'Missional' and 'missional communities' are the buzzwords these days, and I am deeply appreciative of that. But let's not forget that the flip side of the same coin is the community of believers: learning to love and care for one another, providing a place of safety and healing, speaking into one another's lives in word and action. This is also at the core of a vibrant, impactful, outward-facing community.
I am re-quoting here a post I wrote several years ago entitled What Does 'Community' Mean?
Kevin Rains wrote an article on community that is near and dear to my heart. At the forefront of our desire for a house church model is to build true community, what Eldredge calls "a band of intimate allies." I quote his article in its entirety:
Community is almost a ruined word. I refuse to give up on it though. Just because its been misused, battered, and tattered does not mean it can't be useful. But it needs some definition.
Community means availability. It means time spent together. Real time. Time for conversation, interaction, and a deepening of communion, of intimacy between 2 or more people. Community is never general or generic. It is always specific and definable by people spending time together. Now, time spent together does not guarantee community. There has to be a certain quality to the time spent together. Time doesn't guarantee it but it is a pre-requisite.
Community means vulnerability. If we aren't willing to open up our lives to others we will never experience true community. This is why mutual confession builds community. We come to the table with our strengths and our weaknesses and we lay ourselves bare, exposed to the scrutiny and more importantly the love, acceptance and forgiveness of others. This doesn't happen overnight nor should it. It needs to be a progressive deepening. People who lay themselves bare at a first encounter scare me. There is something unhealthy in over-exposure especially as a first approach. These things take time and discernment to know how much to share and when. Mistakes will made. Over-hiding and over-exposure will happen. There can be no set rule for such things. But if we expect to gain community and constantly flee vulnerability we will never have it.
Community means a shared life. This ties back in to availability but goes beyond it. Our life in one regard is made up of time. So if we want a shared life we must spend time together. Resources also need to be shared. Basically our checkbooks and our schedules can be a good gauge of community.
Community means stability. Benedict was a genius to introduce a vow of stability into his Rule. If we want to experience community we need to be rooted somewhere among some people. If we constantly move on in search of greener pastures we will not be around long enough to grow the roots necessary for community. Community can not happen on the fly.
(Originally posted in 2005, but perfectly relevant today)
The Christian world, the entire Christian world, is permeated with a religious spirit. It's in me, in others, in traditional churches, in house churches. It is such a pervasive dysfunction that it's no wonder Jesus addressed it so forcefully.
The religious spirit is not just "them," it's also "us." We think, oh so subtly, that we are somehow better than "them." We look at externals of some kind: how we worship, how we do liturgy or don't do liturgy, how we view Scripture, our pet theological perspectives and we hold tightly to these things because on some level we believe them to be "right." We lose our humility and our "rightness" becomes a judgment of others. We are better than them. We "do it" more correctly. And there it is--a religious spirit.
We take on a religious spirit when we get focused on the way to live the Christian life rather than the Person that we live the Christian life with. We turn relationship with God into rules. A relationship is an ongoing, everyday, living thing. When we are not living out of that living relationship, we begin to retreat into the rules of Christian living as a substitute. We do, after all, know the "right" way to live. It doesn't take long before we are judging others because they are not living the "right" way like we are. We quickly lose sight of the fact that the reason we are in this place of judging others is because we ourselves are unsettled. We have lost our peace because we are no longer fully embracing the Person. We try to repair our sense of unrest by setting up the rules, the structure, in order to live right and thus feel right. We project that onto others. We quickly become the pharisees who encourage others to live for God based on the letter of the law and in so doing we lead people away from vibrant relationship with God.
We take on a religious spirit when our theology becomes more important than the Person behind our belief systems. We believe we know the truth; we often believe we know MOST of the truth even though Scripture affirms that we "see through a glass darkly." Yet we base much of our personal security on knowing "the truth" and we leave little room for humility, for paradoxical theological positions, and for learning deeper truths. Because our "truth" makes us feel secure, we judge the theological positions of others as being "less than." We become the scribes and we miss the heart of the One from whom all truth flows.
We take on a religious spirit when we believe we are part of a "movement" of God that others have not yet experienced but "should." Perhaps what we are involved in is NOT what God is calling someone else to be involved in. Yet we take whatever God has done for us and judge others by whether or not God has done it for them or in them or to them.
We take on a religious spirit when we have been hurt or disappointed by other Christians. Rather than heal, forgive, let go, set boundaries and move on, we become bitter. We find reason to judge them and their "hypocritical" brand of Christianity. We hold up a standard of "righteousness" that we judge others by (because we have been hurt). We become standard-bearers of righteousness seeking to hold people accountable to what's "right." In the process we become the legalists. We forget that we are all just humans deeply in need of the washing of the blood of Jesus Christ and His eternal mercy.
We take on a religious spirit when we fail to recognize God in each and every person that He has created and redeemed. When we believe that we have something to teach others but fail to see what they have to teach us. When we take something from our spiritual life or experience and imagine that we are, in some way, better than those who do not share exactly what we are "into."
A religious spirit robs us of our real spirituality. We do not live out of the vitality of union with Christ, we live out of the push,the guilt, and the shoulds of duty. We live out of a subtle pride; we lose the joy of first love. We may feel good about "being good," but we lack the passion of a lover's life.
Worse, we pass on this spirit into others. We model a Christianity that lacks the zest and peace that comes from relationship. We exemplify a dour, sober, lifeless Christianity. We sometimes even heap the guilt and shoulds on others and, in doing this, keep them from finding the joy of the Person. We take the religious burdens that we have put on ourselves, and we wrap them around others in a way that stifles their openness to a God of relational, creative, beautiful love. No wonder Jesus said, woe unto you!
So, I say, woe unto me. Woe unto us all. To repent and break free of religion in order to experience the power of relationship with Creator-God... isn't that the call of the hour?
I have noticed a similar morphing taking place within some organic/simple church participants as well as some traditional church participants. The movement seems to be toward disciple making and missional communities as the core shape of the church.
Some might suggest, myself included, that the simple/organic church emphasis has helped pave the way for this. But the point is that, regardless of the impetus, the movement in this direction is positive.
Here are some voices, from a variety of backgrounds, which echo the focus on disciple making and missional communities as primary:
Jay Pathak, Vineyard Churches, talks about being missional in your locality:
It’s hard to be the church where you live, when you go to church where you don’t.
And we say all the time that church is supposed to be a people that are about what God is doing. And so churches aren’t buildings, they’re people, we’re the body of Christ, we’re the family of God…
So we’ve been trying to figure out, and push people towards, being the church where they live. Building Small Groups, engaging their neighbours, taking where their kids go to school very seriously, parents. Any issues or problems that are unique to their neighbourhoods – believing that we will be a part of a redemptive history of a city, if the church is the church where they live.”
Jordan Elder talks about the importance of missional communities which he defines this way: “a missional community is a family of servant missionaries committed to growing as disciples and making new disciples in all of life."
Simply put, the process of crafting a unique MC vision is about pursuing God together with your missional community, asking him to show you how he wants to work in you and through you during this time and place.
We do this because we believe God is working in this time and place. This is what we call Ancient Work. He is at work around us, accomplishing his purposes, using his people. It is our job to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and lives that are available to be used.
We do this because we believe that evangelism and discipleship best happen in community. Disciples cannot be mass produced. Disciples of Jesus are made life on life, life in community, and life on mission.
We do this because we believe that God speaks to us. He speaks to us about his work in the here and now. He speaks to us directly as we seek him in prayer, and he speaks to us through one another as we discuss and discern.
Mike Breen calls for the ‘American Church Revolution’ with these markers:
They are totally committed to making disciples, rather than just gathering believers.
They are defined by Mission to the world, rather than Ministry to Christians.
The wider Church community is comprised of a series of interdependent, smaller Missional Communities or, “Families on Mission.”
They are diligently deconstructing the expectations and aspirations of spiritual feudalism: everyone is the spiritual equal of everyone else.
There is significant common ground in the voices calling the church to recognize missional communities, incarnational ministry, and apprentice-like disciple making as fundamental DNA of the living church. The future of an impactful church is being shaped by these voices.
Make disciples who are followers of … Jesus.
Not followers of doctrines, opinions, or church visions.
Not reciters of creeds or religious points of view.
But followers of the One.
Followers who follow because they know Him. They have tasted, touched, and encountered Him and now they want to continue to develop that closeness, intimacy, and relationship with Him. They know no greater joy.
They are not turned into members of denominations, attenders of services, or clones of the latest way to do Christianity or church.
They remain His and they pursue Him and they follow Him and obey Him out of a loyalty and passion that comes from deeply knowing Him.
They learn His voice because they love Him.
They lay down their own, personal agenda because they value Him.
They take up His vision to see the restoration of His Kingdom come to all people because they experience His everyday encounters that restore and free their own soul and they are driven to see this love transform others.
They know Him, they have found life, and they continue to find life through Him.
And because they know Him, they love Him.
And because they love Him, they follow Him…
Thanks to Guy Muse’s blog, I was reminded of Reggie McNeal’s book “The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church.” Although this book is over ten years old, it still addresses key issues that the church, if we are willing to be honest about who/what we are meant to be, must continue to face head on.
1. The collapse of the church culture.
- Wrong question: How do we do church better?
- Tough question: How do we deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity?
2. The shift from church growth to kingdom growth.
- Wrong question: How do we grow this church?
- Tough question: How do we transform our community?
3. A new reformation: Releasing God's people.
- Wrong question: How do we turn members into ministers?
- Tough question: How do we turn members into missionaries?
4. The return to spiritual formation.
- Wrong question: How do we develop church members?
- Tough question: How do we develop followers of Jesus?
5. The shift from planning to preparation.
- Wrong question: How do we plan for the future?
- Tough question: How do we prepare for the future?
6. The rise of apostolic leadership.
- Wrong question: How do we develop leaders for church work?
- Tough question: How do we develop leaders for the Christian movement?
I am particularly struck with #4 and the way we have churned out ‘members’ en masse over the past thirty years rather than active, passionate, intentional, risk-taking followers of Jesus. The church has paid the price! We have too often become comfortable rather than comforters, guardians of doctrines and traditions rather than advancers of the Kingdom, externally religious rather than internally passionate, and generally sleepy rather than alive in Presence and Spirit.
McNeal’s challenges are still relevant and will, hopefully, continue to propel us toward the center of God’s purposes for His bride on earth.