There are churches all over the Earth looking for a way to build community. It seems everywhere I go, people want to be a part of a community, build community, or stay in community, but how to do it escapes us. A big part of the reason for that is we seek community for our own sake, and not the sake of others. This taints the community building process.
In reality, one of the most important but often neglected secrets to building community is to find it in pursuit of God’s mission. Jesus said, “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution,” (Mark 10:29-30). When we leave what is valuable to us for the sake of Jesus and the Good News, he gives us in return many spiritual brothers, sisters, mothers, and children. Community is the result of mission.
If you’ve ever gone on a short or long term mission trip, you’ll understand this. There is something about leaving everything you have, laying down your regular life, and pursuing something of the Lord together with a group of people that forms community like nothing else. Often those who do will come back longing for the same type of fellowship they had among that group of people, only to be frustrated in not being able to find it.
The secret lies not in going overseas, but finding a group of people who will lay down their lives both for Christ and His mission. I’ve watched house churches engage in mission together here in the United States in specific neighborhoods or people groups, and the same phenomenon happens. What Jesus does when we lay down our earthly lives is He begins to form family among those who have pursued it together.
So you don’t have to leave the country to find community. You find spiritual family as you lay down your life for Christ and the Gospel. As you follow Jesus in the mission He has for you, He will bring alongside you others who are pursuing Him and His mission in a similar way. And in this place, God will confront weaknesses in your life and the lives of others He will reveal places of sin or unbelief. The people with you on mission will help you bring those areas back to God for healing. You will get to do the same with them. This is where spiritual family is built–in the spiritual press of mission.
This is why I always tell prospective church planters that the order is Jesus, Mission, Church. Jesus must become the center of our lives, our source, and our leader. His leadership will eventually spill over into mission with Him and others. This mission creates a church, both in those that pursue it and ultimately as the result of sharing the Gospel. If we keep those priorities in the proper order, we will experience spiritual family.
Do you long for community? Submit yourself to Christ. Find the mission He has for you. As you do, you will find the community you’ve been looking for.
Missional community is a buzz word right now.
The phrase was meant to describe a Christian group who were not just committed to each other, but to Jesus and the lost. The goal was to live on mission as a people in a way that drew others to Jesus. Like most buzzwords, though, it has begun to be applied to lots of different things to the point where it can mean just about anything. I find in these circumstances, examples are far better at giving meaning than definitions.
Case in point: Our house churches this Wednesday did a fantastic job on living on mission together.
My awareness of this began on Wednesday over my lunch hour. My friend Josh and I had needed a chance to catch up. We were able to catch up for lunch, tell each other about what the Lord has been doing in each other’s lives, and encourage one another. Make no mistake, true missional community means continuing to encourage each other because the mission can be hard sometimes.
Fast Forward to after work. A couple of the families from two of the house churches had decided to get together that night, but due to circumstances it was going to be me, the children, and the wives of all the families, but none of the men. So, I asked my wife if after we had dinner I could go and take care of some yard work a neighbor had flagged me down and asked for. So after eating together (missional communities eat together a lot!) the ladies allowed me to take off and go help the neighbor with the hopes of preaching the Gospel to them. Here is another facet of missional community: serving the lost out of the love of Christ in ways (we hope) give us opportunities to share the good news.
One of the reasons I happened to be the only guy at our dinner on Wednesday night was that Josh, who I had mentioned before, had to meet with a guy he has begun a discipling relationship with. I wasn’t there and can’t speak to what happened there, but the important thing to note is that missional community is about more than just serving. It’s about sharing the Gospel AND discipling those who come to Christ. The mission isn’t complete until we’ve made disciples.
I was forced to return earlier than I planned from helping neighbors. The neighbors I had gone to help weren’t home and shortly after that a big storm rolled in. I ended up on my front porch with my kids and several of the kids from the other families, while the ladies got a chance to encourage and fellowship with each other. For me, this is part of missional community as well–serving the body so each part is strengthened to share the Gospel.
The storm passed. One of the families left. Josh arrived from his meeting to pick up his family. After spending some time together enjoying our kids and talking, Josh and his family left to put their kids to bed. We thought our day was pretty much done. We put our kids to bed and began the process of winding down for the night.
At about 9:00 PM, my wife realized that she had a missed text on her phone. A neighbor and someone that’s been part of our church had been trying to get a hold of us. Her neighbor and friend had a window broken out of her front door by a disgruntled “guest.” Our friend and her neighbor were looking for some help fixing the situation. I sent my wife over to help (long story, but she was better in this particular situation) expecting her to help fix the door and have her back by 9:30.
Instead she returned around 10:30. She told me the story. When she arrived, it became clear that the situation was much larger than she thought. My wife realized that we might need to bring in a professional, but didn’t know who to call at that hour. We had a friend who repaired auto glass professionally that was part of yet another house church we hadn’t seen that day. She called him to get a recommendation about who to call. Instead, he came over, assessed the situation, and miraculously had the right tools to make the door secure that night. Tim, our friend, was the perfect blend of consistent and flexible that night. With the door secure, our neighbor and her children could rest easier knowing she was safe. This was yet one more example of serving the community with the hope of getting to share the Gospel.
I laid down in bed that night thinking of everything that had happened. Encouragement between the body. Discipleship. Attempts to serve the lost. Prayer. After going through the list, I was thankful that the Lord had allowed our body to pursue mission the way we have.
I don’t write this to boast in our house churches. Rather, I write this so that you can have a window into what missional community might look like on a given day. How do you get here? Find a group of people who love Jesus and want to walk out mission. Give yourself to encouraging the body and attempting to serve the lost around you. Always have the name of Jesus and the Gospel on your lips.
Often we think the workers are many and the harvest is small, but when we venture outside of our fellowships, we find that the harvest is great and the workers are few. If your community is truly committed to being a missional community you will find needs and as you try and meet those needs you will have the opportunity to share the Gospel. I guarantee it.
Over the years, our house churches have sought to live out the mission of Jesus. Living out this mission has not always been easy. One of the realities that we’ve learned over the years is that there are two important qualities in someone wanting to truly live out mission: They need to be simultaneously consistent and flexible.
Consistent, because many of the people that are far away from God aren’t. Their lives can be erratic, often driven by the need or desire of the moment. But if you become the person that shows up at the same place, at the same time, and consistently represents Jesus, being a vessel of mercy and a safe place in the hectic world they live in, you stand out and can be found. They know where to find you if they need you and can count on you to help in a world that seems like is always chaotic.
And flexible for the same reason. The life of someone who doesn’t know Christ can be chaotic, but even if it’s not, emergencies happen. Being open and available to serve at the right moment requires a certain amount of flexibility in schedule and priorities. Showing up to help move, babysit, or just talk when things get bad are all significant in-roads we’ve had into the lives of people who don’t know Jesus. Leonard Ravenhill used to say, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.” Nowhere is that as true as in missional living. This has required us to hold lightly to plans and schedules, so we can be available on short notice.
A consistent person will be someone who can be counted on by those whose lives aren’t consistent. A flexible person can respond to a crisis when it comes. But a consistent and yet flexible person is able to meet lost people in both situations and allows us to quickly become helpful to those who don’t know Jesus. This requires us to die to ourselves and live for Christ and His mission in a different way that non-missional living won’t.
Years ago we started serving our community at a local park. We brought food, we played with the kids that were there, and generally loved our neighborhood. The neighborhood began to count on us being at that same place every week. But emergencies and life situations started happening that couldn’t be dealt with on Sundays, so the rest of our lives had to be flexible enough to deal with situations as they came up. It was a busy season for us, but it taught us a great deal about serving people who don’t know Christ.
If you’re struggling with missional living, it may be time to look in the mirror. Are you consistent? Are you flexible? You might be one or the other. Can you be both?
This will be hard to describe. Hang in there with me.
Often we think reaching people with the Gospel means that we are busy. We teach Bible studies. We serve the poor. We coordinate volunteers to go out and share the Gospel. The list can go on.
But the more I try and share the love of Jesus with people in my neighborhood, the more I find myself doing less on purpose. Why?
Lately, maybe over the last year or a little more, I found myself having more opportunities to share the Gospel with people as I was sitting around my house. Every time I was going off to “do something missional” I found myself having to turn away kids that were hanging out in our home. It became increasingly difficult to turn away the mission field that was showing up at my house to go find some kind of hypothetical mission field somewhere else. So I’ve had to reconcile within myself that being a normal guy hanging, trimming the yard, playing basketball with the neighborhood kids, and sharing the Gospel in everyday situations is one of the most fruitful things I can do. But often it means I have to keep my schedule light in order to make room for these opportunities.
One of the events that taught us this in a real way a few years ago was an outreach to our local park. We went on a walk one morning to explore where God might have our church inhabit a place for the Gospel. We took our kids with us and found a park in the middle of our neighborhood. Every Sunday that summer we’d show up at the park, play soccer or football, push our kids on the swings, and have lunch. Quickly other adults started showing up to play games. Many people returned week after week as we started sharing our food with them. (Missional Pro Tip: People flock to food.)
Because we live in an economically depressed neighborhood we would see other churches and ministries do outreaches in the park and in the neighborhood. The people who we knew from the park would tell us how much they loved us, because unlike the outreaches would come in once a summer, hand out food or supplies, and then disappear, we never left. They weren’t projects to us. They were friends. We shared the Gospel too, but it was in the midst of everyday interactions we had as we played with our kids.
This isn’t to say we don’t do anything. We actually share the Gospel and meet as a church and serve people when the need arises. We do all those things as a response to needs that we have the time to encounter because our lives aren’t busy with Christian programs and outreaches. Sometimes, it means confronting the itch to be needed and prove “we are really doing something.” Often it means saying “No” to over-packing our schedules. Sometimes it looks boring. But many times it frees us to be able to share the Gospel with someone we would have never had the time to encounter before.
It’s the missional power of doing nothing.
Jesus never promised us security. While there is a reward for following Christ, we are called to walk a dangerous path that has real implications for our lives. But where does the church fit in? How do the people of God together encourage each other to follow Jesus and not love their lives, even unto death?
Often I hear the church described as a place where believers should be safe. I understand what people mean when they say that, but I don’t know that Jesus meant what we mean when we say safe. I think what we mean is that the church should be a place where people are loved despite their sin. This is true. We don’t want to become a house of Pharisees. But the New Testament church was also a place where those who lied to the apostles died and those who exercised their spiritual gifts where required to submit themselves to the judgment of others. In many of the ways we think about safety, it wasn’t safe.
I think a big part of the challenge is that our culture is obsessed with safety. We have safe spaces and talk about people “being safe.” In some ways, because our culture is not connected with the Gospel, they’ve begun to idolize safety and security over other virtues: love, courage, freedom, etc. In some places, the church has followed suit. This is sad because the church’s job is to disciple believers to love something beyond their own life. Each church we are part of has to become a place where we impart a love for Jesus that compels us to love Christ and others more than we love ourselves.
How do we do this? A particular passage of the The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe has been helpful for me in this process. In this passage, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are telling Lucy, Susan, and Peter about Aslan, who serves as a type of Christ in the story:
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.
As the people of God, we help disciples embrace the danger associated with the Gospel by showing both the willingness to embrace risk for the Gospel and also embracing the goodness of God in the midst of danger. Jesus–who is always and forever good–has not only His Kingdom’s best intentions at heart when He sends asks us to do dangerous things, He has ours as well.
What we all need are followers of Jesus who model the trust in Jesus’ goodness, even when that trust could cost us our very lives. This kind of radical trust reproduces itself in the lives of disciples who witness it. It teaches us that there is a better Kingdom, even then the kind we enjoy in this life, that we are willing to trade this life for. May we all learn how to say, with Shadrack, Meshak, and Abednego: “Our God is able to save us from the fire. But if He doesn’t, we will stand firm.”
It’s easy to talk about living dangerously. I find there’s a lot of talk about laying our lives down for the sake of Christ, but most of us hear those verses and think they’re only for missionaries to scary countries. Or worse, we spiritualize them mean just laying down our ambitions or something important to us, nothing more. It’s hard, in our middle class, Western mind to fathom God really asking us to risk anything significant.
But Jesus calls us to lay down our very lives for the Gospel. That may mean our physical lives. Every time I travel to Africa to serve the church there, I have to count that cost. I have to lay down at the feet of Jesus my fears for my wife, my young family, and whatever else I’m responsible for every single time I go. You don’t want to see me right after that time I have with the Lord. I’m a mess. It’s not just in regards to Africa, though. I have to do the same thing on a regular basis here in the sphere of influence the Lord has given me.
For the last several years I’ve been focusing most of my time and attention in the inner city neighborhood I live in. I’ve also been pretty direct about working with people that don’t darken the doors of a church building. To be clear, there are plenty of hard-working, decent people where I live. However, there is also a fair number of people with lives that are a mess. The homeless, the drug-addict, the sex-addict, the attention-addict. The list goes on. These are the people Jesus would hang out with. But they are also not the safest people in the world to minister to.
And for the last several years, I’ve also been fairly forward about calling people to live their lives down here with us. Coming into the neighborhood, dropping the Gospel, and then leaving wasn’t going to work. Come, be a part of the neighborhood. Learn how to interact with people who have no interest in your church. Come share the Gospel here. Come make disciples here. Come live here. Give your lives.
This came home clearly a few years ago. My wife and a friend were regularly meeting at our local McDonald‘s as part of their weekly discipleship time. I received a call late one night from my wife. She was a little bit frantic. As her and her friend were leaving, someone they had never met before walked up to them in the parking lot and punched her friend and ran off. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Now this would have been horrible in any circumstance, but our friend was nine months pregnant at the time.
I’m happy to report that other than some bruising, everyone came out okay. Our friend gave birth to a healthy, active baby boy. The police never caught the assailant. But we experienced a wake up call that day. There is a cost to living on mission that you rarely hear about. There is a danger that we all have to embrace. This could have turned out much worse.
Jesus did not call us to be safe. Countless believers have lost their lives over the course of church history as they’ve tried to bring the Gospel to people who didn’t have it. In other places in the world, becoming a follower of Jesus is a death sentence. It’s only in the West we are fairly inexperienced at loosing anything for our faith.
It’s important to be very clear: Jesus does not call us to safety. He calls us to love Him and trust Him. He also calls us to trust Him with the risk that doesn’t make sense in light of His Sovereignty. And He calls us, regardless of whether we go to Africa or live in the inner city or practice mission to the most broken or live in the gated communities of the upper class to lay down our lives for His sake and the Gospel’s sake.
For too long, Christians have talked about laying their lives down and been willing to do it in abstract ways. It’s time for us to embrace the fact that Jesus calls us to truly put our lives on the line. We need to ask the hard questions: Is God still good if my worst fear happens? Is the Gospel worth really loosing my life? If we are willing to count the reward, the answer is “Yes.”
If we embrace the danger of living for the gospel, we will find, on the other side, true life.
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.
-Jesus, Mark 8:35
Jesus frequently warned that following Him would cost us everything we have. In fact, he told His disciples that if they wanted to follow Him, they would have to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Him. What that meant to first century Jews and most of the Roman world was that following Christ was a death sentence. You were welcome to do it if you wanted, but you knew it would cost you your life.
The apostles would regularly say similar things. Paul told the early disciples in the churches he planted (after being stoned–possibly to death–in the previous city) that they “must suffer many hardships in order to enter the Kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). Paul would go on to tell his apostolic son that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” (2 Timothy 3:12). Peter would tell the churches he served not to be “surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you,” (1 Peter 4:12). Clearly the apostles understood that experiencing danger was part of following Jesus.
Yet so often the church cautions us to be safe. Under the disguise of “being wise” they caution us not to do daring things. And while some of the young and naive may have been kept from doing something foolish through this “wisdom,” the ultimate message is “don’t loose your life for the gospel.” In doing so, the church can end up on the wrong side of the Gospel.
Jesus calls us to lose our life for Him. That doesn’t always mean we die. But of the original twelve disciples/apostles that followed Jesus, eleven lost their lives sharing their faith. The Romans attempted to boil the twelfth disciple/apostle in burning oil, but he miraculously survived at least long enough to pen the book of Revelation. Paul was beheaded. Stephen was stoned. Jesus–our example– was brutally murdered. My point is, while Jesus has the power to heal our bodies and even provide for us, He doesn’t create a safe space for his disciples.
Why would we follow Jesus if this is the kind of life He promised us? Who would sign up for something like this? Only people who have come to believe that Jesus’ love is the answer to life. Only people whose hearts have been transformed by His forgiveness. Only people who are convinced that there is more to life than just today or tomorrow. Only people who believe He is their great reward.
There is a danger in signing up for the Gospel. We shouldn’t hide it. In fact, we should call people to lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Anything else is a gospel that is too small and worldly to be called the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.