Spiritual Practices in Missional Community

One of the most exciting aspects of the post-evangelical journey I have just begun is the opening of my faith to spiritual practices from parts of the Church far removed from my evangelical home base. The fact is, for the first sixteen years of my life as a follower of Jesus, my arsenal of spiritual practices was limited to two:

  1. bible study
  2. prayer

While I certainly still value those two practices, I have become aware of and come to appreciate a number of other practices which have helped me draw nearer to God. In the past year or so I have added the following practices to my tool chest:

  • contemplative prayer
  • praying the daily office
  • taize
  • candles as a means of focusing worship
  • the sign of the cross
  • meditative walks
  • recognizing God’s presense in the mundane
  • liturgy

Each of these spiritual practices has helped me draw nearer to the mystery of Christ and grow in my relationship with the triune God. As a father of three, I only wish I had the discipline to practice them more in the midst of my busy, frequently tired lifestyle.

I believe that a good missional community provides a framework for its members to pursue spiritual practices both individually and in community, drawing from the two thousand year tradition of the Church in all of its flavors – evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and so on. These spiritual practices provide the foundation for growth in Christ which allows the community to bring the church to the world.

The ‘Community’ in Missional Community

The second characteristic of missional community as I define it is “pursuing community on a daily basis with others both inside and outside of the community.”

The reality is that at least in the United States, this is not how the church lives today. We live our lives – individually – during the week, and then commute to our regional mega-church (or even local less-than-mega-church) on the weekends for our fill of “church”. The more committed may go to church more than once per week, and even involve themselves in small groups, but with a few exceptions, we don’t see the kind of daily Christian community that we see in the Book of Acts.

Which is both a shame and a major threat to the continuing existence of the Church.

I’m going to go out on a post-modern limb here, but I am becoming more and more convinced that the modernist structures of church which have, at various times, served the church well in the past no longer function. Instead of making disciples, we meet the needs of our consumer congregations. Rather than influencing the world, we tend to lock ourselves away in the “Christian ghetto” in an attempt to try to protect ourselves from being influenced by the world (or even worse, we use the machinery of the state to expand that “protection” to others who do not even want it). And instead of reaching the lost, we by and large grow our congregations by poaching existing believers from other, “less hip” churches.

Now, that being said, I want to make it clear that I do not consider the faith of those involved in traditional churches (be they evangelical, mainline, Catholic, Orthodox, or what have you) to be defective, nor state that those churches do not have a valuable role and purpose. In fact, I am involved in one myself. However, my point is that in the long-term, the traditional church structure as it exists today will continue to decline, and only a radical re-imagining of the church will allow the Gospel to continue to expand in the post-modern world.

Like the monastic movement which kept the faith alive through the middle ages, we may be entering a period where a newly imagined church will be required to keep Christ’s lamp lit through a difficult period of transformation for the world. And the existing church structures, increasingly co-opted by the principalities and powers of consumerist culture, simply are ill-equipped in the face of the challenges ahead of them.

I believe this is where the community aspect of missional community comes in.

It is in community that we can pursue new rhythms of live – accountably – which will help us swim against the tide of consumerism which has enveloped our society.

It is in community that we can support one another financially in the event of economic calamities, so that our brothers and sisters in community can continue to be fed at the banquet table of the Lord.

It is in community that we can raise our kids to hold fast to the powerful good news of Christ in the midst of a world which increasingly doesn’t care.

It is in community that we can show the world a different way – a way that I believe is so attractive that it will challenge many to start caring and join in.

It is this last point which leads me to the question of “who is this community for?” I would argue that the community is not only for those who are members of it, or even more broadly for “Christians.” But in fact, the community exists BOTH for those inside and for those outside of its boundaries. In this sense, the types of missional communities which will sustain the Church in the 21st century will be those which model the radical inclusivity of Jesus in their dealings with the world.

It is this very inclusivity – the bringing of the church to people rather than attracting them to “church” once a week – which will allow the church to embed itself into our post-modern world as another – and I would argue better – alternative to the rampant consumerism which is killing our planet and driving us off an economic cliff.

The ‘Missional’ in Missional Community

In my previous post, I mentioned that one of the four goals of missional community was “living a missional lifestyle to befriend, love, and care for a specific group of people.”

Let me unpack that.

When I was in college, the word we used to describe what I now believe is being called “missional” was “incarnational.” In other words, Jesus incarnated – became flesh – and lived with us. He experienced all that humanity had to offer while at the same time remaining fully divine. And then he sent us out to do the same for the world around us (without the divine part).

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the church lost track of the concept of the incarnation – the idea that Jesus and his followers should take the kingdom of God with them to a hurting world around them – and instead chose to create an alternative society which left the world. The redemption of the world was replaced by the concept of eternal fire insurance, where a faithful remnant would hold fast and try to pull as many people from the burning world as possible before it was consumed. I believe that, by and large, this is where the American church stands today.

We see the consequences of this choice all around us. Rather than seeking to reach out to people with values different from ours in love, we wage a culture war against them to “protect our children” from them. Rather than spending our resources on behalf of the poor, we build larger buildings and fancier ministries for those who are like us. And rather than taking the church into the neighborhood with the object of recruiting new citizens for the kingdom of God, we poach the already-believers as the overall membership of the church sags.

Let me step back a minute before this starts to sound like a polemic. I believe that the church in America is trying to do the best it can with what it has been given. But I also believe that God is doing something new in our midst – he is crafting new wineskins for each of us so that we can join him in the next phase of his story. It’s never comfortable to take on new wineskins, but the alternative is no wine at all, and who wants that, really?

I believe the “new wine” that Christ has for us today is a re-orientation of our “mission” away from the provision of fire insurance to a dying world. Instead, God is calling us to work along side of him and amongst the people he loves to bring redemption into a hurting world.

God has given each of us a community of people – believers and others at various places on the path – to whom we are to model the incarnational love of God. Remember, Jesus’ call was not MERELY for us to preach the Gospel to all nations, but to make disciples of them as well. Discipleship can begin far before the “moment of decision” and certainly does not end when someone prays the sinner’s prayer.

To be continued…

Missional Community

As God has led me in a new direction – post-evangelical, missional, and emerging – the reality of the disconnect between our lives as Christians in 21st century America and the lives I see modeled by Jesus, the disciples, and the early church has become ever more jarring. This is not to say that I have adopted a view which states that it is impossible to find and follow Christ as a “normal American Christian.” I am certain that God is present in the American church as He is present in His Church around the world.

But I think there’s more. We’re satisfied with the small glimpse of the kingdom of God which we allow ourselves when God wants us to experience much more of the fullness of His kingdom (remaining well aware that there is still more fullness to come when He brings about the new heaven and the new earth down the road).

So it is with this tension in mind that I am beginning to think seriously about what it might look like for myself, my family, and my friends to seek the greater presence of the Kingdom in our lives. And at least at this point, the idea I am toying with is something I am calling “missional community” (apologies to others who may have elaborated on this idea before or in better/different ways).

In my vision of “missional community,” a number of families and a number of singles would move into a neighborhood together with several goals in mind:

  • Living a missional lifestyle to befriend, love, and care for a specific group of people.
  • Pursuing community on a daily basis with others both inside and outside of the community.
  • Living common spiritual practices together to increase the depth of the members’ faith.
  • Giving sacrificially to ensure that other community members can remain in community regardless of difficult economic circumstances and that the needy outside of the community can be blessed.

I’m not quite sure that I would go as far as to call this type of community a “missional order” or a “New Monastic” one, but certainly it draws from that movement.

I’m sure I will have more to say on this topic over time, but this is just a beginning of the thought process for me. In the end, whether it comes into being is mostly a factor of whether it is God or myself who has set these thoughts in motion.