My friend Marilyn Beyer asked me these questions in preparation for a presentation in one of her seminary classes. I thought I’d share. Her questions are in bold.
Why missional communities? Why now?
Why now? The simple answer is that it comes out of a sense of calling. It wasn’t a thundering voice sort of thing, but through prayer, circumstances, scripture, and the big “C” Church, I sensed God preparing me, training me, and leading me to start missional communities.
The two words are key. The first word, missional, is about God having a mission in the world and inviting us into it. We don’t do mission for God. God has a mission and we get to have a role in that. The second word is something God created us for: community. So God’s redemptive and creative purposes come together in missional community. It’s never the wrong time for that.
Some say, “well, that’s just the church.” And I think some churches do experience and express missional community. But in my 30 plus years of local church experience, when those two things came it was beautiful, but also accidental. And worse, sometimes church culture didn’t support it. (And that’s being kind). What we’re doing at First Coast Missional Communities is trying to do the missional and community pieces very intentionally. That’s why we say, “we’re a church of missional communities.”
What would be your ‘1 or 2 minute elevator speech’ if someone asked you “What is a missional community?”?
It depends on who’s asking, but my general answer is something like this: We gather for worship once a month on second Sundays, but between times, we meet in homes in these groups we call “missional communities.” We have 15 to 50 people in each MC and we organize our life together around Up, In, and Out. “Up” is about seeking God, so we worship, pray, and study the Bible. “In” is about doing life together, so we have fun together, sometimes we go places together, and usually we eat a lot of good food. “Out” is about meeting needs with the love of God and serving in our community, which we think is very important. We do these three things because when we look at the life Jesus lived in the Bible, he lived that way.
In the “elevator speech”, I don’t usually explain a very important piece of the MC puzzle. Each MC has a very specific, clearly defined vision for mission. Each MC has one mission that it focuses its energy and effort on. This keeps the group focused and allows it to have a deeper impact in one area. If Mother Theresa advised that we do small things with great love, for MCs, I’d say do a focused thing with great love. MCs come up with that vision for mission on their own, so there’s usually high ownership already. But we ask them to stick with one particular vision for mission for one year. That takes a bit of discipline.
Also, I don’t usually explain how discipleship works in an MC, either, or that MCs can multiply on their own.
What do you envision the missional community looking like in 1 year? 5 years?
In 1 year? That’s a good season for learning – so I think an MC would be a little wiser. But that’s not enough time. In five years, I think an MC would still look roughly like the one described above: 15-50 people, doing Up, In, and Out. But if an MC met over that length of time, I envision it being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit into a beautiful, incarnational, expression of the Body of Christ. It would look like God working through an extended family whose members resemble Christ to bless the world.
Authentic community takes time. MCs are a great way to get there. I would love it if observers said like the Roman’s did, “see these Christians, how they love one another.”
Do titles like ‘pastor’ matter in a missional community? What does leadership look like? Is theological education necessary to lead a missional community?
I don’t know how much the title matters, per se. The title may yield respect or suspicion. But the role of the pastor matters. In Ephesians 4, there is a list of five titles for equipping ministers within the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These ministers equip us for the work God has for us. As a pastor of missional communities, I am more focused than ever on equipping others.
FCMC is a church of missional communities. When we organized our church, we decided that I would meet regularly with and report to a church board. I make myself accountable to them.
Within our missional communities, we have two leadership titles. We have MC leaders and MC hosts. The leader directs the MC on the front end with the hosts. Over time, with training, the task of leading the MC is transferred to the hosts. The training is formal and highly relational. It happens in what we call “discipleship huddles”. Right now, I’m the leader of our two MCs and meeting in two huddles with the hosts of each MC. After about a year, (in theory) the hosts would be equipped in discipleship, leading the MC, and meeting with others in huddles of their own. They would become the leaders who are training others. We are very intentional about this.
About theological education, I certainly find it very helpful and use it every day. It helps a great deal for preaching, brings confidence when discipling, and there’s always a need for pastoral care and counseling. I would think any network of missional communities would benefit from a relationship with a pastor. However, a lot of what I do I am passing on. The leaders and hosts of MCs are lay-people, but by training them in discipleship they are enjoying a form of theological training and practice, too. It’s a source of joy for us all to see God at work in one another.
How often do you worship? When? Where? How is this decided?d
For now, once a month we gather everybody we can at public spaces. We’ve used a park pavilion, a pavilion in a soccer complex, a home, and (our favorite place) a pool house that seats about fifty and has a great little kitchen and facilities. At this level, the decision is based on the availability of the pool house. We find another spot when it’s not available. We also held a special service at the beach (Good Friday Sunrise). I’ve told them that when we hit 200 in worship, we’ll start holding worship weekly. But we encourage MC members to worship in other local churches. For that matter, we have good, supportive relationships with three near-by churches and we encourage folks to send their kids to their youth and children’s programs.
Beyond visible presence in the community, how do you spread the word about your missional community?
Word of mouth is key. Each missional community has a very particular mission. “The mission that is the magnet,” they say. When people are in a community serving in a way that is exciting and interesting, they tell others about it. It’s slower than advertising or door-to-door campaigns, but a compelling mission not only attracts people, it helps them stick (as does a healthy experience of community).
But we still send out an email newsletter, maintain a web site and a facebook page (please “like” us), and tweet links to articles to anyone who follows “pastorjessealex”. These mechanisms are more about communication with people who know us, but it does help spread the word to others.
How is a missional community different from a small group?
In some networks, mcs are small groups are small groups. We call them “missional small groups” until they hit fifteen. We are learning about missional communities from a ministry called 3dm (Mike, Sally Breen, and company). 3dm’s approach to missional communities calls for larger groups. They say, “big enough to dare, small enough to care.” For that matter, sometimes there are two or three small groups organized within a missional community.
By definition, a small group has under fifteen folks. Our communities are larger than that. Sociologist Edward T. Hall identified groups of under fifteen as “personal space size” and groups of fifteen to seventy as “social space” sized groups. (Above that, you hit public space.) So, one difference between our mcs and small groups is that social dynamics change when you hit that number. For example, it’s easier to include new people in social space groups. And it’s easier to divide if needed.
Where do you go from here?
Well, our strategy is pretty simple, and we will keep working it. We will pray a lot and focus on getting better at doing these three things:
1) developing leaders, imparting skills for discipleship and leadership.
2) trying to launch healthy missional communities (at a sustainable rate).
3) gathering to worship God and celebrate what God is doing in and through missional communities.
If God is gracious and if we are faithful, I think this could be a movement that impacts our city. We are praying that this spreads across the First Coast, releasing God’s love and grace all across Jacksonville. In twenty years, we’d love to see 200 missional communities around the First Coast.
Pray for us.