It has almost been a year since Amber and I began gathering a group of people who wanted to start a new community of faith in our home town, Jupiter, Florida. Reflecting on the last several months, I have seen how much fruit can come from a small group of people that continue to yield to the Holy Spirit. We are committed to nurturing what has popularly become known as “missional communities.” Of course, like anything that has become popular, a little defining might be helpful. Also, my hope is that our story continues to inspire others to dream about what this would look like in their town, suburb, city, or neighborhood.
A missional community is a group of 10-70 or so people who join together for worship, mutual support and encouragement, growth as disciples of Jesus, and to find simple ways to do good in the world. We think this is the best environment to cultivate maturity in individuals, create authentic deep relationships, and actively join God’s mission. Our belief is that missional communities are a way to compliment and balance larger traditional churches in a suburban area. But a missional community is just the vessel. We are most concerned about calling people back to the treasure of the Christian life.
There are four New Testament words that are important for us to understand and live out:
Love, Grace, Spirit, and Kingdom.
It all starts with God’s love. If we start from a place of condemnation or failure as individuals, we miss the beauty of the Gospel. “For God so LOVED the world…” This is our trump card to the secular, consumer-driven society that we live in. God’s love cannot be bought or sold. From a humanistic point of view, his love makes no sense. It is an offense to the religious, proud, and self-justified. For the broken, God’s love is a treasure.
When we come to the place of receiving God’s love, we then understand how everything is a gift – it’s all grace. Not just our salvation, but every breath. Growing as a disciple of Jesus is growing in receiving grace and living grace.
Then we begin to understand the wonderful action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit fills us, directs us, empowers us, comforts us, and sustains us. As we are joined together in community, we rely fully on the Holy Spirit to lead us and show us how we fit into one body.
It is at this point when we begin to understand our place in God’s kingdom – how we can experience the already of his kingdom and anticipate the kingdom to come. God’s kingdom is where his will is done perfectly, where what he wants done is done (D. Willard). That’s our goal as a missional community. To live in his kingdom, be agents of his kingdom, and to pray for his kingdom to come in the world.
Our dream is to see thousands of these missional communities popping up all over the United States. The beauty of what we have discovered is that they can be started and led by ordinary men and women. There are a variety of organizations out there who exist to train and support missional communities. Our heritage happens to be in the Vineyard movement which already has in place programs to help train people in most of the necessary gifts and theological foundation. What is needed is continued support as new communities are started and multiply.
The experience Amber and I have had as pioneers for the past 12 years has given us a unique perspective on the suburban church and how to help ordinary people grow into passionate, authentic followers of Jesus. We certainly do not have all the answers and are learning new things every day. But we believe we have built on an excellent foundation with the right materials.
Our challenge, frankly, is finding people with the courage to step outside the comfort of a traditional church setting where pastoral leaders and staff do 80% or more of the ministry. Honestly, we don’t need superstars. We are looking for people who simply want more and want to grow. The less capable you are in traditional ministry, the better. There are very few transferrable skills from a typical evangelical / charismatic church into a missional community setting. We have no parking attendants, greeters, band, sound engineer, ushers, childcare workers, or counseling team. Our budget strives to be 80% mission and 20% internal, which is the complete opposite of the average church. We actually encourage you to spend more time with your family, in your neighborhood, and actively a part of your community, than doing church activities.
In fact, our mission together is primarily aimed at connecting the people around us with, well, us. We don’t try to get people to come to a church service. We want people to experience God through actions like community meals, serving the poor and broken, healing the sick, and just having fun. Eventually we will invite them to worship with us, but only when they’re ready.
We actually enjoy being around each other, for the most part. Occasionally we’ll butt heads and have conflict. That’s normal. What’s not normal or good is ignoring the conflict or letting it fester. We practice reconciliation as a part of our worship. We work things out because God worked things out with us. Anything less is just being religious and fake.
So we are looking for a few good men and women. We need both to lead, because the New Testament is very clear that both men and women are meant to lead. We need apostles (fire-starters), prophets (God-reminders), evangelists (Gospel-tellers), pastors (community-builders), and teachers (kingdom-instructors). The Holy Spirit gives us these people in all shapes and sizes, and they aren’t all leaders!
But leadership is very important, especially when you are pioneering something new. Not all leaders are pastors. Sometimes they are just people willing to do something no one else is willing to do. Leaders can be trained and given room to grow. That’s the kind of environment we want to have.
Some organizations out there are working really hard to make this missional community idea work. You can pay them money, go to a few conferences, and they’ll coach you on how to do this. That may work for some people and I don’t doubt it is a perfectly valid thing to do. But in my humble opinion, there is nothing like experiencing something first hand. To me, there is no substitute for planting your feet in the soil of an actual community and learning as you go. Conferences, books, and outside coaching are beneficial to some degree. But I would never trade the last 12 years of working this out among friends in the paradise of Jupiter, Florida.
If you’ve read this far, you deserve a prize and a hearty congratulations. But you may also consider joining us. God didn’t call us to the inner city, a trendy part of town, or to the beautiful countryside. We live in ground zero of modern, consumeristic America. People are busy, self-absorbed, mildly religious, some conservative, some liberal, and totally American. On the outside, they have it all. Great weather, nice homes, good jobs, active fun lives. On the inside, it’s a wasteland of loneliness, anger, failed marriages, financial ruin, and shame. Middle America is crying out for the Gospel while it consumes the latest self-medicating diversion. Unfortunately, the church has been all too willing to provide it’s own diversions in order to maintain the status-quo of church attendance as the only true measure of success.
We know there is so much more. Let’s end the self-medication. Let’s move on to something real; something that points us towards the kingdom of God.