(You can read the next part in the How Do We Do It series here.)
How does your community move from sitting quietly and neatly in a comfortable living room to engaging the people of your city with the gospel of Jesus?
The gap is cavernous, daunting, and strange. Daniel Montgomery writes:
“The gospel transfers us [because it is missional] from the familiar territory of self-centered living into a glorious wilderness, a beautiful and strange place where we’re invited to explore the wonders of who God is and what he’s done.”
While every missional community is unique, I want to offer a simple roadmap to this unusual wilderness of communal mission.
Choose a Common Mission
Remember this definition of a missional community: A missional community is a way to organize the church to gather and send groups of people on a common mission, (i.e. engage a neighborhood, befriend artists in the city, or connect with the homeless downtown).
A common mission is your community’s unified effort to love—through word and deed—a specific group of people. As you start and lead a missional community, one of the first things you have to think about is what your common mission will be. Three broad categories for common missions exist: geographic, network, and marginalized.
Neighborhood, network, or people? Choose a category that will work best for your community. Start there!
A Neighborhood as Common Mission
This common mission focuses your community to make disciples through word and deed of people who live around you. This mission aims at reaching people who share the same spaces: streets, grocery stores, restaurants, and parks. This can be very dynamic, as your community makes decisions around where it shops, drinks coffee, and how it interacts with neighbors. Some great next steps include joining the neighborhood association meetings, finding needs within the community to meet, and becoming the people who welcome new people in and create space for people to get to know one another.
Geography can be particularly appealing for a community where the majority of the people live in the same neighborhood, subdivision, apartment complex, or dorm. It is also a good common mission in contexts where people feel a strong sense of neighborhood pride and spend most of their time within a short distance of their homes. Furthermore, it is great because it simply requires a group effort to be intentional through their daily life near their home.
Many of our missional communities focus on our neighborhoods. We host block parties, lead neighborhood art camps, and spend time cleaning and caring for the neighborhood elementary and middle school grounds. We try to seek the welfare of our neighborhoods by keeping up to date with its needs. Through all of this we build relationships and bonds with our neighbors. We invite our neighbors over for dinners, hear their stories, and share the gospel whenever we have opportunity. Many of our missional communities experience a lot of favor, too. Neighbors enjoy having people who gather and bond people together. Through this type of mission, many communities begin to care for the needs of single mothers, people with disabilities, and the working poor.
However, geography isn’t a good common mission for every community. If the people in your community don’t live close to one another, this probably isn’t a good common mission. If the majority of the people are commuting into a neighborhood to do “life-on-life” mission, then it is shallow, and traction is incredibly difficult to come by. Honestly, it’s just kind of weird to have people “reach a neighborhood” they don’t live in.
A Network as Common Mission
How can your community share mission if it doesn’t share a neighborhood? Your community can be on mission within the same network of relationships. For example, your missional community could focus on making disciples of artists, musicians, or writers. But it doesn’t have to be just within the arts; a community could also unite around a gaming community, an athletic team, a hobby, or a profession.
One of our early missional communities was very scattered—with people living in various neighborhoods. However, they chose to focus on a single public house that hosted children nights and trivia nights and was a great place to watch Sunday football. They realized they could make the network of people who work at and go to the pub their mission. They built relationships with the pub staff and the regulars (many of whom didn’t leave near them, but always came to trivia night). They simply showed up regularly. Often, this looked like some people in the community going to trivia night, others to kids’ night, and many going to football Sundays. They served the staff by organizing and starting an open mic night for musicians, poets, and spoken-word artists. This proved to be a great way to step into relationship with those who didn’t know Jesus. It wasn’t based on geography; it was based on the common interest and intersection that was Mickeyfin’s Public House.
This is a great type of common mission to share if a community has common interests or an already existing network. Some of the challenges with this mission include embracing others and not becoming an exclusive club and including children.
A People as Common Mission
Who are the vulnerable in your neighborhood, city, or town? The marginalized are those who don’t get to experience the full-life of the city. They are overlooked, unheard, isolated, or pushed to the fringes of your city’s culture. Every city has neglected children or orphans. Your city has elderly, shut-ins, Alzheimer patients, and retirement homes few visit because our culture views them as past their usefulness and relevance. Your city daily welcomes refugees and immigrants hoping to build a life and experience freedom. Your city is made up of single parents, people struggling with mental illness, teenage runaways, people struggling with substance abuse. These are the people your city uses and ignores—the poor and powerless.
Jesus pursued people because they were created in His image and He loved them. These people were welcomed into Jesus’ community as His beloved and His disciples. I believe Jesus calls His people not only to meet needs (clothe, visit, and feed) but also to welcome into relationship. Jesus healed people and fed them, but the most powerful expressions of His love for them were when He invited them to His dinner table.
This common mission is also one that welcomes in neighbors, co-workers, and friends. As you meet and engage the people neglected in your city, your city notices. As we serve and engage in relationship with the poor, we get to invite our neighbors into mission as they explore what it means to follow Jesus.
Start by picking one of these categories: neighborhood, network, or people in need. Just know it won’t stop there, but your mission will develop and your focus will increase. That’s the trick: Effective shared missional will evolve to include all three categories. Here are a few stories to flesh that out.
I once led a community that decided we would care for refugees. This would be our common mission. We chose “a people in need.” However, we quickly learned thousands of refugees arrive to our city each year. How would we know them, much less be on mission to them? We decided we should connect with the services or non-profits that refugees connect with already. We met with a city-wide organization that helps new families get acclimated in the first year. They told us their greatest need was people to connect and care for specific families when they arrive (a network). This organization needed people to “adopt” families. Then the case workers asked us what part of the city we live in. We asked if there were people near where we live (neighborhood)? In the end, we cared for one refugee family in our part of town through a network of community services. We had worked through each category.
Another missional community in Portland decided their mission would be their neighborhood. The first question after that decision was: “Who in our neighborhood?” There were more than 17,000 people living around them, and they knew they couldn’t reach them all. They decided they would focus their attention on the community center in the middle of their neighborhood. They would all become members, swim at the pool, go to classes, and see what would happen (network). Then they realized there were many single mothers and elderly folks without connection or care. Their focus sharpened to be a dozen mothers, children, and widows (people in need). Their missional focus was single moms and widows in their neighborhood and connected to the community center.
Each story depicts a community learning how to be missionaries together. They are taking their calling and gaining focus, which in the end is relational discipleship.
Moving Forward in Mission Together
At this point, you might be thinking, “But everyone in our community is busy, has different schedules, and has different gifts, passions, and resources!” Exactly. Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it brilliant? In each of the stories I’ve shared the community wouldn’t have been successful in their common mission if everyone had the same schedule, capacity, and gifts.
The missional community that cared for the refugee family had a traveling consultant, a nurse, a teacher, a barista, stay-at-home moms, a writer, a cab driver, and an environmental scientist. Each was available at various times and each had unique gifts in caring for the family. The traveling consultant used reward points to purchase lots of home goods for the family while he was on a business trip. The teacher tutored the kids. The stay-at-home moms supported the mother, while the barista and cab driver were flexible enough to take them places like the grocery store, doctor, and job interviews. The writer helped them build their résumé for jobs. The environmental scientist helped them get a tax refund. This is a community on mission.
We also did many things together with this family, such as a zoo trip, a beach trip, and a big Thanksgiving dinner. We also all had dinner at the family’s house, too. This is also a community on mission.
Your community can be on mission with focus, too.
What mission is your community focused on? Let us know in the comments below!
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