Last night was a big night for Grace Chapel, the local church I serve as a pastor. I came to Grace Chapel, with my family, to play a role in breathing fresh life into the church’s disciple-making. Last night, six months in, we planted a small seed of what we hope to see, by God’s sovereign grace, in the decades to come.
I’m convinced that the primary way we will see change in our local church and in the community is by living in missional community. You may or may not be familiar with this term, so let me explain. A missional community is a group of people who live as a missionary family united by the gospel, and are committed to disciplining each other and those who do not yet know Jesus.
Of course, this all starts with God. God, as Trinity, is a missional community. The Father has sent the Son; the Father and Son have sent the Spirit to God’s people; the Spirit now sends God’s people to be his ambassadors. God created us in his image, and as redeemed people who are being renewed in the image of God, we must therefore reflect God as a missional community.
If you think about God this way, you will conclude that community is not something we do because it’s good for us or others or because we like it or because it “works.” Community is something we are (i.e. family) because God is a community (as a Trinity). You also have to conclude that mission is not something we do because we feel bad for the world or because we want to feel good about helping others. Mission is something we are (i.e. missionaries) because God is the Missionary par excellence who came to redeem a people for himself.
So there we were, last night, five couples and eight children under age seven (with one on the way!) gathering for the first time and sharing simple meal together. We didn’t have an agenda or any content to discuss. We just wanted to get to know each other and enjoy our company. It was a blast—one of our best nights since moving to the area.
During the meal, I took a few minutes to cast a basic vision for this new community. If my memory doesn’t fail me, here’s a paraphrase (with some additions for clarity) of what I said:
You didn’t know this before tonight, but you are joining a “pilot group” for what we want to see in the future of discipleship at Grace Chapel. I believe the most faithful way we can be what God calls us to be is by living together as a missional community. To be a “missional community” means we are a community on mission. We want to disciple each other—even I as a pastor needs to be discipled. You will disciple me and I will disciple you. We are a community. But we also want to be missionaries who go out to those around us who don’t yet know Jesus and bring them in, listen to their concerns and questions, and love them even if they don’t believe yet. We want to be missionaries who live in community, whether we live seven miles from each other or just down the block. Think of the best mission trip you were on or heard about. People from all walks of life who would otherwise probably never be friends became a community. Why? The fact that the team shared a mission drew people closer together! And as Christians, we have a mission! And it can only be accomplished in community When we are united in a common mission, we will grow closer together and more dependent on each other.
So, this group is not going to be a Bible study focusing on gaining information—though we will study the Bible. It won’t be a prayer group—though we will pray. It won’t be a social action group—though we will bless our community. It won’t be a life group where we commiserate together about the struggles of life—though we will share our burdens and care for each other. It won’t be a fellowship group where we just hang out and enjoy dessert—though we will do that. This community will not be less than what you are probably used to in a typical church small group. We expect it to be more. We expect this to be life-on-life, holistic, missional, and transformational.
Since words mean certain things, we don’t want to call ourselves a Bible study or a small group or a life group. Those terms have a certain connotation and image and we want to wave the banner for missional community. So I want to encourage you to call this your “missional community” because that is the vision we’ll pursue. It’s what we want to be. The cool thing about this is that in twenty years, whether or not you are still at Grace Chapel, you will be able to look back and say that you were a part of something new, something exciting that God was doing and that he used you to spark change and renewal.
And one more thing, you’ll notice that it’s chaotic here. There are kids running around everywhere. Eating. Laughing. Crying. Crashing. It’s a mess. But you know what? Our lives (especially as young families!) our messy, aren’t they? I don’t want us to hide that when we gather. We’ll have a chance each month to gather separately as husbands and wives to have some “kid-free” time. But when we all get together, as a family sharing a meal, we’ll have to check our expectations and realize that we may not always get to go “as deep” as we want and things may not go as planned. But, over time, we’ll be discipling our kids as they see us pursue Jesus with others and we’ll be shaping each other as we seek to love and meet each other where we are in the middle of our messiness.
This vision of missional community transcends structures or practices. You can have all the how-tos in place, but if you overlook the whys, then what Jesus called us to do in making disciples will fall short. Why we want to live this way is, as I said, because of who God is and what he has done. It has to do with who and what we love, who and what we believe, and what we are called to be in this world. By God’s grace, this new community that gathered last night will catch this vision and be used by God to help change the discipleship culture in our church. By God’s grace, over the years, we’ll see many of our traditional small groups/Bible studies transition into missional communities and new missional communities birthed all over the Capital District.
Now give me a second of vulnerability here. I have no clue how this is all going to go. It’s exciting and mysterious. It’s liberating and terrifying. It’s fun and hard. I trust that God will do great things in and through us. I believe we will see fruit, and I believe we will, at times, fall flat on our faces. But that’s okay. Life is messy. Community is messy. Mission is messy. But the good news of the gospel is that God is not messy, yet he voluntarily entered into our mess in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus, as a missionary, redeemed those who were not a people to make us the people of God. This happens by grace. And all the mess in the world, and the mess in our missional community, cannot snuff out God’s grace.