I take it as a given that a missional church sees and understands the new strange contexts of post Christendom as a mission field. Therefore, when our gathering gets too big for true relational community – we do not try to increase the size of our building or find ways to accommodate more people. We recognize that relationships are essential to the gospel and that when we increase the size of gatherings/buildings, organizational infrastructure to accommodate more and more people, we LOSE THE INHERENT ABILITY TO ORGANICALLY BE INVOLVED IN PEOPLE’S LIVES WHO ARE OUTSIDE THE GOSPEL. We recognize then that when we get over a certain size, all we end up doing is making the goods and services of being a Christian more accessible and convenient for already existing Christians. We have no other option then, when we get too big, to ask fifteen or twenty people to leave and go be missionaries to dechurched places in post Christendom. This used to be called church planting. We often now call it “seeding missional communities.”
This “seeding missional communities” however will look stunningly different than the church planting ways of the past so inherently dependent upon the cultural assumptions of Christendom. The much-derided “Franchise” approach has little application here in these contexts. We cannot depend on an already interested “market.” We cannot enter a place expecting them to “come to us” on our terms. We cannot even expect the way we talk about God, sin and Jesus to make sense apart from a way of life (and a displayed Story) from which such words take on flesh. So we like to think in terms of “sending” groups of people as “missional orders” into a community – bands of people who can take time, and sink in and learn that culture and be among the place in which God has called them to minister Christ. When we discern places for such a missionary endeavor, we ask are these places “under-churched,” “affordable for us as we seek to live missionally and beneath our means.” Can we get a calling for this place even though we have not yet “landed.” Are there signs God is calling us to this place?
5 Issues to Be Discerned in Seeding a New Community
Assuming we have discerned the place God is calling us to, the following 5 issues should be discerned as each group forms. Each one of these issues takes discernment as well as much prayer and seeking God for guidance. I take it for granted that each church planter is seeking God and listening to the gifts in community locally with people who already know them (Although JR has reminded me that I should not assume – instead we need to be intentional about that – Amen JR).
1.) DISCERN THE 3 (4 or 5) LEADERS. We (our church body) must discern the team of leaders who will be responsible for leading the theological integrity of this new community. This will be a team of leaders (as opposed to single superstar entrepreneur) who are on the same page philosophically, who will be bi-vocational, who will compliment one another in their giftings (APEPT), who have proven themselves in character and theological integrity so as to lead a community. Such a multiple bi-vocational leadership pushes the church outward instead of inward. Once assembled they will model THE 3 (4-5), THE 12, THE 120 seeking to build a strong shepherd/elder leadership who then they each shepherd 3-5 people. Together we learn the ways of “revolutionary subordination” – where God inhabits every conflict for the growth and furtherance of this community into the center of what He is doing in the community.
2.) They must then LAND (as opposed to a “Launch”). They will have to get jobs, places to live close enough together, start a small rhythm of life, a worship gathering, a communal meal, teach the children. Luke 10:17 tells us to “go eat there” – have a regular meeting with Jesus to be sent by Him (verse 1) from and return to (verse 17) to be grounded in Incarnate Christ. We enter not from power, but from humility …the goal is to become imbedded in sustainable and engaging ways of life with our surroundings.
3.) EXEGETE THE COMMUNITY (as opposed to doing a market survey) Again following Luke 10, we look for places to bless which usually means looking for the poor. We look for persons of peace (you will need relationships). We seek out the poor where God is working among the “poor in spirit” disenfranchised from the structures of power. Here we can find God at work and the harvest. Here we can learn about the Kingdom. We enter a community not to market, not from power, but meekly to discern where the hurting are.
4. TEACH MISSIONAL RHYTHMS. (As opposed to attractional events) We learn to inhabit and live among the places God has put us. We learn how to listen, pay attention, and take notice of those in our path as places where God is already working. We set places where we regularly visit same time same place every week. We seek out a time every month/week to be present among the poor (of all kinds). ALL WITHIN THE DAILY RHYTHMS OF LIFE (Luke 10.3 says “on your way,” 10.7 “remain eating and drinking”). We work not to build an evangelistic organization to individuals, but a missional way of life where God is at work. Luke 10:2 – the harvest is plenty; all we need is laborers out there.
5. PREPARE FOR A SUSTAINABLE WAY OF LIFE OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. (as opposed to projected growth and financial sustainability after three years). EXPECT GROWTH TO BE SLOW, BUT OF MIRACULOUS VARIETY. YOU MAY START WITH 10-20 PEOPLE, EXPECT NO SIGNIFICANT NUMBERS FOR THE FIRST FIVE YEARS. IT TAKES FIVE YEARS TO BUILD A MISSIOANL PRESENCE. BY THE FIFTH TO EIGHT YEAR, GROWTH WILL HAPPEN.
I’m here in Edmonton writing this and have found friends of like mind who have wonderful materials. I recommend the Karen Wilk’s materials here in Edmonton entitled Living Dangerously. Wonderfully written by Karen, you can find out more about them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out the great materials at Roxburgh Missional Network – particularly the MBIN (moving back into the neighborhood) workbook (find out more at www.roxburghmissionalnet.com). Blessings to Howard Lawrence and Greg Brandenbarg and their work in the neighbohoods of Edmonton. They are part of Forge.ca. Thanks to Hioward, Greg and Karen – I was blessed to have met you this week!