What do your missional communities do when they aren’t on mission together? What do they discuss? How do you reinforce your values? How do you promote their discipleship alongside mission?
Story of Scripture with Soft Apologetic
When we started our MCs, I wanted our people to become familiar with the big story of Scripture, engage non-Christians, and promote practical discussion, not theological debates or Bible studies. Inspired by The World We All Want, I wrote an 8 week discussion-driven material that begins with New Creation and ends with Mission. I chose to focus on different texts, simplify the approach, and provide a leaders supplement.
The first session starts with a question posed by Chester & Timmis: “If you ruled the world how would it look?” Starting each session with a soft apologetic engaged people across the spectrum of faith, while promoting an understanding of the whole story of Scripture. It keeps the unbeliever in mind while challenging the believer.
Once this foundation was laid, we began discussing sermons. Again, our approach was to keep it simple, discussion driven, gospel-centered, and missionally focused. We sensed a need to gather our church on the same theological and visionary page, to promote true gospel-centered living. So, each City Group leader gets five questions each week that move from a soft opener to the problem of application, to the solution of the gospel. All this after a meal together and lots of talking, laughing and so on.
This has been very successful. Our City Groups are starting to pastor one another by speaking the truth in love. We are experiencing some substantial gospel change, but it takes a while for people to a) Trust one Another b) Confess and Repent c) Counsel one Another d) Understand How the Gospel Applies not just saves.
What have you found helpful in promoting gospel-centeredness, community, discipleship within your missional communities?
New Pilot City Group
We are considering starting a pilot City Group that runs 6-8 weeks for non-Christians to get exposed to Gospel, Community, and Mission. Kind of like a short-term Alpha Course that is missional and apologetic. Anyone else done anything like this?
Some people seem to think that house churches or missional communities are the purest expression of the church. As a result, they downplay weekend gatherings that require a lot of energy or attention. The logic goes something like: you can’t be the church for just two hours a Sunday.
Are Small Gatherings Purer that Big Gatherings?
I’ve used this very logic; there’s a lot of truth to it. But surely it is possible to cultivate gospel-centered community in larger gatherings. I think it depends on how the Sunday gathering is structured, what forms the primary focus, and how we interact with one another. I, for one, don’t think that missional communities are the purer expression of the church. We see both private and public, small and large gatherings of the church in Scripture, from house churches to city churches, bands of martyrs to billions of people from every tribe and tongue bowed low in white-hot worship. Instead of writing off big gatherings, what would happen if we rewrote the script? What if the community participated in big gatherings beyond acts of service like children’s ministry, setup, security, and hospitality?
Let the Community Speak on Sundays
Every other Sunday someone from one of our missional communities gets up and shares something that God is doing in their life, in their community. We simply ask that it relate to one of our three core values—Gospel, Community, and Mission. Very often they touch on all three.
This Sunday Sam shared how a recent missional experience in the projects provoked confusion and some deep soul-searching. He began asking questions like “Do I really believe the gospel?” Should I sell all my clothes and give the money away? Tearing through the clothing in his closet, his wife arrested him by asking: Sam are you trying to impress God?” Mission as idolatry, as identity, subverts Jesus’ rightful and satisfying place in our lives. Sam went on to share how ashamed he was, but ended up realizing that Jesus was sufficient for his failure to believe, to treasure Christ. Then he charged us with something like: “If you feel ashamed, if you feel like you don’t measure up to God, if you feel like you aren’t good enough, don’t believe it. Jesus is big enough to handle your sin. Come to him.”
Gospel-centered Community on Sundays (and for sermons)
Sam’s exhortation lodged grace in my soul. As it turned out, I had been battling indifference towards Christ all morning. My sermon rehearsal had felt flat. My religious affections were a flickering flame, shifting from blue to white, at times even invisible. God strengthened me on the spot with Sam’s exhortation that Jesus is sufficient for my indifference. I repented for my lack of affection for our infinitely desirable God, received His forgiveness which jolted me into worship. This story from the community reminded me what kind of Savior we serve. I emerged from my sinful indifference into hopeful expectation, prepared to preach from a place of deeper gospel conviction.
Sunday after Sunday my church preaches to me before I preach to them. Sometimes through songs, other times through stories, but they serve as a constant reminder that God has not called me to professionalism but to Jesus-centered missional community. I hear them telling me the very same things I tell them: “Jesus is sufficient for our failures and strong for our successes.” “We are an imperfect people clinging to a perfect Christ.”
Sometimes I slowly mound up pressure on myself for a stunning homiletic performance. When I do, I displace the power of the gospel and replace it with the weakness of words. To be sure, our words can carry gospel power, but they can also carry death and deceit. We all need the “holiness of truth”—to hear the words that are right and true, which produce a holy happiness in the face of false and fleeting promises like: “If I exegete the culture well, if I provide a unique theological insight, then the sermon will impress, will impact, will change people.” God’s faithfulness to his Word, the sanctifying power of simple truth, and the presence of a gracious people who point me through sermons, away from performances, and to our Savior all underscore that the Christ alone is our hope, that God in Christ through the Spirit is faithfully working in us according to his good pleasure.
What better way to finish off a Sunday than by spending time in community?. Tonight we dropped by a friend’s house where folks showed up to have an impromptu breakfast-for-dinner and just hang out. Conversation after conversation reminded me of the faith-strengthening power of an imperfect, gospel-centered community, one that happens in a steady state, including Sundays. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.
Many people in America approach “church” as a community of convenience. The Bible, however, holds out a very different concept of church, a community of grace. The community of convenience stands in the way of a community of grace. Consider some of the differences:
Community of Grace
Community of Convenience
Community of Convenience
The community of convenience assumes perfection. It confuses the church with a product or service, demanding perfect customer service from the community. This person approaches “church” as something that exists to service their personal, familial, and spiritual needs, not as a community love and serve. The COC begins with consumerism and expects to be served. It believes that the church exists for their spiritual, relational convenience. People who approach church as a COC get upset, angry, and gripe when they don’t get their spiritual or personal needs serviced. When conflict emerges the COC simply withdraws or moves on. If the spiritual customer doesn’t receive his service, get his needs met, or get the precise theological package they are looking for, they criticize the leadership, complain to others about the community, and often move down the street to another church to get their needs serviced. No wonder people aren’t “going to church.”
Community of Grace
A community of grace, however, assumes imperfection. It understands that the church is people, people who are broken, imperfect, sinful, people who will complain and hurt one another. A COG begins with forbearance, “bearing with one another in love.” It is others-oriented. It puts up with others that are different, embraces inconvenience. When conflict arises, the COG responds very differently. The COG doesn’t remain at a place of forbearance but moves to forgiveness. The COG doesn’t hold grudges but extends genuine forgiveness towards those who have hurt them.
The COG is characterized by love and grace, but the COC is characterized by selfishness and consumerism. The Church is not a community of conveniences. It does not exist for you to get served. The church is a community of grace that exists to serve one another, to bear with one another, to forgive one another, to love one another! The church is not a perfect product or service with a money back guarantee; it is a community of imperfect people clinging to a perfect Christ who are being perfected by grace.