Your Missional Community Needs a Vision

Last week I defined missional communities. I answered the question: What is a missional community at Redeemer? Our answer: a missional community is a family of servant missionaries committed to growing as disciples and making new disciples in all of life. In that post I unpacked everything in our definition except for the word “committed”. This word is important because every missional community should be committed to following Jesus in unique ways. It is important for us to understand that although every missional community has the same definition, in practice they can and should look different. Every missional community is a unique family, will serve in unique ways, and is sent as missionaries to a unique people. So, today I will unpack the world “committed” from our definition– answering the question: How do we discern and craft a unique missional community vision?

Crafting an Unique MC Vision
I don’t want to over complicate this idea of crafting a MC vision. This is something that we’ve done in the past. We’ve made the process very complicated at times— using primers and covenants— which have made our MCs clunky and robotic. We’ve also error on the other side, where we haven’t taken seriously them importance of establishing unique MC visions and our MCs have essentially become social clubs or bible studies, that spin their wheels and don’t grow as disciples of Jesus or make new disciples of Jesus.

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 what season of mission we are in.

Discerning the Vision- “Pursing the Lord Together About His Work In & Through You”
Again, I’ve learned to keep this simple and reproducible. Crafting you MC vision is as simple as asking God to show you how he wants you to uniquely live out your gospel identity during this time and space. Below are some simple questions we use to help guide our leaders. This process gives us another chance to teach and reteach gospel identity.

1. How is God asking us to be the FAMILY of God?

  • In what ways do we each need to grow as a disciple of Jesus? How can we help one another do this?
  • How can we use the 5 component of MC life to help us grow in Christ and grow as family?
  • How is God asking us to love one another?
  • What will keep us from being family?

2. How is God asking us to live as SERVANTS of Christ?

  • Who has needs among us?
  • In your relationships with others, who has needs we can meet?
  • What in our city breaks your heart?
  • What will keep us from serving others?

3. Who are the not-yet believers in our lives that God is sending us to as his MISSIONARY people?

  • What relationships with non-Christians do we have that others in our MC can come into? How can we begin to do this ASAP?
  • What are some ways that we can cultivate friendships with those God has placed in our lives? How can we begin to do this ASAP?
  • Who are we praying would come to Christ in the next year? How often will we pray for them by name?
  • What will keep us from doing these things?

One great way to use these questions to craft your MC vision is to take 3 consecutive weeks to discuss these, tackling one set of questions each week. Give people the questions beforehand and have them prayerfully answer them. Then gather together to discuss and pray. Write down the things that are shared and discussed so that you can revisit them regularly.

**(Side Note: Sharing Leadership = Sharing the Vision)
One problem I’ve witnessed in many missional communities is failure to share the vision. Sharing leadership in the missional community is important because it empowers others in your MC to own the vision. If you do everything (or all of the important things) then the missional community vision will be only yours. You’ve taken people that God has gifted and turned them into spectators. Their role becomes “show up and participate”. We want to not only allow others to help us craft the vision of our missional community, but call them to use their gifts and own the vision. Ask the group to consider how God has uniquely gifted them for this work he has called you to. Another way that we have failed in the past is having rigid categories for shared leadership (meal plannner, kids person, etc.). Be careful not to limit people to these positions. It is better to craft your vision first, and then discuss how every person can contribute to the work God has called you to. This might lead you to identifying some people to plan meals and organize kids, but it will help you to make space for the Spirit to lead people into using their gifts and passion.

Evolving Your Vision— “During this Time and Space”
Once we’ve established a vision and shared leadership we need to be careful not to think about a missional community vision as set in stone, like you went up to Mt. Sinai and came down with tablets. It is the job of the MC leaders to be sensitive to the Spirit’s work in and around you, so that you can evolve your vision as you move into different seasons.

For example: what happens when people leave the community? What happens when God begins to do something different entirely? What if you thought you were supposed to serve in one way, but suddenly find yourself serving in a different way? What about when you get into your missional community and discover the needs within the MC are overwhelming? Then what? Are you allowed to change your missional community vision? Not only are you allowed, but your missional community vision should change if you are truly seeking to follow God.

1. Responding to Needs Within
Early in the life of a missional community discipleship and shepherding needs will continually pop up. As you begin to have fun together and people start opening up about their lives, it’s at this moment when the needs of the MC begin to be revealed. Things like theological issues, or areas where some folks need to be taught or corrected. In others, people reveal thoughts, hurts, pain, or needs that they’ve never shared with anyone before. Hardship or suffering set in in people’s lives. These are all things that have happened in MCs I’ve led. In these moments, the MC has the opportunity to respond to the work of the Spirit in their midst. These things are not a distraction to the mission and vision, but often times need to be seen a apart of the mission and vision. As these moments arise, take time to acknowledge them collectively and acknowledge them as a gift from God to form the community around His purposes and not our preferences.

2. Responding to God’s Movement
This is another opportunity to evolve the vision for your missional community. You’ve prayed, discussed the questions above, and identified ways that God is asking you to live as servant missionaries. You begin to obey and do some of the things that you’ve discussed. As you do these things God might begin to answer prayer and open doors in different ways than you expect. We must be ready to respond to God’s movement and put our plans aside for his plans.

3. Responding When Things Are Stagnate
Although it isn’t always fun, sometimes God asks us to lead a missional community that will go nowhere. The vision you dreamed of doesn’t happen, the people you hoped to reach move away, and the work that God does in you isn’t what you hoped it would be. In a way, this is God answering our prayers though it is not as we would have liked it. It is important to remember that all MCs have a shelf-life. Some will die, others will reproduce. This is not a failure for the MC! God uses stagnate MCs to refine the people and leaders in another way. Who are we to question his work? God can use stagnate MCs in a variety of ways, often leading to launching new MCs or strengthening existing ones by merging.

We cannot predict what God is doing or will do when we craft our MC vision. This is why it is important to revisit your vision regularly with your MC. It is also important to regularly discuss what God is doing in your midst. Celebrate his work regularly and pray for His Spirit to lead you. It is also important that you regularly meet with your MC Coach. Monthly coaching meetings exists to help you see what God is doing in your midst, solve problems, and respond to God’s movement appropriately.

In closing, establishing a clear vision and sharing leadership is paramount for every missional community within the first few months. If a missional community has not established and committed to a vision for growing as disciples and making new disciples it’s failed to fulfill our definition– but most importantly it’s failed to hear from our living God who stands ready to work within us and through us!

Making Disciples: Push vs Pull

Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry is hard. One of the things that makes it so hard is that there is so much equipping to do! We need to teach people to read their bibles, share their faith, love their spouse, raise their children, pray, work and rest unto the Lord, live on mission…..the list could go on and on. So where do we start? And how do we get to all of this with an ever changing group of people in all different stages of life and maturity?

One thing that has helped me is to think of equipping through the lenses of PUSH versus PULL. What I have learned is that while “push” is important, “pull” is the most effective way to equip people for life and mission in the everyday. Here is a breakdown of push versus pull.

PUSH equipping is “pushing” information into people who need it. They may or may not know that they need this information, but we know they need it, so we are going to give it to them. Most push equipping is done in theory, disconnected from real experiences and people. The idea behind push equipping is– let’s teach them how to do it so they will know, and they won’t fail. Example: a class that trains people to share their faith.

PULL equipping is “pulling” people into the information they know they need. Pull equipping is connected to real experiences and real people, and only happens when you have called people to do something that you know they cannot do on their own. The idea behind pull equipping is– let’s call them to do it, let them fail, and then equip them when they doExample: training people to share their faith (with specific people) because they want to or have tried, but don’t know how.

Think about pre-marital counseling. It is helpful and needed for any couple…but it is primarily just good information prior to marriage (push). Let someone be married for a few years, realize they need help, and then give them that help…and it is equipping for marriage (pull).

What this looks like…

One year ago I realized that the majority of the people in my MC had very few relationships with non-believers. So I began to call us to cultivate relationships with those who are far from Jesus. We threw neighborhood parties, committed to pray for new friendships, and committed to bringing intentionality to the ones we had. We did this for a year. It was awesome. Two weeks ago during our family meeting I asked the question, “how are we doing at sharing the gospel with the people God has placed in our lives?” The answer…not good. One person even said, “I feel like I don’t know how to say it (the gospel) in their language“.

I wasn’t discouraged by this at all. My response was, “Awesome! It’s my job to teach you to do that.

Now I get to give food to people who are hungry for it. They have real people and real situations to apply it to. They will digest it.

With only push equipping, people might never be hungry for it. It’s just another can to put in the pantry for later…incase they need it.

I am thankful to my friend, Mark, who coached me through my frustrations last month and helped me see that I needed to do less pushing and more pulling as I equipped the saints for the work of ministry.

Understanding Mission: Seasons of Mission

As we plant missional communities we want every MC to be a family that understands that mission is an ancient work, we want to approach mission reactively and proactively, and we want to accept that mission happens in seasons. To finish out my series on “Understanding Mission” I will unpack seasons of mission.

Seasons of Mission

Being a good missionary isn’t only about leading people to Christ and baptizing them. There is much more to it. It is helpful to think of it this way—a good farmer does much more than just harvest his crop. He invests his life into farming and knows the importance of every season of the harvest. Good farmers spend months preparing and cultivating the soil. This means hard work plowing the ground, turning over the soil, and removing the rocks.  Once the soil is cultivated and ready, then comes the season of sowing the seed (whatever he hopes to see grow). This time of sowing also means the hard work of watering, nurturing, and protecting the seed as it takes root and begins to grow. When the crop is ready and mature, then comes the season of harvest. Harvest involves carefully reaping the crop and producing it in a proper manner (i.e. grapes become wine). In the same way, good missionaries invest their lives into gospel ministry and know the importance of every season of mission. I think that it is important for a missional community to always be identifying what season of mission they are in. I have seen and lead many groups that “spin their wheels” and never make any missional traction because they are sowing gospel seeds without having done the hard work of cultivating the soil first.

Below you will find a description of the three seasons of mission that I hope you will find helpful. At Redeemer, our hope is that every missional community will always be in one of these three seasons of mission. An important thing to remember is that not one of these seasons is more important than the other. They are all equally necessary to making disciples that make disciples. What is most important is that your missional community is able to identify what season you are in, and then you allow the Holy Spirit to lead your MC as you cultivate, sow, and harvest for God’s glory in our city!

Cultivating– cultivating (or plowing) is the part of the discipleship process where we are praying for our focus area, making friends, learning their stories, and finding people of peace in our missional communities’ focus area. We are building relationships, listening to the Spirit in prayer, and focusing the majority of our time together in relational settings that connects us to the people we believe God has called us to reach.

Key Activities During This Season – praying for people by name, prayer walking in our focus area, building relationships, throwing parties in order to meet people, and including our new friends with the family. During the season of cultivating a missional community should spend less time in the living room and more time out making friends and building relationships. 

Sowing– sowing is the season where we begin to share our lives with the people we have connected with and sow “gospel seeds”. We are sharing our story, speaking of Jesus, and displaying a gospel centered life to our friends.  Remember, because we have done the hard work of plowing our friends trust us and love us at this point, so us sharing of Christ is only natural. As the Spirit leads, we are beginning to invite them into our expression gatherings, missional community meetings, Sunday gatherings, and other social activities in our church family. Sowing also involves nurturing, watering, and protecting the “gospel seeds” we have sown. This might look like additional conversations, clearing up any confusion, praying fervently for salvation, and serving the people we are sharing with. During this season a missional community might spend more time in the living room and around the dinner table discussing the scriptures, going through the Story of God, and planning proactive mission.

Key Activities During This Season – sharing the gospel in conversations and through everyday rhythms, inviting friends into the life and gatherings of church family, deepening relationships and trust, and fervently praying for friends by name.

Harvesting– harvesting is the season where we see our friends come to believe in Christ and trust in him for salvation and life. This usually happens in mini-stages, but we know we are in the season of harvesting because we see the Spirit at work in our friends lives. We know we are in the season of harvesting when we are seeing our friends responding to our sharing the gospel in positive ways. They have recognized their need for Jesus in their lives, they are reading the bible and praying with us, and they are motivated to serve with us. The pinnacle of the harvesting season comes when our friends officially repent and believe in Christ and are adopted into God’s family! Once this happens, we continue the discipleship process as we live life as a family.

Key Activities During This Season– sharing the truth of the scripture, praying with our friends, serving others with our friends, encouraging faith decisions, and calling our friends to believe.

One last thing that is important to remember in regard to the seasons of mission is that God might be asking us to share in the harvest with other believers somewhere else.  This happened to me once with a neighbor. I spent two years doing the hard work of plowing and sowing. I prayed for my neighbor, got to know him and his family, shared with him over and over again about Jesus, cared for him during tough times—only to watch him move to another city right as I sensed the Spirit leading us into the season of harvest. During this time I had to trust that God’s work is an ancient work and rejoiced that I got to play a role in the harvest that would come. It has also been my experience that I have met neighbors who are already immediately open to the gospel, because others have done the hard work of cultivating in their lives. Consider John 4:26-38 and 1 Corinthians 10:10.

How would your community function differently if you embraced the seasons of mission?

Understanding Mission: Reactive and Proactive

Reactive and Proactive Mission

Not only is it important to understand that we are joining God in an ancient work, but we must also understand that our missional activity is dependent upon the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the book of Acts and the Epistles we see the Holy Spirit acting as the guide, compass, and fuel; empowering, leading, and directing the church in the mission of God. We want to try and understand this leading of the Holy Spirit in mission as Reactive and Proactive mission.

Let’s begin with definitions. Reactive mission can be defined as mission in the moment. This would include the opportunity for gospel conversations that the Spirit provides in the “everyday” moments of life (on a lunch break at work, in line at the grocery store, at the park while your kids play, with a neighbor while you are working in the lawn, etc.) Reactive mission happens in the moments of life that we have little control over, so it is critical that we are walking in Spirit and have eyes to see and ears to hear the Spirit as he leads us into reactive mission. We must be careful not to become so busy and consumed with our selves throughout our day that we are not open to opportunities for reactive mission.  On the other hand, proactive mission can be defined as mission by design. This means organizing the controllable aspects of our lives (spare time, weekends, hobbies, where we live and work, meals we eat, celebrations, vacations, how we spend our money, where we shop, etc.) around the mission of God. Proactive mission requires a team that is committed to God, each other, and disciple making. Together as a family, we should always be asking how can we organize our lives in such a way that those around us will know the gospel? This involves sacrifice, but remember, in Christ we are servants—and what better thing to sacrifice for than the mission of God!

Consider for a second the disciple making movement that explodes in the book of Acts. We see both proactive and reactive mission working together like it should, leading to fruitful ministry.  In Acts 1:8 we see mission by design: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.  The plan is in place—receive the holy spirit, begin in Jerusalem and then move outward from there with the gospel. But as you keep reading the book of Acts you see persecution and other unexpected events that develop along the way. It might seem as if the plan is falling apart, but we know that the Spirit constantly leading, guiding, and fueling the church the entire time. The disciples are forced to become reactive missionaries following the leading of the Spirit in the moment, yet always looking to reorient their lives together around disciple making (proactive mission). We can also point to the numerous examples in the Epistles where we see Paul stating his plan and strategy for mission, but always being open to the possibility of the Spirit opening new doors of ministry (see 1 Corinthians 16:6-9 for one example).

What we can say then is that the key is to look for where God is opening up the opportunity to develop reactive mission into proactive mission. This could be as simple as your missional community committing to eating weekly and tipping generously at a specific restaurant because one person in the group recently had the opportunity to share the gospel with a waitress while eating there.  It could also be as complex as planting a new missional community in an apartment complex because the Spirit is constantly leading a group member into gospel conversations there. Either way, the only way that we will have success in reaching the lost around us is if we are looking to the Spirit to lead us, guide us, and fuel us in both reactive and proactive mission.

Questions for MCs to Consider:

1. What in your lives keeps you from being a Reactive Missionary?

2. How are the definitions of reactive and proactive mission helpful to you?

3. Why is reactive mission without proactive mission dangerous? Why is proactive mission without reactive mission dangerous?

4. What can you plan this month to turn reactive mission into proactive mission?

Understanding Mission: An Ancient Work

In my last post, I shared the importance of clearly defining the mission of God with the people you are leading. We will not be able to get people on mission, unless everyone understands what God is doing in our world through the gospel. In the next three posts I want to share a few things that we are beginning to teach our church to help us better understand how we relate to and participate in mission.

At Redeemer, we want to be a family that understands that mission is an ancient work, we want to approach mission reactively and proactively, and we want to accept that mission happens in seasons. Lets start with Ancient Work.

ANCIENT WORK

From the moment that Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden, it could be said that God’s missionary work began. It started when he pursued Adam and Eve in the garden and provided them with clothes to cover their shame, continued to a promise that through Abraham he would bless the nations, culminated in sending Jesus into the world and to the cross, and now sits with the church that has been tasked with making disciples of all nations. God’s commitment to his glory in all the earth is the foundation of our understanding and engaging of mission. What we must first realize and digest is that mission is God’s work and it is an ancient work. We must be certain that God is committed to accomplishing his purposes and he will bring it to completion!

I think that the enemy wants to make mission feel weighty to us. He wants us to feel burdened and overwhelmed by the task of making disciples of all nations. Are you familiar with this feeling? I once went on a short-term mission trip to Tokyo, Japan and while I was there I became overwhelmed with the reality that there were millions of people in this country that had never heard the gospel in their lives. As I tried to share my faith with people I remember thinking— there is no way I can lead these people to Christ…they believe in other gods and are clueless when I try and talk about Jesus. The truth of the matter was that I was right. There was no way I could do it. But God on the other hand, has promised from the beginning of time that he will accomplish his purpose of making disciples of all nations and he is doing it and will complete it (Ephesians 1:10)!

We must learn and believe that mission is not up to us. It is something that God has been doing throughout redemptive history and he is simply calling us into. Mission is more about our obedience as disciples than our production of disciples.  We must value missional obedience more than we value missional activity. This means that sometimes we will labor and see no fruit—but that is okay because God values our obedience. Other times we will immediately be thrown into a harvest—and we rejoice because we know that God has been doing something great and we got to share a small part in it. When we view mission as an ancient work of God, rather a new work of man, it isn’t burdensome or overwhelming to us. Instead, mission becomes about journeying with God, enjoying God, and joining God in his work to redeem and restore brokenness—and that is beautiful!

Some Questions to Consider

1. Do you feel overwhelmed or burdened when you think about living on mission? What is making you feel this way? Sin, lack of equipping, wrong perspective?

2. Does the task of making disciples in your neighborhood or city seem impossible to you? Do you need to repent of thinking it is your work(a new work) rather than the Spirit’s work(an ancient work)?

3. How does the truth that God is at work and has been at work in your city relieve you of missional stress and pressure? (Our job is to investigate where we can join HIM in what he is doing. A good missionary is a good investigator!)

4. What do you (or your MC) need to do in order to investigate where you can join God’s ancient work in your neighborhood/city? Do you need to spend time praying, listening, learning stories of people who live in your area? How are you going to do this?

5. Do you value obedience over production? What if God asks you to labor for 5 years in your neighborhood without any “results”— would you be okay with that?

Understanding Mission: What is it?

One of the things that I have learned over the last few years of leading and planting missional communities is that getting people to understand their missionary identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) is challenging. This challenge can often be credited to our western culture that has taught us that we exist for self. This leads us to naturally worshiping comfort and convenience– two of the biggest obstacles to missionary work (see Jesus and the rich man or any other new testament passage for that matter). So, as we have all experienced both personally and corporatley, sin and heart idols oppose missional efforts.

But there is one other major challenge to helping Christians learn their missionary identity— a lack of understanding the mission of God. There is a good chance that there is confusion among the people in your church or MC right now as to what God is working to accomplish in the world. If you don’t believe me then ask your people next time you gather, “What is the mission of God?” and have them write down their answers. You might be shocked at the different responses you get! Therefore, it is hard to call people to be on mission together, if you are all on a different page about the mission God is on.

So…What is the mission of God?

The way we answer this question will ultimately form and shape the mission of our churches. Therefore, we want to make sure that everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goal as God’s family of missionary servants. We also want to be careful and make sure that we are leading a church that is about what God is about.

As we think about the mission of God we want to do so with the whole of scripture in mind. We want to think about the Bible as one big story about God and what he is doing in the world. It could be said that the entire bible can be summed up in four words—Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. God created man and woman in his image and gave them the command to be fruitful, multiply, and cultivate the earth. What we see in creation is God’s desire to fill the earth with his image and glory (Genesis 1:26-31). You don’t have to read much further into the story to see the fall. Adam and Eve choose creation over the creator. They choose to disobey God’s one command and in doing so sin and death fills the earth rather than God’s image and glory (Genesis 3). This is bad news for everyone. But the story doesn’t end as a tragedy; God shows his great love for his children and begins to write an epic story of redemption. He promises to create a family that he would use to bless the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). He promises a savior that would come from this family that would bring rescue and salvation through his death and resurrection. In Christ he is creating a new family, his church, which he has empowered through his Spirit and is using to bring good news to the world (John 20:21, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). And he has shared with us how the story will end—with a new heaven and new earth. Total restoration. Worshipers from every tribe, tongue, and nation filling the earth with God’s image and glory.

This is the mission of God: redeeming and restoring a broken world full of sin by replacing it with his image and his glory once again.

He is doing this through transforming his people in Christ and using them to bring renewal to our cities and world by making disciples. God’s mission won’t stop until the earth looks just like heaven. What a beautiful day that will be!

Now that we have defined the mission of God, we need to begin to understand our role in it. Over the next few weeks I will be posting a 3 part series titled Understanding the Mission of God that aims at giving practical handles to how we should relate, think about, and participate in the mission of God.