I love to study movements and I have run across one that really intrigues me. It is a vision that has the goal of sending believers into neighborhoods to live, breath and eventually reach, with the gospel of Jesus Christ, their unconnected neighbors. You might think this is revolutionary if you have not been aware of a movement started nearly seven years ago. As I was when I attended a convention on Church planting, Exponential. This idea was at first soundly rejected, before becoming the featured topic two years later. The movement is a shift from Sunday morning worship being the gathering event to a celebration of what God is doing in the life of the believer and a time to receive the gifts of salvation.
It is a good idea before we go any deeper to define missional community. There are many definitions out there because missional communities take on a life and direction of their own. These communities are diverse and shaped by the direction and passion of their leaders. All that being said, here is a definition that resonates with my heart.
“A missional community is a way to organize the church to gather and send groups of people on a common mission (i.e. to engage artists in the city, renew your neighborhood, or help the homeless downtown). Simply put missional communities are a group of people who are learning to follow Jesus together in a way that renews their city, town, village, hamlet, or other space.” -from “Called Together” by Jonathan Dobson & Brad Watson
I can hear some of my pastor friends yelling at their computers now as they read this quote. That is what the church is already doing! My pushback is yes, some churches do that quite effectively, many do not. We are exceptional and well equipped at gathering people together. Stop, and reflect with me. Is it just us? How effective are we at sending? Every Monday morning when I considered quitting the ministry, it was based on the fact we have a good gathering event. Although since we are being honest and transparent here, those gatherings got less and smaller each year. What caused me to want to quit every Monday were the internal burning questions: “Why I am doing this? What difference am I actually making for the kingdom? Are we changing hearts or just going through the motions? Will anyone leave this gathering today and make a difference in the world?” Those were my internal struggles and yes, I know this wasn’t my doing, it is all the work of the Holy Spirit, but how was I, the one called to shepherd and equip this flock doing with the sending part?
The words of Luke 4 haunted me, Luke 4:18-19
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (CEB)
How do we send our missionary people out to reach those people Jesus connected with, daily? Being an urban pastor, those people were outside the walls of my gathering. We literally had to step over them to get to our fancy new cars to go home. As a sent people we are called to reach out to the poor, to clothe the naked, to speak good news to the marginalized, and set the oppressed free. Missional communities are just one method to send the gathered out on mission. I will spend the next several weeks showing you how to develop leaders for this movement and how to use this as a tool to model what the early church did in a pre-Christian world.
Other posts on missional communities: