When is a Church a Missional Community?

Everyone knows that the missional purpose of the church is to reach the lost, right? The great commission. So why isn’t that what we are all about as churches? No matter how much we say that is our mission, the truth of what we are is in what we do.

To be honest, I don’t think the focus has been on our mission, but rather on our meetings, on how we are together.

Are we pomo, emerging, simple, seeker, mega, traditional, or fundie?

How are we going to worship? Hymns, contemporary, alt, stations, dance, art, loud, intimate, with instruments, or not?

How are we going to baptize? Sprinkle or dunk, hot tub or creek?

What about communion? Wine or juice, loaf or cracker, one cup or many?

We especially identify ourselves by our theology, teaching, and preaching. We meet in this particular building together because we hold this particular doctrine that our brothers in the building next door don’t agree with.

When we promote ourselves in the community as a church, these are the issues that people talk about. When someone is deciding on what church to join, they look at what kind of programs a church offers and their style of gathering.

While we may have programs for mission, it is not who we are. We are all about these other things.

If we were gathered for a missional purpose we would be known for that.

The 1st Church on the Corner might be known for reaching into the drug community.

While the 2nd Church on the Other Corner would be known for their ministry to the homeless.

And the 3rd Church Next Door might be all about their service to at-risk youth.

In church shopping, people would join themselves to a particular missional cause rather than to a worship gathering style.

That is not who we have been. Service to others has always been an add-on program after we have served ourselves first. In spite of our megabudgets, we have bake sales for the latest mission project. We send the youth on most of the outreach programs.

Look at our books and conferences. Let’s just keep tweaking the gathering, the structure, the members, eventually maybe we will get it right and produce some fruit.

Look at how we spend our resources, our time and money. It is telling of our real mission and purpose. We cannot truthfully look at the church we have built over hundreds of years and honestly say that our reason for existence is mission and service to others.

“Attending a respectable middle-class church in a respectable middle-class neighborhood isn’t a liminal experience.” (Michael Frost, Exiles)

Even if we do something less respectable, in a home or a pub or a coffee house, we will not be a missional community if our organizing purpose isn’t mission. Anything less and we will just be another group of like-minded people in a safe religious club, even if we happen to be a hip, cool club.

We have had a chronic case of cart before the horse, and it seems nearly impossible to turn the two around. However for those who are launching into missional expressions, perhaps we can learn from this. If we are not gathered around our missional purpose, none of the rest matters.

Missional community emerges from missional purpose first. We gather with those who share our heart and passion for this cause. We function together in the service of this cause. Our service together is what produces liminality which then creates the communitas we share as a group.

Therefore, the identifying question of who we are as a church should point directly to the missional purpose that we serve. Only then will we create a missional community.

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12 thoughts on “When is a Church a Missional Community?

  1. Amen, sister. True words. (And that’s not a “Thank God we’ve got this completely right in *our* church community!” sort of “Amen” – but we are trying.)

  2. This is a great post. And we do let the wrong things drive us all too often. Praise God He still gets His work done in spite of us.

    Although I’m not sure each church necessarily has to have a single mission. I don’t think you were saying that, but yoru example was written in that way.

  3. Excellent post. Its sad but true in most cases. My “church” calls itself a “gathering” instead of a church because the word “church” has such a negative connotation these days.

    I think there can and should be a balance. Yes, the church should be missionary, too bad there can’t be a healthy balance because the “Body” does get weary and needs a safe place to rest, be recharged and be loved so they can keep doing the work. Also – a place to worship together as one (as opposed to being entertained by great music).

    But I totally hear ya, and agree!

  4. Eep! Here I am about to challenge your thoughts again. ;)

    I’m not disagreeing with what you’ve put forth here, in fact I very much agree with what you’ve said; however, I don’t quite understand how communitas and liminality deal with new Christians or Christians who aren’t ready or willing to “join the mission”. Shouldn’t communitas occur within community instead of being the community? An example is with your 1st Church on the Corner, once that druggie you’ve reached gets clean should they then join you in reaching other druggies? What if the plan God has for them is to reach at-risk youth? Do they have to leave 1st Church on the Corner and head off to 3rd Church Next Door? What if they are called to own a drycleaning business? Do they go to the 4th Church of the Drycleaner? Or the 5th Church of the Business Owner? In other words, communitas seems at best to be a temporary condition that is either resolved or dissolved. In order for communitas to remain sustainable, it has to occur within a larger community that exists outside the self-imposed requirements of communitas.
    Shouldn’t 1st Church on the Corner, 2nd Church on the Other Corner, and 3rd Church Next Door, actually be a part of 1st church of the Block who’s mission is to reach all people wherever they are at?

    Peace to you,
    KSG

  5. Mike,
    I am definitely in the “still trying” category too.

    bryan,
    Yes, I think there could be more, but my point was that we could be accused of not having any, so to start with one cause that we would actually be known for would be a significant shift in our mentalities. When you really think about it, I don’t think very many churches gather for the purpose of a mission.

    barbara,
    I agree that there should be a balance. It seems to me that we have the rest, love, worship together side of the balance down pretty well, and made it an end in itself. :)

    Thanks jerry! You’ve got mail.

    ksg,
    I think that your last sentence actually gets close to what I am saying. If we are willing to see the nature of the body as more fluid than what we’ve experienced, then we can realize that 1st, 2nd, and 3rd church are all part of the same body. Therefore as the Lord leads, people have the freedom to follow, pursuing the missional purpose that He puts on their heart, blessed in their joining and blessed in their leaving.

    Maybe at that point, we would learn to discern the body around us, gathering at times for worship, teaching, and fellowship with those who are involved in our missional cause and also with those who are involved in other missional causes.

    I think that we have had much experience with pseudo-community without experiencing missional purpose, liminality, or communitas.

  6. wow.. that was one smokin’ post. i loved every last word of it, and i’m not just being a kiss a**.

    bring it, sister emerging grace.. you go ahead and bring it now.

    jeff

  7. Well Grace, you’re going have to let the old man rant. we have to develope an ” orthopraxy “, the modern view of the a theology of redemption that redeems souls has to be re-envisioned to redeeming “all” creation. The missional church will seek to redeem poverty,social justice, environment, politics, global inequality…redemption will be of Kingdom proportion, the very imagination of Jesus. The missional church will have a prophetic voice the speaks into all those situations. The missional church will have a theology that it lives…not just belives. This will be the missio dei of the missional church.
    The other thing is…it will jump ship so to speak, leaving the luxury cruisers it finds itself ( most churches in affluent neighbourhoods )…and setting off in life boats. It will live in transition in those liminal places where the poor, the orphan and widow live. Worship will become ( Romans 12 )…this will be the new song that is sung to the Lord.
    Anyways, I could share a story here, but I’m running out of room. But I hope this is not seen as a rant, but more as encouragement that we would be filled with the imagination of Christ as to what redemption really is…but more, how we will live that out. Pax…Ron+

  8. Grace,

    WOW. Maybe YOU should write a book!

    Excellent insights into the true nature of our ineffectiveness as Kingdom-advancers. Preach on!

  9. Thank you jeff and robby!
    I truly appreciate the encouragement.

    Ron,
    Thank you for your prophetic words, especially that our redemptive ideas would be inspired by the imagination of Jesus and empowered by the Spirit. Please feel free to rant here anytime!

  10. Grace,

    I love your thoughts here. I think this is one of the reasons why parachurch organizations are so much more missional than local churches–they focus on one main area, which everyone knows they’ve signing up to participate in together.

  11. John,
    I absolutely agree. The question always seems to be whether parachurch organizations are really a church. Instead maybe we should be asking if our churches are really missional communities, and if they aren’t, what are they?

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