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.

The Inverted Kingdom

Michael Spencer, talking about many examples of small, unglamorous ministries to the poor:

One day, they will be a big thing. On that day when Jesus comes to reveal his Kingdom, there won’t be any way to miss these ministries and the people who keep them going. He’ll make sure of that.

The one for whom there was no room in the inn, the one from forgotten Nazareth, the one with the unwed mother, the one whose infant skin was covered with straw and rags in a stable, the one who had no place to lay his head, the one who was the poor, the cold, the naked and the imprisoned. He will remember those ministries. I assure you.

You might consider dropping in on one of those ministries sometime. They do have one thing many big churches don’t have.

Or, to be more precise, they do have someone many big churches don’t have. And he’s not generated on a big screen or via special effects.

He’s the one I hope we’re all looking for. He’s not so hard to find, even if, in this world, he’s no big thing. Just think like Jesus, and you’ll find the way.

I can think of no better way to participate in the season of Advent than to reflect on the truth contained in these words and then act on them. Of course, Jesus said exactly as much when he stated “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” But sometimes it takes someone smacking me upside the head with a big stick of truth to really make it clear.

I need to make some changes in my life. I need to help my family make those changes as well. I need to help my church make those changes. This is not an issue of our eternal destination (although depending on one’s reading of Matthew 25, it might be). This is an issue of letting the love of Christ flow through me to a group of people he has a special concern for: the poor.

The incarnate Christ laid in a manger, helpless, homeless, and poor, in order to create a people who would live out the Jubilee lifestyle that God desired his people to live all along. But instead of being a Jubilee people, content with what we have and filled with compassion for the poor and the lost, we have become just another cog in the consumerist machine which has overtaken the world.

Unfortunately, too often I’ve chosen consumerism’s way. But it’s a dead end. I want Jesus’ way.

Help me, Lord!

God’s Broken Heart

I’m reading David Batstone’s Not For Sale about modern-day slavery. I’ve only made it through the first chapter, but am already convinced that this is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. I’m not going to give a full review of the book, but rather just wish to share a few thoughts which have come from reading this chapter.

Chapter 1 is about sexual slavery in Southeast Asia. Batstone weaves the stories of individuals who are giving their lives to free women from slavery with the stories of the women themselves. In this case, he tells the story of a Cambodian girl, Srey Neang, who was sold into slavery as a child by her own family and by age fourteen had been delivered into sexual slavery. Her story consists of one despairing twist of fate after another, as her life moves from one nightmare to the next. It reminded me of what the prophet Amos prophesied about the Day of the Lord:

It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.

This girl was ultimately rescued, but how many others will never escape this life of pain and misery?

The Lord broke my heart tonight as I was praying after completing the chapter. There are so many millions of people for whom life is like the Day of the Lord described by Amos. There is no escape from their suffering – and anything that looks like an escape is only a gateway to more suffering. They live in extreme poverty. They live in slavery. They suffer oppression.

And God’s heart is broken for them.

God’s heart burns with white hot love for each of these little ones. His anger burns white hot at the oppression and injustice they face. And he longs to see his people be so moved by their plight that they cannot but act against it.

I am but one person, and my family numbers only a few. It is clear that we cannot save the entire world from its suffering. But we can help save a few. And we can pray against the strongholds which bind them in misery. And we can share this vision with anyone who will listen so that they too can have their hearts broken for the poorest of the poor. And we must. For this is where God’s river is flowing.