Saturday, January 11, 2014

Soma School Notes 5 | What is a Missional Community (i.e. City Group) and How Can a Church Be a Network of Missional Communities?

Soma School Phoenix 2013 Notes 5 Missional Community Missionary Team

 

2013 Soma School Phoenix – What is a Missional Community (i.e. City Group) and how can a local Church be a network of missional communities? | Pastor Chris Gonzalez


This is the 5th post of a 6-part series reflecting on sessions taught by Jeff Vanderstelt from Soma TacomaChris Gonzalez and Mark Durben from Missio Dei CommunitiesBrent Thomas from Church of the Cross, and Michael Goheen from the Newbigin House and the Surge Network at Soma School Phoenix in 2013. Here are the links to the previous posts:


If you want to hear more details about what I thought, feel free to drop me a line.


Chris Gonzalez | Monday, November 11
John 13 and 17 - What is a Missional Community and How Can a Church Be a Network of Missional Communities?


What is a Missional Community (i.e. City Group)?

Based on what you've already read from previous Soma School Notes, you have probably captured that a missional community (i.e. City Group) is defined in the same way Jesus' Church is: 

  • A Family who lives out the mission of God together
  • Of Missionaries who declare the Gospel to others, both to those who are believing and to those who are skeptical or seeking
  • And Servant in a specific area and to a particular people group by demonstrating the Gospel in tangible forms (i.e. hospitality, compassion, gifts, time, care)
  • Learners who are being disciples of Jesus that make disciples of Jesus


As Jesus indicates in John 13 and John 17, the community of God is sent for a purpose. We are called and sent to show a hurting, broken, and dying world that Jesus is who He says He is and did what He said he did. The life of a missional community is bound up in participating in God's mission in the world and making disciples of Jesus. We want to reveal where God's resurrection power His work of new creation is breaking in. 

Todd Engstrom, executive pastor of campuses and communities at The Austin Stone Community Church, is also helpful in defining that:

A missional community (i.e. City Group) is a community of Christ followers on mission with God in obedience to the Holy Spirit that (1) demonstrates tangibly and (2) declares creatively the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a specific group of people. 
(1) Demonstrate the Gospel tangibly. Just as Jesus came demonstrating the Kingdom through selfless acts of service, we actively look for opportunities to meet the felt and real needs of our neighbors. We seek to become a blessing to our neighbors, and demonstrate the reality of God’s new Kingdom. When you look at Jesus, however, He did not simply stop at healing and meeting needs. He consistently spoke a true message of great hope to those whom He encountered.
(2) Declare the Gospel creatively. Look at the story of the woman at the well: Jesus met her where she was, but through her expressed need, He spoke of the true needs of her heart. So as missional communities patterned after Jesus’ life, we need to wrestle with and understand how to speak the Good News of Jesus’ abundant life, His sacrificial death, and His resurrection in power as Good News to our neighbors.
A missional community is a City Group of people who choose a common set of neighbors and are intentionally living lives among them together.
Just as the Father sent the Son to a specific time, place, and people, so the Spirit does with the church, sending us to specific groups of neighbors, co-workers, and friends. A missional community is seeking to wrap their lives up with the pocket of people that God has placed them in. For us, a “neighbor” is anyone you cannot avoid or anyone who has needs that you have the resources to meet. Your neighbor may be those who live next-door, those you work with, those you play with, or those with whom you share some sort of affinity. Your neighbor may also be someone you have little in common with but whom God has placed squarely in your path or specifically called or commanded you to care for.
A missional community listens to and understands the stories of their neighbors in order to be able to tell the gospel story in ways that are good news to those specific people.
+ Todd Engstrom

Soma Missional Community Family Meal DNA Third Place Gospel Word Community Mission Illustration


Mike Breen, former vicar and founder of 3DM Ministries, also provides thoughtful details:

Mission, like discipleship, is balanced through an Up (Father), In (Son), and Out (Spirit) focus.

One of the things we talk about a lot in regards to missional communities (MCs or City Groups) is that they need to be balanced in the way that Jesus’ life was balanced. He had three definitive dimensions to His life, and so with MCs, we should have the same dimensions.
UP: time spent focusing on God with others
IN: time spent focusing on others in the City Group 
OUT: time spent focusing on those who don’t know Jesus yet
If this is done well in the context of a spiritual extended family on mission together (groups of 10-30 people), the community, mission, and discipleship that occurs through God’s Spirit is stunning. If God has given you the vision of being His church as His extended family on mission together so that you will love Him and pursue others as if they are the lost children of God, then begin by praying through two questions:
1) Who do we want to be Good News people to?
2) To people in that community, what is good news?
Far too often we rely on clever ideas or what appear to be easy solutions. We think we’re smart enough, organized enough, or hard enough workers to do mission successfully, so we ask God to bless whatever we’ve already put our minds to. It may sound cliche, but what we really need to do is hear from the Lord and let His Spirit show us the way. He has shaped us in particular ways and He has been at work, preparing the harvest fields. So we need to ask, 'God, who are You sending me to where You are already at work and what is my entrance into that community?'
Consider Acts 16:6-10. It seems obvious that Paul had a plan going into Mysia, but he was sensitive enough to the Spirit to know when his good idea needed to end and the Spirit had a better perspective on things. As we look to launch a missional community, we have to honestly believe that apart from the Spirit, we can do nothing. Our ideas, intellect, plans and hopes are folly if done outside of the Spirit’s leading. What I’ve seen in America’s uber-entrepreneurial culture is that this can be a hard lesson to learn and usually it’s the failure of a MC that teaches that lesson. So if I could advise anything from the beginning, it would be to really seek out God’s Spirit for your specific MC and allow Him to shape where you’re being sent and the vision that will incarnate itself.
+ Mike Breen
3DM Up In Out Discipling Culture Soma Missional Community

 

 

How Can a Church Be a Network of Missional Communities?


After reading Engstrom's and Breen's comments, you may be wondering how a church comes together to be a network of missional communities. Here is a comparison using general overarching terms in relation to other church frameworks. God has and will work faithfully in each of these frameworks, and there are nuances to each. But in working through stereotypes, this is what will or won't happen depending on if we are living out of our identity as a family of missionary servants.

  • Sabbath event-focused + small groups (Up + Out - In)
In this church framework, the Sabbath service of worship is the main focus of the week. Small groups are offered to Christians who are interested in building community with other Christians. People are asked to volunteer for outreach programs so that they can become more committed to the church's activities that are announced at the Sabbath service. Going deeper is often only focused on specific topical Bible studies for those who want to, rather than a holistic view of discipleship that includes the head, heart, and hands with people who do not know Jesus. Worship is mostly talked about as what one does in a religious service involving singing and prayer, and can be mostly based on individual's experience rather than service to the whole in all of life. This church framework often involves a prominent lead pastor casting the vision with elder boards and deacons serving under the pastor.
  • House churches + worldview (Up + In - Out)
In this church framework, the small community is a church unto itself. The church was formed often because the people are close-knit and have very similar views on life, Scripture, morality, doctrine, etc. The house church may be connected to other house churches, but often lacks authority and accountability to the church-at-large historically and geographically, and can end up existing for only those involved. This church framework can involve leadership-by-committee with an ebb-and-flow to who casts the vision and whose voice is the strongest, harshest, or most accepted.
  • Missional communities = united network of neighborhood churches with similar theology, vision, and DNA (i.e. discipleship, nurture, accountability) (Up + In + Out)
In this church framework, the missional communities are connected to each other through a group of pastors/elders and deacons who hold the missional communities to a unified Biblical theology and an overall vision for how the church is going to declare and display the Gospel in the city or town. Each missional community then has leaders and apprentice(s) that lead the vision for their committed community to the specific people group they are being sent to. They go to where these people are (ex. "Third Place") instead of expecting people to come to them. They live life together and are inclusive in their times together (ex. Family Meal). And individual believers are encouraged to take ownership of their growth in becoming like Jesus (i.e. "going deeper") by connecting regularly with 2-3 others for closer discipleship, nurturing, and accountability (ex. DNA groups). Worship is seen as acts of service in all of life where God is given glory, whether it be working, playing, singing, or praying. The Sabbath service is one aspect of worship that is a family gathering with proclamation of the Gospel, the sacraments, and celebration of what the missional communities have been doing throughout the week.

Jonathan Dodson and City Life Church in Austin provide a great overview as a "City Renewing Church" of who we hope to see Emmaus City Church become in Worcester. We also want to renew our city through neighborhood churches of city groups much like they show in this video: City Life Church (4:09 minutes)

Why do we feel God wants Emmaus City to live out this vision? First, again, because it's who we are and what we have been called to in our obedience to Jesus. Also, the Western church in its recent event orientation has often lost its identity of being given away for the sake of others instead of existing for itself. Statistics reveal that recently converted Christians, within 5 years, have 0 meaningful relationships with people who are not following Jesus. 

Because of who God is, every Christian's identity is a missionary servant. But it's a question of whether s/he is a faithful missionary servant to his or her neighbors. Every church is a missional community in a town or city. But it's a question of whether they are a faithful missional community to the people they are sent to reach and reconcile to God and others by the ministry of the gospel.

As the church, we should be learning the culture we live in, building relationships, and then organizing community around them. Unfortunately, many churches do the reverse by organizing communities of religious people first, which instead hinders building relationships outside the church and keeps them from learning their culture. This produces a lack of empathy and wisdom to know how to contextualize the gospel to the people we are trying to reach.

Emmaus City continues to ask if we are truly living out of our identity as a family of missionary servants to those we have been called to reach. We don't want our followers of Jesus to feel guilt in not doing mission; we want to be compelled by the Gospel of Jesus to be His people who are always being sent with His love by the power of His Spirit.

 

How Do You Prepare to Become a Missional Community (i.e. City Group)?


If you listen to people long enough, you'll discover where the shame, guilt, and brokenness of sin around them and in them is effecting them. Go and listen to what the people in your neighborhood/city think needs to be restored. 


  • Ask people, "What are the 5 things you love about your neighborhood/city?" and "What are the 5 things you hate about your neighborhood/city?" 
  • Pray for how to be considerate of your context before you try to engage your context.
  • Pray that the Spirit will lead you to where He is working.
  • Pray that you will be in the house of the people in your neighborhood or the people you are being called to reach in the next year. Hugh Halter says, "You define people as friends when they invite you into their house."
  • Pray that God will bring laborers to join you. 
  • Pray that your missional community will display the reign and rule of God.
  • Ask "What would our neighborhood or people group look like if Jesus' kingdom came in and impacted their lives?"

The mission is not where you're going or when you're meeting it's radically reorienting your lives around your mission to people and making disciples as you go. And the mission should be (1) clear enough, (2) small enough, and (3) compact enough for others to know how to join you.

 

A Missional Community Strives to be Faithful in Gospel Word, Gospel Community, and Gospel Mission


Just as a disciple is active in her or his (1) Up (with the Father), (2) In (with the Son), and Out (with the Spirit) relationship, a missional community is faithful in the same way in relation to Jesus' prayer in John 17.

  • Gospel Word: "Oneness" with God and each other ("Up")
  • Gospel Community: "Togetherness" with God and each other ("In")
  • Gospel Mission: "Sentness" with God and each other ("Out")

Praying for and pursuing this together will help us become "family on our Father's side." Missional community leaders want to encourage people to stoke the fire of the Spirit with prayer. Another key will be to resist the desire to squash or abandon the vision when it gets hard. Let the process play itself out. As you go, look for those who also have a strong sense of the calling of the missional community. Watch to see if they're teachable and if they're humbly ready to listen and be equipped.

Remember, you're aiming for restoration. Remind individuals, families, children, parents that, "We're loving people because their lives are not the way they're supposed to be. We want to see God bring redemption, reconciliation, and restoration to their homes, our neighborhoods, and our city."

Next post: Soma School Notes 6 | What are the 4 Gs? How Do They Help Us in Grow in Our Faith in Jesus and How We Lead Others with Jesus? 

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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