Clearly Defining a Missional Community

It seems that nearly everyday I have a conversation about missional communities. I am thrilled that the missional community conversation is continually getting turned up louder! This excitement of mine is not about missional communities as a model of church per say, but rather because I believe missional communities take us back to the New Testament functions and forms of being the church– thus making missional communities most effective for making disciples.

But the more I talk with other church leaders about missional communities the more I am realizing the confusion that surrounds MCs. For some missional communities are mysterious– “I don’t really understand what you guys are doing, but it sounds really cool”. For others they are a new name for small groups– “my church just switched from life groups to missional communities”.  And then there are others who are skeptical– “I’m not so sure missional communities can really work” (by ‘work’ they mean draw and keep big crowds).

Like never before I think it is important for us to clearly define what a missional community is. Over the next three weeks I will be sharing how we define missional community, our vision for missional communities, and how we establish vision/form missional communities.

Let’s start with defining a missional community.

Definition of a Missional Community
A missional community is a family of servant missionaries committed to growing as disciples and making new disciples in all of life. This is a definition that needs unpacking. Let’s start with the “family of servant missionaries…in all of life” part.

Gospel Identity
Our definition of a missional community begins with our gospel identity— who we are in Christ because of the gospel. It can be a real temptation, and a big mistake, to make missional communities about our doing. In other words, we can be more concerned with all that “we can do for God”. But this leads to all kinds of problems: burnout, “doing” in our own power, busyness, etc. Therefore, it is important for us to know that a missional community is first and foremost about learning to “be”. We need to learn to live out our gospel identity in all of life.

We are Family— In the gospel we have been saved from the penalty of sin. We are no longer dead in our sin and objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:1-6). Through Jesus’s bloody death on the cross we have been transferred from being God’s enemies to being His dearly loved children, members of his household, seated with Christ (1 John 3:1-2, Ephesians 2:19). If we are God’s sons and daughters, then that makes us brothers and sisters. We are family. The New Testament is full of instruction for us as to what it looks like to be good family (“the household of God”). Two examples of this can be found in Colossians 3:12-17 & 1 Peter 4:7-11. These passages are worth your reading and reflection. As you read these passages (and many more like them littered throughout the NT) it is clear that the primary paradigm for the church is the family of God.

We are Servants— In the gospel we are being saved from the power of sin. Although we may still fall into sin, we are no longer enslaved to sin. God has placed his Spirit within us, giving us new hearts that are increasingly learning to serve sin less and serve Jesus more (Romans 6:5-14). Rather than “obeying sin’s passions”, we are learning to obey Jesus. As we learn to obey Jesus, we learn to walk his road, taking up our cross and laying down our lives in service to God and others. Every Christian is first and foremost a servant of Jesus.

We are Missionaries— In the gospel we will be saved from the presence of sin. This world is not our home. We are strangers, aliens, and sojourners in this world. But this doesn’t mean we sit on the sideline (or in the pew) and wait for Jesus to return and “take us home”. Instead, we are empowered and equipped by the Holy Spirit to be sent into this world as His “holy people” and “living temple” that proclaims “the excellencies of Him” who saved us (1 Peter 2:9-12). We are to live lives that adorn the gospel, and regularly tell of the hope that we have. God is redeeming this world by using us, his missionary people, to display and declare his redemption to others. Every Christian is equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit to participate in mission through the body of Christ.

We are a family of servant missionaries. This is our Gospel Identity. We’ve been given everything we need in the gospel! We have people & belonging, joy & significance, and purpose & security. What a good Father— setting us right and using us to see the world set right!

So, a missional community is a small group of people who are learning to live out their identity— loving one another like family, growing free from sin and in selfless obedience to Christ, and sent and empowered by the Spirit to share and show the gospel to those far from Him— in all of life’s everyday rhythms.

“Growing as Disciples and Making New Disciples”
As we continue to grow in the gospel, learning to live more consistently with who we are in Christ (family of servant missionaries), guess what happens? We begin to grow as disciples of Jesus and we make new disciples of Jesus. This is the essence of what it means to be a missional community. But one thing that we’ve learned is that we need help and support in order to grow in the gospel and live out our identity. To help us in our effort to grow as disciples and make new disciples we’ve built some structure into missional community life. We call this structure the 5 Components of MC, and they are built on the 5 Key Practices of the early church seen in Acts. In Acts 2:42-47 we see these 5 key practices that led to growth both personally and corporately.

  1. Devotion to the Apostles teaching— this meant that believers were regularly gathering to learn. They were learning the gospel and learning the way of Christ.
  2. Breaking of bread in homes— They were regularly gathering to share meals and fellowship. As we share meals together we share life.
  3. Prayer— It was God that they depended on in this new life. The devotion to prayer shows us that it was a personal God that they gathered around and trusted. Both personally and corporately, prayer was central in the life of early Christians.
  4. Unity & Clear Mission— they were together and had all things in common. They were on the same page, having a clear vision and united mission. They were selling possessions and giving to the poor— all contributing to the mission.
  5. Fellowship & Favor— not only did they live in close fellowship with one another, but they lived as a people welcoming and inviting to outsiders. Although their message was offensive to many, they had favor with all people because of the life of love they lived. God was adding to their numbers daily as a result.

We live in a different time, culture, and context than the early church that makes some of these practices abnormal to us. But because we think that these practices should be normative, and we want them to be present in our MCs, we’ve developed the 5 Components of Missional Community that we hope captures these early church practices.

5 Components of MCs at Redeemer
These components are meant to be starting points. They themselves are not the goal, but rather that these things would begin to bleed into all of your life, and will help your MC live lives that are consistent with your gospel identity.

  1. Family Meals– The family meal is the time when the missional community gathers to share a meal together with Jesus at the center. This meal is intentional in every way. We must make it clear that Jesus is who we are gathering around and he is the one who makes us a family. Encourage your people to have intentional, Christ-centered conversation while they eat. It is also important to use the family meal night as an opportunity to encourage one another, pray together, and cast vision for the mission of the group.
  2. Sunday Gatherings– Sundays are a place for people who have been being the family of God and living on mission in a broken world to retreat and be renewed by the power and presence of God. We desperately need to be reminded of the truth of God’s word as it is preached. We need to be ministered to by the Spirit as we declare truth through singing. And we need to be reminded of the gospel as we share the Lord’s Supper with the church. Sundays aren’t optional or second rate, they are the place where missional communities are encouraged, shaped by the Word of God, and recommissioned to the mission of making disciples every week.
  3. DNA– DNA is where we dig down deep in our care for one another as disciples. You must make it a goal to see every committed member of your missional community regularly participating in DNA. DNA isn’t just another thing, it is where we are formed by God’s word, pray together, confess sin, and are committed to one another’s personal growth as followers of Jesus.
  4. Missional Living– Missional living is showing and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who are not yet believers. We should be looking to cultivate loving fellowship with those God has placed in our lives. Missional communities must ask and answer the question, “How will we be build redemptive relationships with the lost?”. Perhaps that means a regular trip to the local park where you invite others and look to build relationships and get to know new friends, you throw parties in your neighborhood, or you build relationships with those you are serving. Whatever it is, we need to make sure we have an outward posture that is looking to share the gospel.
  5. Serving– Serving is a part of who we are as believers. Every missional community should be regularly serving and meeting the needs of the needy. Your MC should be asking, “Who are the people around us in need and how can we meet those needs?”.

Structure as Skeleton
It is important that I give a disclaim here. This can look like a bunch of stuff for you to do. It is not! Remember our doing must flow from our being. These 5 Components are designed to be skeleton, not a check list. The skeleton is to be wrapped in flesh— life on life, life in community, and life on mission.

So, what is a missional community at Redeemer? A missional community is a family of servant missionaries committed to growing as disciples and making new disciples in all of life. You might notice that there is one piece of this definition that I didn’t discuss today… the word “committed”. This word is important. In my next post I will discuss the importance of making a missional community commitment and developing a committed core.

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.