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Getting Through Challenges to Missional Community
The popularity of missional community is rising among evangelicals, and yet, the American church is nowhere near a missional tipping point. I’ve faced missional highs and missional lows. Along the way, I’ve considered a number of things that are absolutely necessary for us to endure the transition to missional church. How should we respond to the challenges of missional community? Here are three things to keep in mind as you lead in God's mission (and thanks for doing so).
1. Building Missional Community Requires Stretched Grace. We need more than a drop of grace to get us going on God’s mission. We need an ocean of grace to swim in to continue on God’s mission together. Do you remember when you knew nothing about "missional church"? That's where many people are. Do you recall how long it took you to process, assimilate, and live out the principles of missional community? This probably took a couple of years, and if you're a leader, you are in it "full time". When leading others in missional community, remember the slowness in your own story and extend others the same grace and patience King Jesus extended you. After all, the kingdom of God is slow, and thank God for that! We need more than a drop of grace to get us going on God’s mission. We need grace stretched across the length of our lives and depth of our missional failures and successes. Jesus secured this grace, so revel in it and splash it on others.
Leader Tip: Try to avoid making mission a new benchmark of religious performance. Instead, motivate people with grace. Grace preached and grace embodied. Embody the grace of Christ, who has put up with our missional fumblings for centuries, as you lead others on mission. When it comes to mission, it's not perfection overnight but progress over a lifetime.
2. Community is What You Make of It. In order to make progress with your community, remind them that community is what you make it. Community isn't an idea; its real people, awkward, struggling, weird, different, funny, slow, arrogant, sheepish, humble, curious, skeptical, excitable. You get the idea. Jesus didn’t die to make cliques; he died and rose to form diverse communities. Diverse and different is hard. It requires love, effort, and patience. Community doesn’t just magically appear in a church. In fact, churches don't have community at all; they are community. The question is, “What will you make of the community?” I’m falling in love with real community, which is really messy, with people who are so different from me and yet so alike in Jesus. There’s nothing like pursuing difficult people, being loved by different people, serving alongside a diverse people. What a display of grace (nothing else could hold us together).
Leader Tip: In a highly consumeristic, individual-centered society, it will take at least a generation to get back to the biblical notion of community. And even then, we will need more than community to sustain community. Let’s all agree to shatter our ideal of community and enter the real community of people God has placed in our lives. Let’s lift Christ higher than the community. Jesus is head not the body. He's lord of the church. He's the hope of the community, not the community itself. Community needs a center deeper than connection and a purpose greater than comfort. It needs the Lord of Community, Jesus Christ, to knit unlikely people together as a display of our common need for grace. Insist on this.
3. Labor for the Lord of Mission not the Fruit of Mission. With all the missional hype, our faith can easily slip from trusting in the Lord of the Harvest to trusting in the fruit of our labors. I’ve had several deep relationships with non-Christians dissolve over the past year and a half. This came after spending a lot of time with them over meals, out for philosophy discussions, in our home for counseling, and with our family doing fun stuff. They were loved and heard the gospel in ways that were profoundly relevant to their own fears, struggles, and hopes…and they walked away. They walked away from Jesus and created distance from us. That’s hard. If I’m putting faith in the fruit of my missional labors (at least at what I can see), then I’m discouraged. But if I’m putting faith in the Lord of the Harvest, I can be confident that he has been lifted up and that he is in charge of all salvation. He has endured much more to witness friends walk away from his costly sacrifice. He’s not only a model of missional endurance; he’s the hope for missional endurance.
Leader Tip: Put your faith in the Lord of Mission not the fruit of mission. It can be easy to congratuate ourselves when mission is high and berate ourselves when mission is low. That’s a sign that we’ve misplaced our faith. We put it in ourselves or our “fruitfulness.” Come back to the gospel every single day and ask the Spirit to put Jesus highest among your affections and greatest among your hopes. Keep repenting and putting your faith in Jesus and he will take care of the mission.