It’s been a little over 5 years since we planted Redeemer. Which means I’ve been leading and multiplying missional communities for a little over 5 years now. This month at Redeemer we are taking time in our Sunday gatherings to reflect on how God has worked and what he has taught us 5 years into planting. This past Sunday I led us through a time of reflecting on what we’ve learned about missional communities. You can listen to the entire sermon HERE, but I wanted to share an excerpt below. For those of you in the trenches of leading MCs- I hope this will encourage you to remain faithful.
The stunning, magnificent, mysterious truth that the bible teaches is this… before the foundations of the earth God set forth to reveal his glory through the person and work of Jesus Christ— that he might gather for himself a people in every place through which his glory would shine in all the world. This is what we are caught up in. If you are a Christian this is your glorious reality. God doesn’t want you to simply show up and sing a few songs on a Sunday, give your 10%, and (if you have time) check a few other boxes like small group or Sunday school attendance. No! He’s made you a member of his body! You are saved to belong and exist in community. You are a stone in living, mortared into temple of God by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:17-22). And all of your life is to be a megaphone declaring the glory of God (Titus 2:11-15). And you can’t do this apart from community. Your life by itself isn’t that impressive— it’s not that glorious. That’s why you were saved into gospel-community! Community is God’s gift to you (by which you would grow in Christ) and it’s God’s gift to the world (a witness to his resurrection).
This is why we make such a big deal about missional communities! Missional Communities are our (imperfect) attempt- in a culture of individualism and consumerism- to call us back to the way of Christ, the apostles, and a New Testament reality of church.
Now that we’ve answered that question and unpacked that a bit, I want to reflect on some things we’ve learned over the last 5 years of launching and multiplying missional communities. We started Redeemer in the Summer of 2011 with 1 missional community that met at Josh and Lauren Reeves house. Since then we have multiplied over 15 MCs. Some of them have grown in health, bearing fruit, making disciples, seeing unchurched and lost people come in and witness the gospel realities of God’s people. Some MCs have existed for a season and were used by God during those seasons. We’ve launched some that have failed for a variety of reasons, yet we can look back and see how God was working even in our “failure”. We’ve launched some MCs that have gone on to be the seeds of a new church plant. And we hope that will continue to be the case in the future. In all of this, there are so many things that I have learned. But there are 3 things in particular that I want to share as points of exhortation reflection for us this week.
1)MC life is messy and it’s ordinary. And there is no escaping it. Now this might be surprising to some of you… but you are a sinner. And I am a sinner. And when you get sinners together and ask them to commit to sharing life together as a family— devoted to Christ and devoted to one another— guess what people will do? They will sin against one another. They will disappoint one another. But guess what they will also do? They will love one another, forgive one another, care for one another, and disciple one another. Consider: Ephesians 4:1-6, 25-32. And all of this happens in ordinary life at an ordinary pace. Aren’t you thankful that our savior did all of his work in the messy and ordinary realities of planet earth? Isn’t that good news for us? Jesus (God in flesh) saw ordinary human life as the stage by which he would work. I just want to encourage you this morning if you feel a bit underwhelmed by your missional community. Will you trust the Spirit’s work? I’m convinced God does his best work in the messiness of ordinary life. Embrace this. Dig in. Let God work.
2)Making Disciples is an “all of life thing” and a “for all of life thing”. If “why do you guys do MCs?” is the number 1 question that I get, then “Do MCs really work?” is the question that is number 2 on the list. And although I am not always sure what is meant by this question… I think what people mean is— Can you really grow a church through MCs? And that’s a really tricky question. Because if you want to grow a church numerically and quickly in Western culture, the answer is no. There are much better strategies to get people to come to your church. But that isn’t the task that our resurrected Lord Jesus gave us, is it? No! He commissioned us to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them (new identity), and teaching them to obey all that he had commanded. Jesus isn’t just our savior who makes our life easy and painless. He is our Lord. And to be a disciple of Jesus is to submit all of our lives to the lordship of Chirst (it’s an all of life thing) and to invite others to do the same (this is a for all of life thing). SO, if you’re asking if missional communities work– meaning do they help us make disciples of Jesus– then the answer is a resounding yes! I can tell you that I am much more like Jesus today than I was 6 years ago before entering my first MC. I’m also much more aware of my sin and brokenness too! Let’s not confuse these two things. The way one grows in Christ is that they start to see all of the areas of life that are not submitted to His Lordship. And guess what helps us do this… life in community and on mission.
3)Idealism cripples a missional community. I want to be the first to confess that at times over the last 5 years my idealism for what missional communities should be has not served you well. There have been times that I have over structured and over strategized missional communities in a way that made MCs feel rigid. There have been times where what the holy spirit was doing or wanted to do in a group was stifled because leaders were trying to check all of the boxes that I was asking them to check. At times “doing mission” has felt like legalism in our MCs. We’ve tried to push every MC toward a common mission, which at times is needed, but in some situations was neglecting the work the HS was wanting to do in within a MC. I want to ask for your forgiveness on behalf of your elders. We have repented of this idealism or “methedolatiry”. And we want you to know that moving forward we want MCs to be groups of people that love Jesus deeply and are committed to one another in a deep covenantal way. And as we are experiencing the fellowship of Christ we are holding it out generously to whomever the holy spirit might lead us to or bring into our community. There is not such thing as an ideal MC— every group of people is unique and every season of life is unique. It is the Holy Spirit’s guidance that we need. My commitment to you is to train and coach leaders toward this end. I also want to exhort you to consider any idealism you might carry on a personal level. When we hold on to our ideals of what our community “should be”, or when we focus on what our community “isn’t” we’ve played right into the hand of the enemy. Remember, because of the fact that MC life is messy and ordinary (yet full of God’s glorious presence) it will fall short of our ideal community. Beware of comparing the people you are sharing life with to another group. Beware of comparing your community to a community that you had in past seasons of life. This will lead you to judging not loving. It will lead you to criticism, not care. It will lead you to disappointment, not hopeful expectation for what God is up to in your midst. This is not from the Holy Spirit. It is from Satan. It’s a form of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 4:3). Anytime you are feeling ill-will or hostility toward others brothers and sisters… you better believe that spiritual warfare is happening. So, church family let us beware of the deadly trap of idealism. As Bonhoeffer says, “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.”
I have a 5 year old son. My 5 year old son is just now learning fix his own food, brush his own teeth, get himself dressed, etc. He’s matured and learned a lot in the last 5 years. And as his dad, I am really proud of him as he grows and matures into boyhood. That’s kind of how I feel as a leader. I’ve learned and matured a lot over the last 5 years of planting a church organized around missional communities. And I find great comfort in knowing that my Father is proud and pleased with me (despite my mistakes/sin as a leader) as I grow and mature into who he is making me to be as his Son. Leaders, will you join me in resting in that reality while you lead on?