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- You have used the word “missional” and you have no idea what it means, none whatsoever. Hand down.
- You have a“heart for the nations” but have never left your homestate for anything other than a trip to Disneyland. Hand down.
One of the dangerous things about publishing and writing online is that you can get an exaggerated presence. People begin to inflate your ideas, your church, your leadership well beyond their actual capacity. I think this is a real danger among church planters. We’re all “trying to make a mark for God” by employing the latest missional thinking. We comb the web for innovative ideas, best practices, and training in order to make the “best mark for the glory of God.”
I want to deflate any exaggeration that might be out there about Austin City Life or my own leadership. Not just to deflate, but to bring balance and realism into the picture. A lot of young church planters are captivated by methodologies and best practices. These methods and practices are often downloaded without any effort to rethink them for their own vision and context. That, too, is dangerous.
At the risk of promoting more uncritical downloads, and with the hope of bringing realistic balance to what I write, I thought I would point to some actual stories of Gospel, Community, and Mission told by our own people on a Sunday morning. We often bring people up to share about how God is working in their life during a SUnday gathering. We do this, not to be cool, but to a) As the psalmist says “tell of the works of the Lord b) to reinforce that church is a family not an event c) to encourage others.
This past Sunday was a vision/story-telling Sunday. I brought three people up from our community, who are not leaders, to share how they experienced God’s goodness in 2010 in the areas of Gospel, Community, and Mission. The stories are earthy, inspiring, real. They are not canned. And because of that, I hope you’ll find them helpful. They are little windows into an imperfect church, clinging to a perfect Christ, that is trying to live by the gospel, in community, on mission.
- NEW: Here is an objective report in an article from our local paper on this service.
- The stories are part of the message, RENEW: Thanks for the Past, Hope for the Future
- Here is an excerpt from one of the stories.
- Here is a great Q&A session with Steve Timmis, where he gives a snapshot of normal life in a Gospel Community.
As a member of the VERGE social media team, I recently received The Tangible Kingdom Primer, an 8 week study to put incarnational missional community to practice. The Primer seems eminently helpful, and has been used by megachurch Austin Stone, host to VERGE, to promote missional community in their own church.
As Halter & Smay point out, when a church grows, slowly or by leaps and bounds, something is needed to continually reproduce your missional values. Their response was the Primer.
The Primer offers helpful exercises, thought-provoking questions, and insightful comments along the way. Here are a smattering of those:
- The reason we struggle to live a missional life is that it pulls against every natural fiber, sin, rhythm, habit, muscle, and thought pattern we’re used to. viii
- Right now, what is hindering you from living a missional life?
- Imagine what could change if the Good news of Jesus was allowed to shape and inform all the area of our lives.
- What personal interests and hobbies can you turn into communal ones?
Although the Primer is highly structured, it provides very practical help in cultivating missional communities. On the other hand, I find it difficult to imagine our church working through a 200 page primer (I thought primers were supposed to be short!). In the end, every pastor and leader must find the methods that best suit their people and their context. No doubt the TK Primer will be a good one for many!
Too Busy to Lead
If you lead a missional community then chances are you are tired. You are doing your best to be a pastor and friend to your community, a missionary in your neighborhood and workplace, lead your family in a steady state of community and mission, and praying your community will grow in their understanding of the Gospel, all while struggling to believe the good news yourself.
While you’re at it, don’t forget the never ending task list. I mean, “who is gonna bring the main dish and the desert on Wednesday night?”, “where are we serving our neighborhood this month?”, “who is lining up childcare this week?”, “who is keeping track of the prayer requests?” It goes on, and on, and on, and on…..
Oh yes, did I mention you probably have a job. In Austin you most likely are holding down a high stress gig putting in about 50 hours a week. Oh wait, you have a family too! That’s right, your son wants a ride to soccer practice and is secretly hoping you volunteer to coach the team. Your daughter would like you to read 15 princess books to her before bedtime, and your wife actually wants to go out to dinner and talk about something other than your ministry. Imagine that!
Reasons We Lead
If you are a leader chances are you do too much. Some of your reasons are good: you love God; you love the church; you’re a natural leader. Leading is a way for you to serve the Body and build the Kingdom. Some of your reasons are not so good: you love being heard, love feeling important, and you’re identity is so wrapped up in” what you do” as opposed to “who you are” that you simply cannot stop working and leading. In all of this, we desperately need the Gospel, and the gospel is probably telling us we need to lead less. Lead less for more ministry.
Rethinking Missional Community Leadership
Two years and 8 missional communities since our very first City Group (Core Team), Austin City Life is revamping our City Group leadership structure. Previously, we had a CG leader responsible for the pastoral and missional leadership of the group. We told them to share leadership, get a leader in training for multiplication, and rely on Jesus and the Spirit for strength. Now, we are moving towards appointing 5 leaders, not one. They are:
- CITY GROUP LEADER-facilitates a community that is growing in Gospel, Community, and Mission.
- MISSIONAL LEADER- We serve our neighborhoods together monthly. This leader takes the lead on all the details: the when, where, and how of the monthly service project.
- PRAYER LEADER- This person records all the prayer requests and sends out a weekly update, reminding the community to pray for one another and the city.
- HOST LEADER- This leader opens their home/apartment/dorm room to be an inviting place for the community to share meals, discuss life and truth, and to pray for one another and the city.
- HOSPITALITY LEADER – We eat together. This leader coordinates the meal schedule and the “who is bringing what?”
Benefits of Shared Leadership
This new model of shared leadership in our missional communities will produce healthier communities and leaders, and ultimately will be good for our church, our city, and the kingdom. How?
- Fewer leaders will become casualties of burnout.
- Five leaders gives your group more people, with more buy in, creating a stronger core.
- New Christians can begin to serve right away. Last I checked, your theology doesn’t have to be nails to be in charge of the meal schedule. New Christians can become involved in leadership early on, and can grow along the way, instead of standing on the sidelines watching all the tired people lead.
- Future City Group leaders emerge as they thrive in their roles leading MISSION and PRAYER, etc……
- We avoid the “personality-driven” City Group. Gospel Community is center and forefront in our groups, rather than the talent, charisma, and drive of a leader.
Let’s get honest, tired leaders are not attractive. Even the most gifted, charismatic, God and people loving leaders can lose the vision of what it means to lead a missional community under the burden of too many responsibilities and a never ending “to do” list. Sadly, this leads to duty driven (rather than joy filled) leadership, and when that happens, we are in danger of leading already busy Austinites in more busyness , while creating a new legalism called “Missional Community.”
More Leaders; Less Work. Share Leadership; Grow in Community. Strengthen Mission; Advance the Gospel.
Missional ecclesiology has led the the expression of new church forms and structures. This innovation is exciting, challenging, and constantly changing. How can we be the church on mission to reach our context? The answers must be mined theologically, worked out practically, and applied contextually. Austin City Life is committed to a form of decentralized missional church growth, fostering mission through small gospel-centered communities that renew the city in geographical pockets all over Austin. As we continue to grow, we face the challenge of remaining small as we grow big. Several models have been helpful as we continue to process.
I met John Tyson of Trinity Grace Church at Q (more Tyson here) this year when we spoke on a panel on American Ecclesiology. John is a very thoughtful, missional leader. I have benefited from his writings on his church website, and recently came across his article for Catalyst called On Reaching a City. The article is more specifically about how Trinity Grace is structured to be a church that reaches a city. It’s helpful and insightful. TGC uses mid-sized groups for missional communities which fit within a larger Parish Model of church. This model appears to be too layered for Austin City Life. TGC has what appears to be 4-5 layers of church:
6 Week Gathering, Neighborhood Churches, Missional Communities, Life Groups, and Triads.
Austin City Life currently has three layers of church:
Sunday Gathering – City Groups – Fight Clubs
However, as we continue to grow, a new structure or missional expression of ACL will be necessary.
Models of Decentralized Missional Church
The Parish Model is just one among several ways to configure churches comprised of missional communities. As Austin City Life continues to grow, we are considering various models of growth. Will we use a mid-sized structure or just move to plant new expressions/church of Austin City Life? We will remain a decentralized missional church, but the question before us is “How?”As we attempt to work this out, we have found other models and partners in ministry to be very helpful.
Other friends who have been helpful in thinking through decentralized missional church are:
- Soma Communities Church – uses the term Expressions to communicate the gathering of missional communties into a larger forms of church
- Kaleo Community Church – missional communities gather into three church locations.
- Kairos Church – uses the term Canvas to communicate the gathering of missional communities to form Neighborhood churches
- The Crowded House – uses the term Gospel Communities for missional communities
- Trinity Grace Church – uses Life Groups to form bigger Missional communities which form Neighborhood Churches.
If you are doing missional communities in a suburban context, I’d love get get some feedback from you.
- How would you describe a missional community?
- Some argue that MCs are only effective in an urban context. Would you agree or disagree?
- Have your missional communities grown by adding non-Christians?
- What are your top three best practices for your MCs?
- What has been your biggest struggle in creating MCs?
Thank you for sharing your insights and time. This reserach will be used for my breakout session on Missional Communities at the Acts 29 ENDURE Bootcamp.
Weigh in HERE
Something tells me that practical missional church resources will abound in 2009. There is very little in book form on how to build, lead, and multiply missional communities. I’ll be doing my part by writing two booklets, one on Fight Clubs and one on City Groups. However, there’s much more to look forward to, in print, social networking, and conferences. I’ll list a few. Please feel free to add to the list in the comments:
Re-Sketching the Church series by JR Woodward
The Austin Stone and Acts 29 are hosting a Missional Community Leadership Conference on Feb 6-7 at Great Hills Baptist. This is the kind of conference that is long overdue and will deliver on Gospel, Community, and Mission for the practitioner.
There are too many to list, but include topics like Missional Leadership, City-wide Networking, Discipleship, Communication & Conflict.
Neil Cole offers a brief, biting reflection on how service in the local church is killing her. This is one of the reasons I appreciate his writing and ministry:
We ask for volunteers all the time. We offer spiritual-gift assessments to see where people fit best in our program, but we never really offer very challenging experiences for people. Handing out bulletins, directing traffic wearing a bright orange vest, chaperoning a youth function, or changing a diaper in the nursery may be helpful for the church program, but none of it is a task worth giving your life to. Many who struggle to do these things have a nagging unspoken question: “Did Jesus come so I can do this?”
We must transition from seeing church as a once-a-week worship event to an ongoing spiritual family on mission together. Then people will see church as something worth giving your life for. Honestly, people need one another more then they need another inspiring message. You would be surprised what people will do for Jesus, or for a brother or sister, that they will not do for a vision statement and a capital giving campaign.
How are you connecting the church to the church? Are your inspiring messages creating a church that lives in community and mission? Are you pseudomissional or gospel missional?