the rest of the world: the stained glass curtain.
Church, as we have known it, is mostly removed from influence in society. A misguided extractional approach to our world, where we extricate new adherents from their non-Christian web of relationships to join our separated community, has only succeeded in extracting us from any positive influence. The result is that we are most often isolated from our neighborhoods and have a reputation for doing little that is good for them. We shout at the world from a distance and are rarely heard. Instead we are the butt of late night jokes. We must face the truth that no matter what we think of ourselves, blessing the community around us is not the reputation we have with our neighbors.
There are exceptions (there is no reason to tell me so)––I’m sure your church is awesome! This perspective, however, must be sought outside the church; your own view within is not what I’m talking about. If they notice us at all it is usually not because we are providing something positive. We are supposed to be known for our unconditional love (John 13:35), but that has not been the case for quite some time.
Here is an observation about how our neighbors view us from my book, One Thing:
Most cities are openly hostile to churches and trying to prevent them from acquiring property. In many cases, the local Denny’s Restaurant does more for the community than the local church. At least Denny’s provides jobs, meals, and pays taxes for public services and city infrastructure. The typical church doesn’t do any of that. [One Thing: A Revolution to Change the World with Love, pp. 221-222]
I have recently been doing kingdom work in the community of Watts, which is a very volatile neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. Watts is two square miles with more churches within its’ boundaries than any other societal enterprise. More churches than schools. More churches than stores. More churches than government services…and it is one of the worst neighborhoods in America. Watts is ground zero for two racial riots in my lifetime. Poverty, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, single-parent homes, STDs, gang violence, vandalism, corruption, prostitution, theft...and churches are all rampant in this part of the City. Given this reality, it is hard to tell someone that these churches are really making a difference in a convincing fashion. In fact I have found that churches are usually prevalent in all of the worst neighborhoods in America. It is time for us to acknowledge this elephant in the room and ask some hard questions. Are we more a part of the problem than the solution and everyone sees it except us?
As I have traveled and examined our Western Christian enterprise I have been forced to conclude that our efforts are not making any significant headway in changing our society. We need to make a big change immediately, but what kind of change? That is what led me to write my recent book One Thing: A Revolution To Change The World With Love.
While every pastor is looking for the next 3-step solution to church growth, I concluded that our problem is spiritual more than strategic. We’ve tried so many strategies and ended with the same lack of significance. Yes, proximity is a challenge because of our lack of incarnational presence, but not the actual problem. The reason we are separated from true influence is not simply because of our address and “y’all come…and stay” posture in the world. There is indeed a more severe undercurrent that subverts all our efforts and mutes our message.
I believe we have forfeited a true gospel spirituality for a false one that depends on our own effort and displays our own strength (or lack thereof). Wanting to be appealing to the world we have become the opposite. If the real gospel was alive in us we could not contain it in our current structures, it would bust lose into its natural expression––movements of transformed lives. We would be unable and unwilling to remain as isolated and ineffectual as we currently are, occupied with our own self-interests.
We must realize that being incarnational is not just about being in the world; it is about letting the life of Christ in us infect the lives around us with His love and message of freedom and hope. Incarnational mission is about bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth now where it is needed most. Just getting out there with our current messed up spirituality will only cause more problems. Don’t do that. We must cease practicing a do-it-yourself, 3-step, pragmatic spirituality that endeavors to do works for God rather than letting God do the work in and through us.
As Tozer once said:
“God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible. What a pity that we plan only the things that we can do by ourselves.”
It is possible to have the creed and not the deed. We don’t need a statement of faith; we need a real faith that makes a statement. We lose any hope of a good reputation in our neighborhoods by continuing to do what we have been doing. More of the same will only produce more of the same.
We are deceiving ourselves if we think that meeting on Sundays for songs and sermons is changing the world. We must do more and it must be done outside our walls, but first inside our souls. Break down the stained glass curtain and get out into the neighborhood to help people with genuine love rather than self-interest. Let’s stop being a people known as a voting block called “evangelicals” (Good News bearer) lets actually be good news. That's what Jesus did. I believe it is what He is calling us to do now.
By Alan Hirsch Last week I suggested that the idea of incarnational mission is grounded in the being and purposes of God demonstrated in Jesus’ life, mission, and ministry. This week I simply want to underscore how the model of Jesus must inform and shape our methodology as we seek to follow in his Way. If missional means being commissioned and sent out into the world, then incarnation means going deep in culture and context. Movement requires that we…
Move Out (into mission engagement)
So the first movement of mission required of us is the willingness to move out—to simply go to the people, wherever that might be. Movement by definition suggests some form of motion, some type of action: it might not be far, but the obligation is on us to go to them, not them to us.
Every Christian is a missionary and we are called to live out our commitment to Jesus’ lordship in every sphere and domain of life. Church life, as we normally conceive it, is only one dimension of life and all of us inhabit many other realms that make up our lives. What marks Christianity as distinct is that it is truly a people movement: every believer (and not just some presumed religious elite) is an agent of the kingdom and is called to bring God’s influence into all the realms of human existence. Just look to our New Testament for this! Because the Holy Spirit lives in us, and we are all bearers of the gospel message, we are all agents of the King at any time and in any place where we find ourselves.
For most of us, what will be required to engage in missional Christianity is to simply reach out beyond our fears and ignorance of others, to overcome our middle-class pen- chant for safety, to take a risk and get involved in what God is already doing in our cities and neighborhoods. It’s not a science really. It is all about love. Just read 1 John again to remind yourself of this.
One of the most significant things to remember in getting missional is often the thing we most overlook. It’s not all about starting grand programs and running big organizations. It is just doing what you do . . . for God. The basic elements of missionality are already present in your life. It might develop into an organization (e.g., Tom’s Shoes, Laundry Love), but it probably should not start there. There are many ways we can simply use the basic constituents of life and make them an act of worship to God and service to his world. Sometimes simple gestures make all the difference. Don’t be overwhelmed. Certainly, prepare yourself in prayer and study of the gospel and culture, but trust that God will use you as you are—he has always done so. You don’t need a degree to be a very effective agent of the King. A saint is merely a person who makes it easier for others to believe in God. Mother Teresa (of all people!) once famously quipped, “I don’t do big things. I do small things with big love.” We are not required to do a great thing in life, but many, many small things, each done with love.
Move In (incarnate into the culture)
To move deep into the culture is to take the idea of incarnational mission seriously. This in turn takes its cue from the fact that God took on human form and moved into our neighborhood, assumed the full reality of our humanity, identified with us, and spoke to us from within a common experience. Following his example, and in his cause, we take the same type of approach when it comes to mission.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a world that is culturally fragmented and fragmenting. The result of cultural disintegration is that people now choose to identify with various subcultural groups. Any modern city is now made up of literally thousands of different subcultures: from sports groups, hobby clubs, interest groups, to groups that gather around sexual preference (the gay community is always a big one in major cities throughout the West), to pubs, clubs, music groups, surfers, skaters . . . you name it!
In order to take incarnational messaging seriously, you have to take culture seriously. There is no dodging this aspect. You simply have to assume that, in Western contexts, all communication of the gospel, let alone church planting and mission, is now cross-cultural. Don’t presume you really know what’s going on. To listen to the culture’s stories, we need to be attentive. Once again movies and art form will give us a good clue,
If you find yourself called to a certain urban tribe, whoever they might be, then it is critical that you take their culture—in effect, their meaning system—seriously. Go to movies with friends and talk about the themes. Read the books they are likely to read (there is good demographical information about lifestyle preferences and people groups around). Browse bookshops and magazine racks as to what people are talking about and interested in. If people see a movie more than once, make sure you see it and try to work out what it is they seemed to resonate with. Then you can get to see how the Good News relates to the issue.
The missional Christian makes the connections between people’s existential issues and the gospel, as we shall see, but it does take some cultural savvy to make this happen well.
Moving out and moving in does not always require you to go to places and people you find so different and uncomfortable. In the principle of starting with what’s already in your hand, make a list of the things you love to do. Odds are there are a whole lot of people who already do one of those things together, and if not, then there are probably people who would like to do that with others. Some popular interests include art forms, murals, beer brewing, cooking, cycling. A look at your local newspaper will reveal hundreds of such groups around. Another approach is to list the vibrant social spaces in your area and simply adopt one and become a regular. Don’t do this as some sort of lone missional ranger. How about a few of you take this on as a common mission.
For example, I know of a group of believers who simply loved bush walking— trekking through the mountains and hills around Melbourne. Problem was, the only free day they had was Sunday, so they decided to make that their church. They would trek out into the bush, taking in the glories of God’s creation and good comradeship along the way. At a certain point they would stop, have a meal and communion together, share around Scripture, take an offering, pray for people, and then continue bush walking for the rest of the day. About 40 percent of the group were non-Christians deeply interested in the mix of nature and spirituality that The Earth Club provided. The church that Jesus built doesn’t need all the institutional paraphernalia that we have been scripted to think it does. You carry the church with you everywhere you go.