Much real life, relationships, and spiritual meaning can be added by simplifying our lives to engage more fully in life.
Throughout many years of being involved in missional expressions of church, I perceive one of the biggest issues facing the movement as a whole is that of sustainability. Tragically, many wonderful, spunky people start out with all the right ideas only to end up exhausted and marginalized because they have simply become, well . . . unsustainable.
Part of the issue many disciples face is that of lifestyle and the cultural expectations associated with life in the suburbs—no small matter and one that should be reflected on under the rubric of discipleship. For most believers, the idea of missional discipleship seems like a far-off dream because they work most of the time, come home exhausted, spend what little spare time they have with family and kids, and don’t seem to have any time for anything else. Now I don’t mean to diminish the sacredness of work and family, but if work is too demanding for us to involve ourselves in being authentic disciples in realms other than work, it is the dominance of our work that should be questioned and not the viability of our discipleship. Work like this is more of an enslaving thing than it is a means of living. We can all live with a lot less. Work four days a week instead of five, if only to find more space for God in your life, let alone serve others. Much real life, relationships, and spiritual meaning can be added by simplifying our lives to engage more fully in life.
Another aspect of unsustainability is the loner mentality that goes along with American individualism. Clearly there are times when one cannot avoid being something of a lone ranger, but we have to learn to see this as the exception that only proves the rule. Jesus always intended that we should seek to engage in mission two by two at the very least (Luke 10). Not all of us will be involved in establishing new communities of faith (what I call apostolic mission), but all of us ought to be involved in community life in one way or another. Mission in the way of Jesus should always aim at developing communities of Jesus followers—isn’t that what Jesus did? Paul? Other heroes of faith?
In terms of sustainable multiplication church-planting associated with people movements, I have always felt that a group of about 30 to 120 has a much greater chance of survival than the smaller cell-group size. Mike Breen, a deeply apostolic friend of mine, rightly notes that this is because what he calls “midsize communities” have their own inbuilt ecology of survival, especially when each person in the group really looks after the other and is mutually involved in worship, play, economics, and life together. He says we are “hardwired for extended family.” We simply don’t flourish in the smaller, more nuclear versions of family, and we are depersonalized in the much larger “tribal” gatherings. Not too big to be unwieldy and mechanical, not too small to seem closed and distressed—that is the trick. But the genius of this lies in the fact that it is church that nonprofessionals can handle and therefore anyone can do. It’s the basis of sustainability.
But a movement that can change the world has to be larger than a local mid-sized community. I believe strongly in the power of networks and networking. Networks are the fabric of movements and are formed by relationships and mutuality beyond the local expression of church or mission. Through a network, we become a working part of the whole of what God is doing in a city—part of something bigger. It’s being part of a movement. These networks should be sought-after and developed. Depending on where one is starting, as a brand-new pioneering project or an essential, innovative part of an existing church, it is important to seek connection to like-minded established churches, organizations, and networks. The trick is to find a balance of interdependence and not to be dominated by the agenda of some centralist organization. Networks exist on synergistic, win-win relationships throughout the system. Therefore, identify and associate with those who understand and practice this.
The other key area of sustainability is the area of finances. Many of the readers of this blog post will not be church-based professionals and are already involved in “regular jobs,” whatever that might mean. Much is to be gained by looking at the idea of business as mission (BAM). BAM approaches don’t accept the dualism that separates the secular from the sacred and sees that all of life can, and indeed must, be made sacred by engaging it in Jesus’ name . . . including business. The businesses most likely to engage people personally are obviously the best ways to engage missionally (cafés, laundromats, coaching, HR, etc.), but even less people-oriented businesses (e.g., engineering firms) have employees who are not disciples of Jesus. These businesses provide a wonderful opportunity for God’s kingdom to express itself through His people. In the hands of a missional Christian, the business can become a wonderful tool in the kingdom of God.
In terms of forms of support, in The Shaping of Things to Come we suggest that financial support could also come in the following ways:
- Personal support/sponsors: Imagine, for instance, forty people giving $1/day to your support—most of us can get that form of support together. Working part-time is a great way to model what we are asking others to do while engaging non-Christians and keeping our non-church skills up.
- From the established church: If what you are doing can be envisioned as part of the broader mission of the local church, then it is not too much to ask for (and expect) a budget allocation.
- Social entrepreneurialism and BAM as described above.
- Mixture of all of the above.
Pray and ask the Spirit to help you discern how you might engage mission in your everyday in a healthy and sustainable way.
What about you? Would you say you are living a “missionally sustainable” life? If so, how have you achieved it, and if not, what is your biggest roadblock?
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