Community is Pointless

"Aim for heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither." Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

As a church we’ve traditionally organised everything we do around ‘community’, as this has been our founding genius. We found an incredible richness in the body of Christ when those who were formerly a collective of individuals were melted together through Holy Spirit baptism into the colourful koinonia fellowship of ‘a people’ following Jesus.

It’s great, isn’t it? Except it’s not. Community that starts and ends there is pointless and impotent when not serving a mission.

Sure, the priesthood of believers, the “all things in common” fellowship and God’s spiritual family are infinitely precious jewels, a bride good enough for Jesus and us to die for. However, because this bride isn’t perfect (yet) when she (I mean us) looks in the mirror all she sees is her flaws. It’s when she looks to Jesus and joins him in his work that she finds a smile on her face and strength in her limbs.

If you take issue at my assessment of community’s impotency when not centred around mission consider this: our all-things-in-common community has seen a net growth of 120 people since we signed our community charter in 1978, via 920ish people when we started records in 1993. I believe we’ve lost our mission.

But going introspective in our desperation is one way to speed our death. Clutching the jewel of community or the gathered body (read: “ourselves”) as the centre of our purpose, the highest prize of our efforts, will distract us from the mission (our purpose) that brings vitality and growth.

A Paradigm Shift

For the past forty years we’ve worked within a community-centric paradigm. The point of a paradigm (or world-view) is that like the air we breathe, it’s too big to notice. A paradigm is a system of subconscious assumption that puts a lens over everything we see, like a man looking for his glasses who has forgotten he’s wearing them.

So what do I mean by a community-centric paradigm? To expand a little, we can define the four activity-functions of the Church as:

  • Worship includes singing, prayer, lament
  • Discipleship includes teaching and shepherding
  • Community includes family and practical sharing within the church
  • Mission any contact with non-Christians including evangelism and social justice concerns

Traditionally churches organise themselves around worship: teaching happens in a worship service, community is tea and biscuits after the worship service and mission is inviting friends to the worship service. However, we’re built more around the ‘community’ function.

I’d like to propose that mission is the best catalyst for everything a church does. I believe mission to be a better catalyst for the other three functions than any of the other three are. I propose a missional church is a fruitful church and also has the best of the other three functions. Fortunately, we’re not too far off this paradigm.

Community for community’s sake is pointless, but missional community is dynamic.

“When we aim for community we get neither community nor mission. When we aim for mission we get both.”
3 Steps to Leading Your Church to Be On Mission, Matt Carter

What would it look like?

What would it look like if we organised ourselves around our mission?

  • Worship and prayer are more natural, unforced and free for people on mission. There are no token prayers on the mission field and worship needs no warm-up.
  • Teaching and discipleship finds its greatest purpose and application on the mission field. All bible teaching should be on a “need to know basis”, and missionaries need to know, and they know it.
  • Community is strongest in the trenches, where sacrifice and a common vision isn’t an ideal but a reality. Openness and vulnerability become a practical necessity and personal divisions, qualms of property and selfish comfort all become trifling to people consumed by a mission.

Our community, church businesses and events must all be made more flexible to accommodate our mission. Everything the church does should be seen as only existing to fuel its mission, not the mission simply seen as evangelism which supports everything else. Sure, we’ll still have big shared houses in the countryside but these will all support one or more smaller vanguard houses more strategically placed in urban neighbourhoods.

Holdup. What do you mean by ‘mission’?

I must explain what I mean by ‘mission’.

When we talk of ‘missional church’ we typically mean ‘church that sometimes evangelises’, but mission is not the same as evangelism, evangelism has a part in fulfilling our mission.

Mission is bigger than evangelism in the same way the kingdom is bigger than the church; the church is just a temporary expression of the eternal, timeless, location-less kingdom. We need to understand how much greater our mission is than ‘missions’. Missional church is not an event on a calendar, it’s what we get when we make God’s great commission the overriding purpose and intent behind everything we are and do.

Everything we do in light of the great commission is missional activity. An un-evangelistic cake baker can be missional if (s)he makes cakes for an open-house event. An evangelical church is not necessarily a missional church so long as it is more shaped by its traditions than its mission, that’s an outwardly-active but introspective church at best.

Because the adjective ‘missional’ is placed before the noun (or some would argue verb) ‘church’, the mission defines the church. It’s not so much that the church has a mission, rather the mission has a church. The whole purpose and goal of the church is to fulfil God’s mission on the earth and it finds its vitality only within that mission. A missional church organises everything about itself around its mission, not fits its mission between its other affairs. A missional church is not a sending agency but a sent agency.

The whole of Jesus’ ministry was sandwiched between the words “come and follow” and “go”. The Father sends the Son who sends the Spirit to the Church and the Church out into the world:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.
John 20:21

Got that? Jesus sends us the same way the Father sent him. How did the Father send Jesus? Incarnation. We are to bring new brotherhood communities into birth, new babies that are natives of each mission field Jesus sends us into. In other words, plant Jesus in new soil and see him spring up as a church, not clone our pattern of life. That is our mission, otherwise we die.

What’s Next?

A new way of seeing will precede a new way of doing.

If this post speaks life to your dream then believe your dream is from God and start taking the first step to seeing it come to pass.

But remember this: if a dream can be fulfilled overnight or with one person then it’s not much of a dream. The kingdom starts small and hidden like mustard seeds or leaven so you won’t see this kind of change immediately. This kind of new direction can’t be dictated from the top simply by pressing a button or shouting an order (that would probably be quite destructive and misjudged anyway, even if orchestrated by the best of us) but rather we must keep casting vision, water and encourage any green shoots that spring up and allow a new wineskin for new wine, new garments for new patches, as they come.

 

 

This little video from Francis Chan is worth watching – What does radical Christianity look like? Why share everything?

chan-video

 

If you’ve got to the end of this article and you’re thinking “yes, but…” or “no, because…” write your “yes but” or “no because” in the comments below.

Tree climber, pancake eater, initiator. Trying to keep up with Jesus. Webmaster, writer, video maker & creative coordinator thingamibob for Jesus Army.

  • Could you tell us more about what the mission IS? Getting people to believe the right things? Feeding the hungry? Preventing people from going to hell? Helping people be spiritual? Demonstrating for social change? Being friends with lots of people? Lobbying parliament? Healing people? Being vegetarian? Getting people to join our church? Helping people beat addictions? … All those are interpreted by churches as what they should be doing. But they don’t all match nor would all see all as mission.

    • As usual that’s a question I have thoughts about but decided to leave out in the interests of brevity, not that this post is brief as it is.

      To boil down what I believe to be God’s mission, God’s great purpose, and therefore the direction Everything is headed I’d start with these three core beliefs:

      1. God is love, expressed through and shared in His triune nature
      2. The universe is the overflow of God’s love
      3. The free will that this loving God has allowed because of love (as freedom is the nature of love) has allowed this universe to go wrong

      Therefore I’d express God’s mission as “To co-love, by creating and recreating”. Or as Paul put it in Colossians 1:15-20:
      “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven,making peace by the blood of his cross.”

      I’d emphasise “all things were created through him and for him… and through him to reconcile to himself all things.” Out of that comes our mission, and from that foundation the Great Commission can be best understood.

      But you want something more specific, don’t you?

      This isn’t fully thought through, but what comes to me right now mirrors the core beliefs above: It’s saying with our lives “God loves you/us” and “be reconciled to God”.

      Our core mission is to give people movie trailers of the coming kingdom, to point them to Jesus with our lives. That can’t be done with a “this is what we’re all going to do now” blueprint approach, the gospel must be enfleshed and incarnated natively into every soil God sends us. We’ll have to apply the same principles in different ways.

  • Len Kroon

    Far from being pointless, true christian community (or church) shows the gospel. By it’s very nature, ie saved sinners learning to love one another, it is redemptive and both the means and the end to mission. It exists for the glory of Jesus, it’s own sake and, until Jesus returns, the sake of the world, shining what to some is an unwanted light into the darkness, to others a beacon of hope, and doing good works, mostly hidden, as it testifies to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ and his saving power. Gathering christian community is a challenge that dignifies those who undertake it, a journey on a narrow difficult road with no apparent short cuts, a fight of faith and a labour of love. All grace abounds to those who endeavour.

    • Yes! Boom.

    • abraham

      community.leader shouting “GET DOWNSTAIRS INTO BROTHERHOOD!” after snatching my bible from me and throwing it against the wall….a flirtatious “sister” who hotted me up by flirting (literally hotted/heated me up,physically).community was an abortion.i was so stressed that i could not flourish in spiritual gifts.only when i was out of community in my own studio flat could i feel ready to operate in the gifts.

  • Kelvin Dodson

    Aidan is being provocative…he was born & brought up in community and he knows it’s value. I would have thought putting community & mission equally together is the way. Missional First “churches” can still flounder.
    We have something that most other churches don’t have (community, CP, all things in common) and I know a number
    of local churches that would love what we got!
    Just ‘cos the JA is “tired” & “weary” is no reason to write off community. It needs strengthening amongst us as well as the “missional” side

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