In order to lead the development and multiplication of healthy missional communities, it is critical to understand what a healthy missional community is and how to cultivate missional communities. Good friend and former church planting “partner”—during college, in a minority neighborhood, living in a sub-health code trailer, in Denton, Tx, without a clue about what church planting was—Michael Stewart, has done a five part post on MCs that will helps us answer these questions.
Leading our church into somewhat uncharted waters, I am constantly on the look out for helpful influences in cultivating missional communities, what we call City Groups. City Groups are local, urban missional communities of disciples who redemptively engage people and culture. These groups are intended to foster the church being the church to one another and to the city and world. They meet in homes three weeks in a row and on mission in their communities every fourth week. Each CG has been charged with the task of finding a strategic social partnership, through which they can be a blessing to the social needs of Austin, while also learn how to love the city better. City Groups are the lifeblood of Austin City Life.
The influences I have found profitable are few and far between. So many models and methods of the church are not based on missional ecclesiology. However, the resources that have shaped my thinking and our practice have been good. Churches like Soma, Providence, and Kaleo. Books like The Missional Church, The Forgotten Ways, Exiles, Missional Leader, Total Church have been a help. But nothing beats personal reflection and prayer as we do our best to express the call of the church in the world.
I am currently working on new curriculum for our City Groups that covers the biblical storyline, while also discovering the place of the 21st century North American in that larger Story. It’s called The Story of Scripture and Our Place in It. Tim Chester’s The World We All Want has been some help as I reflect on how to cultivate gospel thinking and living at the intersection of the biblical and personal stories. The challenge is to always keep the missional nature of the church in view as I write the material. It is so easy to fall back into “Bible Study” mode. Yet, as Alan Roxburgh has pointed out, “these ministries of leadership are given to enable the church to carry out its fundamentally missiological purpose in the world: to announce and demonstrate the new creation in Jesus Christ” (Missional Church, 185). Alan also points out that “leaders will need to become like novices, learning to recover practices that have become alien to current church experience…it requires waiting and listening to the Spirit’s directions…in a strange land” (199).
My hope and prayer is that we are listening to the Spirit’s directions in Austin. That direction has led us to build our church on City Groups, not Sunday services. These City Groups are based on four principles and four practices (that will, no doubt, be revised in the months and years to come), which shape our identity and practice of being a missional church. I look forward to continuing to learn from and with Austin City Life and the larger missional Church.
Deb Hirsch, wife of missiologist Alan Hirsch, recently gave a talk on Seven Obstacles to Engaging in Mission at an Organic Church conference.
My earlier critique of Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways, was incomplete and imbalanced. Though there is too much self-coined jargon to wade through, making it a frustrating read, after the first half of the book there are some real gems. So while my earlier praise and critique stand, Hirsch is due more praise, especially from a church planter’s perspective.
The chapter on “Organic Systems” is very helpful. He nicely sets traditional churches in contrast to organic churches:
Planting a new church, or remissionalizing an existing one, in this approach isn’t primarily about buildings, worship services, size of congregations, and pastoral care, but rather about gearing the whole community around natural discipling friendships, worship as lifestyle, and mission in the context of everyday life. (p. 185)
Hirsch then proceeds to lay a theological foundation for why Organic, which is primarily rooted in allusions to the biblical doctrine of creation, especially as it pertains to the church. Noting organic metaphors such as living temples, vines, bodies, seeds, trees, etc. he argues that this imagery is not haphazard but latent with are intrinsically related to the essence of the church (180). Next, he rightly tethers this creation imagery to the triune Creator noting that “an organic image of church and mission is theologically richer by far than any mechanistic and institutional conceptions of church we might devise” (181).
After laying this foundation for Organic church, Hirsch develops insights based on his research and reflection on the nature and function of organic systems. I will briefly list them here: 1) Innate intelligence: trust the organic nature of the church 2) Life is interconnected: follow this impulse in community 3) Information brings change: free and guided information flow is vital to growth. 4) Adaptive change: constantly adapt and react to your environment.
In turn, he advocates building relational networks that have “viruslike growth.” More to come…