Thursday, September 20, 2012

Missional Community

Recently in the history of our nation, we've seen a dramatic shift in how the culture relates to the Christian faith. In the past, the culture of the United States was dominantly a Christian culture. As a result, almost everyone went to some kind of church and churches were the centers of activity and communities. Today, the cultural climate is constantly changing and it is no longer the case that the church is the center of community. Instead various subcultures or groups of people have developed community in other ways, sometimes around particular geographic areas, like a neighborhood, but also around shared interests and activities, like surfing for example. We are increasingly living in a nation that resembles the wide range and mix of philosophies, beliefs, and lifestyles that Paul encountered in the Roman Empire in the book of Acts. This transition in culture is resulting in a need for us, as the Church, to transition our strategies for fulfilling the Mission of the Church to seek and save the lost and in seeing the kingdom of God come to every people group.

We are increasingly finding that larger and larger portions of the population see the institutional church as just one more subculture or community of people.  The same way missionaries wouldn't expect a group of people in India to sing in English, and follow the format of American churches, so also our hope, in this rapidly changing climate, is to adopt a model that is missionary in nature, that takes the gospel to different cultures and groups of people finding a diversity and variety of gospel expression rather than trying to force these different communities into a particular expression of "church".

Rather than sending individuals out on their own to try and accomplish this kingdom growth, we believe that we are called as a body, as Missional Communities, to work together each with their own gift, to reach a particular group of people that God has placed on our hearts. The basic structure of a Missional Community, should look similar to how the church functions, because these groups are the church, the body of Christ, in the world.

These missional communities are Families of God, Learners of our Lord Jesus, and Servants in the world. They each in and of themselves are an expression of God's Church on mission to seek and save the lost, they are families of servant learners.

They are families that love one another because Jesus said "By this everyone will know that your are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35) The Missional Communities are family and practice eating together, fellowship, loving, and caring for one another.

They are learners that teach each other, disciple each other, in order that we are prepared as missionaries to "give a reason for the hope within us" (1 Peter 3:15). The Missional Communites, as learners, listen to their people group, and discover a way of telling the story of God as a gospel proclamation in a way that particular group of people can understand.

They are servants to their chosen groups of people because our Lord Jesus "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). The Missional Communities listen, alter their lifestyle patterns, and find ways to serve their particular groups of people as a demonstration of the gospel.

Again, these Missional Communities will take different expressions and forms, much like the Church takes different forms in different cultures and countries, but one possible pattern, after weeks of listening, could be the following:

Week 1: Fellowship with the Group of People (Neighborhood BBQ) - Invite all people to Week 4
Week 2: Meet together for prayer, planning next event, and teaching on questions that came up at the BBQ.
Week 3: Meet in groups of 2-3 for accountability and discipleship.
Week 4: Love and Serve the Group of People (Clean up neighborhood park) - Invite all people to Week 7
Week 5: Meet together for fellowship, eating a meal together.
Week 6: Meet together for discipleship, working through a study on sharing the gospel.
Week 7: Community Story Telling: Share with those who are interested God's story in their language
Week 8: Repeat pattern

While the above is not based on actually listening to a particular community, hopefully the idea of participating in their community, loving and serving them, and communicating the gospel in an understandable language comes across as primary goals of the Missional Community. The glue, in between and throughout those weeks, is actual daily involvement in the lives of the group of people chosen.

The first step in forming a Missional Community, is much like that in sending a long term mission team. A body of believers, a core group, must understand the vision and devote some time and effort to this endeavor. Follow this link to find videos that dive deeper into what a Missional Community is.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When Everything is Mission

As Mission Director and as someone with a heart for missions, it's been interesting to watch how the words Mission, Missions, and most recently Missional have been used to describe a whole host of activities and calls upon the Church. In the past and in many churches today, missions was one of the many different departments within the church alongside other ministries like evangelism, children, youth, worship, and so on.

More recently, there has been a move from using Missions as a term for a department within the church, to the term Mission to describe the whole purpose of the Church, and most recently the term Missional to describe a Church that is responding to the call to fulfill the Mission of the Church. By the way, the "Missio Dei" or the Mission of God is to seek and save the lost and as God the Father sent the Son, so also the Son sends the Church into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate, proclaim, and live out the gospel.

In the past the worship department's goal was providing the best worship. The Children's Ministry focused on how can we teach and take care of our children the best. In this newer model, everything that the church does is for the purpose of Mission. Our Worship is designed to seek and save the lost, bringing them into an experience with God. Our Children are disciples so that they can seek and save the lost. There is at least one concern that I've found as the church has shifted its terminology. When something is everything, then it is nothing. In other words, if worship, adult discipleship, children ministry, student ministry, walking down the street, going to publix, eating a donut in the fellowship hall is the "Mission of God" then we have effectively removed the calls of Evangelism and what we formerly called Missions to the ends of the earth. Due to our human nature we will almost always choose the easier path. Which is easier, talking to someone in Publix or preaching the gospel in Iran? If they are both Mission, which would you be more inclined to do?

When Jesus gave the great commission in Matthew 28 he said "Go, therefore, into all nations" and the word for nations is a greek word which more literally means "people groups." In Matthew 24 Jesus tells us that the gospel of the kingdom "will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." The end of the Mission of the Church isn't near until we reach all nations, all people groups. Sometimes when churches focus on their own communities and being missional, they lose sight of this call on the Church to complete its mission and go to the ends of the earth. New terms like "Frontier Missions" and "Unreached people groups" have helped try to reforge a place for this call in the "mission", heavy laden, new language of today. The Joshua Project keeps track of the progress of the global Church in completing its mission.

Pastor John Piper says that the biblical weight of the call on the Church to reach unreached people groups, those people groups that do not have a significant Christian presence to evangelize themselves, leaves us with only three choices. First, we can radically go ourselves, as Paul did, to these people groups. Two, we can radically support those who do go, as the early churches support Paul and others. Thirdly, we can choose to be disobedient.