Should we increase community at the expense of being missional?

I was asked a fascinating question in response to the last couple of blogs on how an inward focused group can become more missional.  Basically the question was: what do you do about mission if there is very little sense of community in your group?

Here's a part of my response to the person who asked:

"It sounds to me as though you have a church of existing believers. This is rarely an issue if you are working with new believers or not-yet-believers. If you have approached this in a Luke 10 type context working with a person of peace, you are working with an already existing community. In any situation, you need to ask the Lord about it and do what he tells you. As you seek him he will lead you into more community.

Alan Hirsch also describes something he calls "communitas." It't the sort of fellowship that develops in a stressful situation or around a common task. For example, my father was a prisoner of war during WW2. Until he died, his closest friends were those who had gone through that experience with him. Maybe you could create communitas over a common project together that also reached out into your community. I think of something like working with the homeless, or with kids in need.

1 2 3 Another principle that hinders church multiplication that your comments also touch on is that of sequentialism. David Garrison covers it in his book, Church Planting Movements. You will slow down a work of God if you insist on things being done in a certain order. First we plant a church, then we make sure our meetings run okay, then we develop community, then we reach out. You are much more likely to see growth if you do all of these things together, at the same time. 

Having said that, fellowship of the kind you describe rarely comes if all you do is have meetings together with nothing else going on. It is much more likely to come in the rough and tumble of life–sharing meals outside of meetings, going to the movies together, playing games, playing with the kids.

The Lord has a plan for your group and a strategy for your area.  As you seek him, he will show you what to do.

13 thoughts on “Should we increase community at the expense of being missional?”

  1. we’ve experienced great growth even though we are moving in stages. slow is not always bad. many of in our church simply are not ready to meet the demands of discipleship that outreach requires. all are not always done at the same time, yet they are done. the key is keeping the organic nature of growth. my frustration with so called “missional” churches is that even though they desire to be organic they still seem very program driven and outreach seems forced. many have no clue about how to flow and listen to the Holy Spirit.

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  2. Isn’t being missional and increasing community facets on the same gem; the natural outworking of our lives in Christ lived out in the moments?
    I have given up on making a point of being overtly missional in favor of following and listening to Him in the moments. He gave us all new and good hearts to partake of His nature.
    Letting that behavior come out of us as a consequence of that new nature and our relationships to one another in Him somehow seems more attractive and genuine than a methodical and programmatic approach.
    I also think that we all have a God-created desire for Him and to be a part of one another, notwithstanding the inhibitions from wounds that come our way out of the world, our life experiences and our adversary.
    I think most folks get when we have an agenda and they are a strategic objective, albeit noble ones. Most I find have a keen sense when they have been objectified when they have been seeking to have that deep desire fulfilled and to be a part of something greater than themselves.
    Perhaps our best ‘strategy’ is just to live; knowing Him, His heart, our new hearts and to see others out of that.

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  3. Good reminder Felicity. We’ve found over and over again that community can easily form even among a diverse crowd through being on mission together. Working together towards a common goal creates a very natural momentum towards affinity. Thanks for your words. BH

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  4. Hmm… ‘Facets on the same gem’ – I love that description of mission and community from Ken J’s comment.
    They are indeed facets on the same gem and the gem is love. I’ve written a response to Felicity’s excellent post, though it’s too long to place here in full. But you can click through to it easily if you wish. – http://tinyurl.com/3a6mz8s

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  5. Here is my question and I have been wrestling with this for several months. I see the necessity of learning to live in the Spirit and obeying his voice. I also see the need to be outwardly focused because that is the Lord’s heart also. But my struggle is this: I have several friends that want to operate organically and it seems that my brothers and sisters that are forerunners of Organic/Simple church do not believe that you can have Luke 10 impact with those who gather together and are already believers. Should I leave these believers behind and start directly in the harvest? Or should we learn to live together in community by the Spirit and let Jesus lead us out into the harvest. HELP! (LOL).

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  6. I don’t think the original question was about how to become more “missional”. It was about whether or not focusing on being “missional” was appropriate in a fellowship where the people were not really very close themselves. Like is it appropriate for pastor joe to spend a lot of his time at the homeless shelter if his wife and kids are in real need of his help at home. Somehow ministry to ones own family and fellowship seems to have become disqualified as “missional” over the years. The same thing I saw in the traditional church setting where ministry had this very narrow definition. Although what I see in the bible is that when a man does not care for his own family he is worse than an unbeliever. It seems to me that when those that don’t know Christ see Christians who are so busy being “missional” that they skip right over the members of their own fellowship they are not drawn to the Jesus who said we will known by our love for one another. Somehow this part of the mission (loving one another) seems less important to many Christians. Or it’s described as being inwardly focused. The type of inward focus that causes problems in a fellowship is not Christians laying down their lives and loving other Christians too much. It’s Christians being too selfish to care for anyone other than themselves and their own agendas that causes a stagnate community. I’ve yet to see a group of believers dishonoring God by loving each other too much.

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  7. The critique of “sequentialism” resonated with me. It’s like the traditional way of navigating where you have a map and a route and just go step by step. But that only works if the terrain stays put! These days I think navigating as a faith community is more like flying your moving spaceship through a field of randomly drifting asteroids. There is no “path,” and if you start trying to chart one the asteroids will have moved before you get it finished so it’s obsolete before it’s done. Navigating in this environment is, I think, done by quick orientation followed by incremental movement, then repeat. And orientation means knowing what’s right next to you as well as where you ultimately are trying to go.
    In practice, I think that calls for the listening to God and each other that others have mentioned. We Refresh our awareness of where we are and where we are going, then Respond. So the path forward isn’t laid out in advance as a sequence A to B to C to D etc. Rather, the sequence is replaced by a discipline: “(Refresh, Respond) Repeat.”
    I think, if we do that, then the original question about community vs. mission gets answered over and over as God leads.

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  8. I still have a problem though about getting excited about reaching out to strangers with people who I care about and have called and reached out to over and over with very little reciprocation, yet these are the ones stressing outreach and warning against focusing on loving one another too much because we’ll become ingrown and die. I’ve had experience in an outreach oriented church that seemed to burn everyone out and did not bring us together,nor did it seem like God was bringing a harvest into a fellowship without real deep loving fellowship. I do believe God has a divine order, 1 love God, 2 love your neighbor and one another starting with your family ,physical and spiritual, then 3 out of the overflow of the love you’ve recieved from God and one another in your spiritual family, you love those God is durecting you to who don’t yet know him , and if they do come to your fellowship, they experience the real love of Jesus between the brothers and sisters and are loved into the kingdom hopefully. Believe me I am not against acting as a sent people to declare and demonstrate the kingdom, but people out there will sense if you really care or they are just a project. These are things we need to pray about and work out and may involve some tough questions, but my desire is for the real, not the plastic or the programmed .

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  9. One way of looking at it is to examine how Jesus did it. He ‘just’ loved the Father for about three decades. But during that time he was also loving his family, his village friends, the customers that needed construction and carpentry work, and so on.
    During the last few years of his time on Earth he taught everyone around him to love Father and to love one another – even enemies. He poured out love and healing and grace on everyone the same, whether they were his followers or just people with unmet needs. He didn’t often ‘preach the gospel’ in terms we’d recognise. And he didn’t heal in order to win followers.
    He answered questions, and he taught and explained to those who wanted to listen. His questions and answers were often challenging, sometimes obscure. He wanted people to SEARCH for the truth.
    What can we learn from his example? Any thoughts on this? Anyone?

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  10. “Should we increase community at the expense of being missional?” (the original question that is the title) sounds different to me than it appears to some earlier respondents. I would hear it like the 72 in Luke 10 telling Jesus, “Lord, we really need to improve our fellowship before we go out to those villages you are about to visit!” Are we listening to the Spirit when we respond in this way?
    I concur with the dislike for “plastic programs,” that several have mentioned. But Jesus does involve those pairs in a strategic search for Persons of Peace–people who are open to the advance of the message of the kingdom. What if we heightened our awareness that God wants us to recognize such people and sow the seed (spiritual DNA) into those family/friendship units as ways to prepare for Jesus’ coming to them? Why do we assume this is about bringing these people back into our existing groups?

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  11. This is a great discussion everyone. Thank you for all those who are participating. It is hugely relevant to the simple/organic/house church movement.
    Isn’t it a question of both/and rather than either/or–two facets of the same gem, as has been so well described here. The Lord wants us to be healthy families, but he also loves the world so much that he wants us to incarnate Jesus everywhere we go.

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