What are missional communities supposed to do? They exist, primarily, to grow in love for God. Missional communities are groups of people learning to follow Jesus. Meaning, people are being renewed by the gospel through abiding in Christ. They are environments to pursue knowing God and the power of His resurrection with others and for others.
Love the Lord Your God
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” — Mark 12:28-31
This is the golden rule or greatest commandment: to love. This is what we were created for and this is the cornerstone of all Christian and Jewish ethics. As Paul writes, “If I don’t have love, I have nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
God demands our affections because He is the only one sufficient to receive them. We are commanded to shift our entire being from love of self to love of God. The gospel requires we relinquish all other idols and masters and give ourselves to Jesus as the one true God.
Growing in Our Love Through Listening
The beginning of Jesus’ answer is not “Love God” but “Hear! The Lord Your God is One.” This timeless command starts with a proper orientation of who God is and of listening to who He is.
A missional community pursues growth in its love for God by beholding God with wonder, awe, reverence, and need. We hear and remember who God is. The beginning of loving God is a desperate attempt to hear His voice in the Scriptures and in prayer.
Reading the Scriptures Together
A community will not grow in love for God if it refuses to open, read, and ingest the Word of God. It cannot be a footnote or a side-bar. A community that has any ambition to be more than a dinner club, must come humbly to the Bible as the necessary source of understanding who God is. We grow in our devotion to God by putting ourselves under what He has already spoken and revealed.
The Scriptures carry divine authority. Unlike anything that can be said or spoken, the Bible carries weight. The Spirit works through Scripture like lightening through steel to electrify our faith. It is fundamental to forging conviction and worship.
Ways to Begin Reading the Bible as a Community
- Read one of the Gospels together, asking questions about what is challenging and appealing about Jesus. Who is He and what is He doing? How are people responding to Him? How do we respond to Him?
- Study a New Testament book together, asking four simple questions: Who is God? What is He saying about Himself, His work, and His people? What passage do we need to meditate on, remember, and believe. You can even use a guide like Ephesians or Jonah.
- Memorize a Psalm together.
- Have a shared reading plan.
Paul Miller writes: “Prayer is a moment of incarnation – God with us.” But it doesn’t feel that way. Communal prayer is awkward. We don’t know what to do, and we don’t know what to say. We don’t know how honest to be. Furthermore, our prayers are not about God or His presence with us but about us. We typically pray with ourselves and our current felt needs as the focal point. We do this because we are the focal point! To grow in our love for God, our prayers must center on God. Our gaze has to move from ourselves to the One who holds all things together. This is the only way to begin a praying life. Then, when we bring our concerns to God, we are able to acknowledge His presence in the details of our lives and His power to love us in them.
Take a quick survey of Paul’s prayers and you will find overwhelming evidence that Paul doesn’t pray for sick grandparents, stress free trips to the super-market, acceptance into good colleges, or even good jobs. Paul was praying for increased love, greater understanding of God’s love for us, power, thanksgiving for belief, changed hearts, power to defeat sin, joy, peace, and prophecy—among other things. Paul was praying in light of the gospel and for the gospel to advance in and through the church. These are inspiring prayers and they are unifying prayers because Paul’s gaze was not toward the earth but toward heaven. Paul was praying for heaven to break into our everyday struggles, not for the struggles.
Ways to Begin Praying as a Community
- “Pray the Bible”—Read a passage of Scripture together. Lead people to pray different phrases in their own words or respond to the passage in prayer.
- Lectio Divina (Divine Reading)—An ancient Benedictine prayer format using the Bible. Calls for the group to reflect and meditate on the passage, respond in prayer, then rest in silence.
Tips for Praying in Community
- Have everyone pray short prayers. (The sermon-prayer is no fun.)
- Have everyone pray in their own voice. (No spiritual whispers, please.)
- Allow for silence. (It’s okay if no one is talking. God is present.)
- When people bring up their struggles and concerns about life, regardless of the degree, ask if you can pray for that as a group and do it together. Offer the details of life to God. Pray for God’s grace, love, and mercy to be known in the trial.
How have you seen your community grow through time together in the Word and in prayer?
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