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.

Off the Deep End?

Just re-took the theological worldview quiz. Looks like I’ve definitely gone off the deep end into emergentville this time:

What’s your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Emergent/Postmodern

You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don’t think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern

86%

Neo orthodox

75%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

75%

Roman Catholic

64%

Modern Liberal

50%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

50%

Classical Liberal

43%

Reformed Evangelical

32%

Fundamentalist

14%

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!

Playing Church

When I was in college, I joined with a bunch of naive, new and newly-energized Christians in my first experiment with applying the teachings of Jesus in a community setting. And while we made a ton of mistakes and went quite off the deep end in many ways, I do believe that we managed to take the priorities of Jesus and the early church and contextualize them for our college experience.

We spent time together.

We broke bread together.

We shared our possessions with one another.

We became good friends to those who had not yet joined our community.

We gave to the poor of both our time and our money (what little we had).

But, unfortunately, then I graduated and was forced away from this unique community into the “real world.” After two failed attempts at trying the same thing in this new environment, I gave up. And began “playing church.”

Sure, I go to church every week. I meet with a small group as well. And to be honest, after a period of struggle with my faith, I find myself closer to Jesus now than at any time since that college period – and perhaps even including it.

But my life doesn’t look a whole lot like the lives of our church fathers (and mothers). And in fact, in many ways, it looks a whole lot more like the “American dream” than the Kingdom of God.

This is a problem.

Now, I don’t believe this is a problem the way I would have when I was in college. My college self probably would have looked at my present self and been quite convinced I was going straight to hell. I believe God has taught me that he’s quite a bit more gracious than that.

But instead, I am convinced that it is a problem for myself personally and the church in general in that it is stunting our growth and development. God wants to give us the entirety of his kingdom, and yet we settle for the American dream where we can receive but small portions of that kingdom.

So given that I want more of the kingdom of God in my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters in the faith as well as my friends and neighbors who may be at another place in their journey, how can I get past settling for “playing church” in order to really live out a missional gospel which transforms the status quo?

The barriers are tremendous. I live in a city where a one hour commute is considered reasonable. I live in a relatively suburban area, where each family keeps to themselves in their own walled-off fortress. And I have two young kids, with a third on the way, which obviously places a strain on my time and resources.

It’s pretty easy, given these constraints, to just do the church thing and live a normal life.

But could there be more for us? Could we actually give up our “right” to choose the neighborhood in which we live, and the schools to which we will send our children, in order to live closer to a real Christian community? Could we open up our schedules and plan our activities in such a way as to maximize time spent with our community? Could we choose to work closer to home so that we can be closer to our community and have a lighter environmental footprint? Could we make the tough choices to simplify our lives and share our resources in order to have more to give to the world’s needy?

Each of these choices is possible, but hard. The question is, do I really believe that the payoff is worth the cost?

Cacophony

Every once in a while, God is able to break through the noise of our lives and teach us something very significant. I didn’t realize it at the time, but last weekend God did just that for me.

We had our church retreat last weekend, focusing on rest, and silence, and contemplation. Unfortunately, I have two small children, so I didn’t get much of any of those three things over the two days we were there. Except for about twenty minutes on Saturday.

The kids were in their class, and I managed to escape for a brief time to find God. And there I sat, staring at a tree. And seeing glimmers of the kingdom of God.

I saw its glimmers in the sun shining through the leaves. I saw the barest hint of it as the wind rustled against it, causing the shadows on the ground to change in endless ways. And I sensed it in the peace that settled upon me, as I sat there in silence, staring, in the presence of God.

Yet all around me there was a cacophony of lives rushing to and fro. Mothers, fathers, and children. Students (for we were at a college that weekend). Fellow retreat-goers who had not found a space of quiet into which they could immerse themselves.

We cannot see God in the midst of the chaos that is our lives. Especially in post-millenial America, we rush to and fro, contributing to a cacophony which drowns out the voice of God, still and small that it is. We think that by accomplishing our tasks we will bring ourselves rest and satisfaction, and yet we never find that rest.

I got a new car this week, a Prius, in order to help the environment, save some money on gas, and give us a sedan that we desperately needed with two kids here and a third on the way. One of the unique features of the car is the energy display which shows you your gas mileage as you drive. And I found that the positive feedback of higher numbers changed my driving habits. Rather than rushing from stoplight to stoplight, I began to smoothly accelerate and coast as much as I could to a stop. I left people the proper amount of space on the freeway, rather than bunching up a bit too close behind them, getting ready to lane change around at a moment’s notice.

And my driving became more peaceful. In the midst of this change, I was brought back to that tree. Everyone was rushing around, trying to get there a few fractions of a second faster. Not letting people merge. Tailgating in order to force others over so they can shave fractions off their commute time. And I came to a realization. Whether we rush to and fro or give ourselves space and a couple minutes longer of a commute, we all have the same amount of time on this planet. And in the end, the fact that we were able to accomplish one or two additional things in our lives doesn’t mean all that much.

But what if we could see God by giving ourselves the space to be with him in silence? What if instead of passing by the trees which daily sway in the breeze, we could see the kingdom of God shimmering in their leaves?

That is a gift far greater than any accomplishment we can achieve in this lifetime by contributing to the world’s cacophony!