Tim Chester recently used a phrase that is becoming commonplace among our leaders to describe what we are trying to cultivate—steady state community. We are trying to cultivate communities that share life and truth throughout the week, not just on Sundays and City Group days. We are kidding ourselves if we really think that showing up to two meetings a week and engaging in a missional partnership once a month is really living in Christian community. So, we are trying to cultivate steady state community, which requires much more than preaching on it. We envision shared meals, leisure, mission throughout the week. How?
In order to cultivate steady-state, gospel-centered missional community, just about everything in a church has to be reconfigured. Traditional paradigms and practices wont work; they are bent around a different ecclesiology. So, in order to think things through, I recently sat down with my friend Mark Moore at Total Church conference in San Diego and fired away with a list of questions. Here are a few of the insights (framed by the Q&A, not verbatim):
The Crowded House advocates a non-membership, community-centered, consensus decision making governance. You still have membership. Why and how do you develop members?
Man, we’ve got to take what Crowded House (CH) is doing and contextualize it. In America, well at least down South, especially in the Bible-belt, there is still a paradigm for church membership. It’s jacked up and needs to be tweaked, but people still come to church expecting some kind of membership, no matter how bad it is. So, we can work with that. What we (Providence Community) do is hold a six week class that goes through Gospel, Community, and end with a session on Church Planting. Then, what we tell them at the end of the class that your participation in this class doesn’t make you a member. What makes you a member is being in a missional communty.
How do you reinforce that the church is not a Sunday morning service?
One of the things we do is spotlight a missional community every week. For about five minutes someone comes up and shares something, typically about mission, from their missional community. That way, everyone coming to the service gets to hear what they are missing, to hear from the church about the church. [I asked, "Do you script this or go over it with them beforehand?"] No, and, man, sometimes people say something that doesn’t really make sense, but that is just an opportunity for us to be a real community, and if it’s really bad I can transition making some editorial comments.
How do you view yourself, as a pastor/elder, in steady state community?
My role is a shepherd, my identity is a sheep. So I try to relate to them as a fellow sheep not just as some inaccessible professional pastor. I also make sure that when I meet a dude or someone on Sunday morning that I get them connected to their missional community leader that morning, if possible. They need to know that the pastor of their missional community is the best person for them to relate to.
Austin City Life has incorporated all of this at various levels of participation and church life. Mark’s comments spurred me to spotlight our City Groups every week and not just on occassion. Our leadership has soaked up the steady state community idea, and we are working on implementing it. What a privilege!