Austin City Life has been planted with the conviction that in order for our community to “be the church to the church and the church to the world” we must live in the tension of mission and community. As a very new church plant, we have felt this tension from the beginning. At times I could feel the need for more connectivity, prayer, and sharing. Other times I could sense the decline in missional passion and practice. Instead of creating two meetings, one for community and one for mission, I shared the tension I felt with the group but told them that I thought the best thing to do was to live in the tension of imperfect community and mission, not to resolve it. As a result, core team meetings eventually became a hybrid of community and mission (though there were several months of organic community before official core team meetings). Some nights we would connect relationally other nights we wouldn’t. Some nights we strategized mission for two hours with very little interpersonal connection. However, both forms of core team meetings afforded us the opportunity to develop and experience missional ecclesiology, to understand and experience what God has called us to as a church: Jesus-centered, missional community.
Now that our church has moved beyond core team meetings and into structured, organic growth we have launched our City Groups: local, urban missional communities that share life and truth and redemptively engage people and culture. City groups are geographically-based, inter-generational communities of Christians and non-Christians that gather together weekly to share food, discussion, and mission. Each CG develops a Social Strategic Partnership (SSP) with an area organization, i.e. Capitol Food Bank, Ronald McDonald House, in order to bring the whole gospel to the whole city.
City Groups face the same tension of community and mission as our core team did. It is up to the me and the City Group leaders to learn how to shepherd others through this tension. One way we deal with it is thru our current CG material. I have written an eight week study called The Story of Scripture and Our Place in It, which is intended to acquaint those old and new to the faith with the basic plotline of the Bible: Creation/Fall/Redemption/New Creation. The material is largely discussion-driven, tapping into the felt needs such as sense of brokenness (Fall), longings for justice (New Creation) and so on in order to show that God in the Word offers us a world and life that fulfills and surpasses what we all long for. So, the material is both missional and communal in theme. It’s like we are constantly reinforcing the mission-community tension. Some groups are more missional than others and others more communal than others, but we don’t expect perfection; we expect tension. However, this tension can be peaceful; if embraced from the position of our acceptance and salvation in the gospel of Christ. So, we keep coming back to Jesus…for forgiveness, direction, community, grace. It’s an imperfect model that is in desperate need of a perfect Savior.