(Part seven in the Recovering Missional Moxie series from Alan Hirsch. Read part eight here.)

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.

Loner Individualism

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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  1. Thanks for this, Alan & Saturate. I’m simply writing to answer the question at the end. From a job perspective, I’ve got that locked, I work for myself doing a job that affords me TONS of free time (I sell NeuYear calendars). But I don’t manage my free time that well, and I’ve not been as missional as I’d like to be, and I’m not sure what I should be doing.

    A good book that echoes some of your concepts is: Against the Tide, Toward the Kingdom! Great! Short, easy read. Especially the chapters on balancing work & community.

    I LOVE the idea of using a business to fund the mission. Honestly, though, I don’t see why we can’t do this model simply funded by our jobs? Especially if all of the body parts are working together, why would we need anyone to be subsidized? What would the subsidized person do? (come up with sermons?) Wouldn’t we all be meeting neighbors, inviting them on our mission, discipling them, etc? I don’t have kids yet, so maybe there’s something I’m missing. Also, I’m not doing this successfully yet, but it seems to me that if we’re all working together and we can fit in a house for a larger gathering, we won’t need outside financing, will we?

  2. Jessie,

    In our church, we refer to our paid staff as “paid equippers.” These are the folks gifted in equipping others to do what you are describing. They too are living the way you are describing, but people like this are great assets to the church because without them, we may lack some organization.

    I’ve been in both seats–the vocational minister and a business owner who was also church planting at the same time. While my business did fund a large percentage of my living expenses, it took an additional capacity to train, organize and network in the city. There’s something important to watching each other’s lives and seeing who is called to the equipping work. These are the people who are gifted in helping others learn to organize, make relationships, shepherd the heart or teach. Finding out who these people are is easy–they are already doing it and helping others do it too. Freeing these people up to do more of that is what we mean when we say they are “paid equippers.” There’s a blog on this subject you might check out here: https://saturatetheworld.com/leaders-need-teams/

    As far as how to utilize your free time–what a great gift! Lots of people don’t have the freedom you describe. I’ve found that doing my work at a shared workspace or coffee shop is a super easy way to build relationships while I work.

  3. I am genuinely trying to grasp your ministry model .
    1. work “Work four days a week instead of five,” I thought it was 6? your ministry model could require 3 days a week to implement? really? I read somewhere a guy mentioned taking 1 day. 3 seems like a lot.
    2. “midsize communities” 30 to 120 are these groups separate from a “established church” or a subgroup “within an established church? I am searching for your terminology- I assume Breen noticed that 30 to 120 is the size of most of what I think you call “established” churches in the US.
    3. •Personal support: get some from the Established Church “If what you are doing can be envisioned as part of the broader mission of the local church” Are your communities separate from the local Church? How do your “groups” relate to the local Church?

    Thanks for your help in clarifying these for me.

  4. Hi Steve,

    I think the point of Alan’s comments on work was that we can all be more intentional with turning it off so we can engage in activities other than work. In response to your #1 question, I don’t think Alan was saying you need 3 days a week to implement this kind of life. I think what he was saying was that we all can create more margin. Prayerfully discerning what to fill the margins with is important.

    As for your #2 question, what Alan was getting at is that churches of 30-120 people tend to utilize all their members and their health lasts because their numbers require them to be that way. You are right, many established churches are smaller. For us, we view missional communities as communities of 12-30 people within each church.

    #3, this kind of relates to #2. In a church of 120 (for example), there might be a handful of missional communities. Each missional community is part of the local church. They don’t view themselves as independent from the local church, but an expression of the church in their neighborhood, school or other missional focus area. Each MC organizes differently depending on what season they are in. You could check out this blog to understand more about the life cycle of a missional community: http://wearesoma.com/blog/the-cycle-of-life-in-a-missional-community/

    In a church of missional communities, this kind of life is possible because the life of the church is focused around the missional community. For instance, not filling up the schedule with too many things gives people an opportunity to engage more deeply in the life they are living. The program is life–enabling others to live that life like Jesus is the purpose of church leadership. Todd Engstrom just wrote a great blog on this subject here: https://saturatetheworld.com/transitioning-small-groups-teams-missionaries/

    I hope this helps!

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