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!

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.

Training Leaders for Missional Community

Recently at Redeemer, we took around 30 of our leaders through 8 weeks of MC training we’ve called the MC Fast Track. Our hope for the MC Fast Track was three-fold:

  1. to provide on-going training for existing MC leaders
  2. to equip new leaders hoping to launch MCs
  3. to “fast track” those who were new to our church on all things MCs (language, vision, expectations, etc.)

We learned a lot through the process, but all in all feel like it was a huge success. Our church was strengthened and 3 new MCs will be launched in our city as a result. One of our biggest take aways was the value of including current leaders, potential leaders, and those brand new all into the same training. The different perspectives and experiences sparked great conversations and dialogue. Also, we were able to provide both push and pull equipping at the same time.

If you would like learn more about our MC Fast Track, the audio and notes for all 8 sessions are available HERE.

3 Tips for Neighborhood Missionaries

I’ve lived in 3 neighborhoods in the last 5 years, and in every neighborhood I have set out with intentions of being “missional”. Each neighborhood was a fresh start and a new people to engage with the gospel. How exciting!

But it didn’t take long for the excitement to run dry and for me to find myself wanting to give up. It has started the same way every time….

“Hey honey, will you bake some cookies so that we can take them over to our neighbors this weekend”, I’ve asked my wife.

My wife (who bakes great cookies) joins me as we take them over to meet our neighbors. Three knocks on three doors and we come home with three plates of cookies in all three neighborhoods we’ve lived in.

Maybe my neighbors just don’t like cookies (or us), so we try something different.

“How about a neighborhood cookout”, I said to myself.

I moved my grill from the back yard to the front yard. I remembered one of those guys at Verge said that was a good way to be missional. (They also were the ones who said taking cookies to my neighbors was a good way to be missional).

“They will see me cooking and smell the delicious burgers and will stop to say hi”, I thought. Once they do that I will invite them to join us for dinner. To my surprise…no one cared I was grilling burgers in the front yard, and we had dinner alone.

I’m persistent, so when that didn’t work, I decided I would invite my neighbors over for a game watching party (everyone likes football, right?). This time one of the five neighbors I invited said yes. Awesome! But when he only stayed for 10 minutes I realized that he only came because he felt sorry for me.

I am dejected. Disappointed. Slightly embarrassed now. I put myself out there (for Jesus) and now I just look like the guy who is desperate for friends.

“I have plenty of friends”, I reassure myself. The temptation now is to give up on my neighborhood. I tried right?……

If this (exaggerated) story resonates with you, here are three things you need to know.

1. Neighborhood mission is more like a marathon than a sprint.

What did you expect? Did you really think that because you are friendly toward people one time they will open their life to you and listen to you share how they need to repent and turn to Christ? I live in the suburbs, and in the suburbs people are incredibly self-sufficient. They have their friends, their money, their houses, their cars, their kids, their DVR, and their hobbies. They usually don’t have time in their life for new friends…especially the overly-friendly guy on the corner with cookies and an agenda.

Commit for the long haul. Understand that mission happens in seasons. You have to plow and sow before you can harvest. Listen and learn the story of your neighborhood. What do people value? What are the needs? Who are the people on the margins? Who sets the culture of the neighborhood? Prayer walk your neighborhood regularly.

 2. Be a really good neighbor first.

Being a good missionary starts with being a really good neighbor. Get involved in neighborhood events, attend HOA meetings if your neighborhood has them, play outside with your kids, etc. Every neighborhood is different and every neighborhood has a different definition of “good neighbors”. If you recently moved into a neighborhood you have a great advantage. As you meet your neighbors, ask them about the people who used to live in your house. Their answers will tell you what “good neighbors” are to them. As I have asked this question over the years I have heard things like:

-They were really nice couple that used to baby sit for us a lot…we were sad to see them move…

-They were loud and never mowed the grass…

-I don’t really know much about them, they never came out of their house…

If you have been in a place for a while, as new people move in, ask them about their old neighborhood. What were the things they liked and disliked about it? These answers will tell you how to be good neighbors. Being a really good neighbor opens up more doors for the gospel than cookies and random cookouts.

 3. Love people in a way that matters to them.

One big mistake that any missionary can make is to assume your preferences on to the people you are trying to reach. This is a mistake I’ve made many times. There is a reason that my neighbors didn’t respond to my cookouts and cookies. Cookouts and cookies didn’t matter to them. After several months of living next door to one neighbor, I observed that he was working every weekend. Money was tight, bills were barely getting paid, and his kid’s birthdays were both in December….along with Christmas. He didn’t have time to come to my cookout. My “missional living” didn’t matter to him…it wasn’t missional to him to because it didn’t communicate love to him. But when my wife and I bought birthday presents for both of his boys he broke down in tears. He couldn’t understand why we would do that. We got to tell him that Jesus calls us to be good neighbors, and this is what good neighbors do. It was a start….only because we loved him in a way that mattered to him.

I hope that these things help. Don’t give up. Press on. God has placed you in your neighborhood/apartment to use you. May the lost be found, Christ be proclaimed, and God be glorified among your neighbors!

*disclaimer…I love the guys at Verge!