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?



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.

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Tree climber, pancake eater, kinda artist. Trying to keep up with Jesus. I enjoy writing, cooking and roadtrips with friends. At work I'm a webmaster, writer, video maker & creative coordinator thingamibob for Jesus Fellowship Church.

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