Why Missional Communities aren’t the final destination

This may initially sound strange coming from us, especially given that we have just finished writing our new Leading Missional Communities book and spend so much of our time helping leaders to grow Missional Communities, but this is something we are absolutely convinced about:

Missional Communities are not the end-game. 

A helpful vehicle? YES – absolutely. We continue to see churches and communities transformed through the power of MC’s. But a final destination? NO

To help explain what we are getting at, we’d like to share a short extract from our new book that’s coming out next month. Whilst the specific context of this extract relates primarily to an American cultural setting, we feel the principle points to similar settings we all find ourselves in:

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“It’s almost noon, and the house is saturated with the rich scent of roasted turkey, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Every family or friend invited prepared and brought food to share with everyone else. A few people came over early to help Mom and Dad make sure the house was ready for guests.

Some of the adults and older children are finishing up a game of touch football in the backyard while a few of the younger kids play tag. Your uncle brought a friend from work, a die-hard Detroit Lions fan who is glued to the TV with a couple of other people taking in the pregame show. Several others are talking in the kitchen as they put the finishing touches on the Thanksgiving feast they will all be eating in 20 minutes or so.

After sitting down at the table with one another for a laid-back, longer-than- usual lunch filled with laughter and connection, the day will continue— together. Some will begin putting away leftovers and washing the dishes. Some will immediately settle into chairs and couches for the football game (and probably a nap). Some will go back outside to play more touch football. Some will strike up conversations with cousins they haven’t seen in a while.

Eventually, those who are hungry will get the leftovers back out for an informal supper. Some will be reading a beloved book on the couch, while others will be talking. The gathering will last well into the evening. Some will need to go home; others will spend the night. Before adjourning, they’ll make plans to do things tomorrow.This portrait of an extended family celebrating Thanksgiving is a distinctly American story, of course, but the same basic plot exists across the globe. The language, food, and geography may be different, but the theme is the same.

lmc-machineEXTENDED FAMILIES ON MISSION

It may sound strange to start talking about Missional Communities by talking about an extended family gathering around the Thanksgiving table. But that’s where we have to begin. Why? Because, ultimately, we don’t want to talk about Missional Communities. We want to talk about family.

Bear with us as we explain ourselves a bit.

Missional Communities (MCs) are a hot topic right now in the church, and many are excited about the potential of MCs to help the church live out its mission in the world. We began using MCs in the 1990s and are now helping to lead the church in implementing them. (That’s probably why you’re reading this book.) However, MCs are not a silver bullet that will solve all of the church’s missional problems.

Although MCs are not the destination, they are enormously valuable, because MCs are a structure that helps us get to our true goal, something we call oikos.

Oikos is a Greek word used in the New Testament to refer to “households,” which were essentially extended families who functioned together with a common purpose. In the early church, discipleship and mission always centered around and flourished in the oikos. This vehicle facilitated the relational dynamic that allowed the church to thrive in the midst of persecution and hardship for hundreds of years. Oikos still helps the church thrive today, even in places where persecution is quite severe. We are absolutely convinced that oikos is what the church needs to reclaim if it is going to become the kind of movement the church was in its earliest days.

In fact, living as oikos has been the norm for almost every culture for most of human history. It’s just how family was—not 2.4 children in a single-family home but a wider community sharing life and work and celebration and commerce together. Only in the last hundred years or so in the West have we lost this sense of being extended families on mission. For a whole host of reasons, we have unwittingly embraced the fragmentation of the extended family and tried to live primarily as individuals and nuclear families. The results of this experiment have been utterly disastrous, and you probably see the aftermath all around you. Loneliness and depression are rampant, we are more stressed and busier than ever, and many people feel they are barely keeping their heads above water as they try to advance in their careers, raise their children, and seek some semblance of meaning in life.

In the midst of this sea of chaos and confusion, however, those of us who follow Christ have the remarkable opportunity to literally rebuild society by re-forming “extended family” oikos communities centered not on blood or ancestry, but on Jesus. Our commission is to compassionately reach out to those around us, invite them to join us in community, share the story of the gospel, make disciples, and gather them into families to follow Jesus together. That’s really what starting an MC is all about. This is not a fad or the latest church growth technique or a new name for cell groups. It is rediscovering the church as oikos, an extended family on mission where everyone contributes and everyone is supported.

So, it isn’t that MCs aren’t important. They are, and that’s why we wrote this book. But MCs are simply the initial vehicle we learn to drive that gets us to the real destination: learning to live as oikos, extended families functioning together on mission with God. MCs are the training wheels that teach us how to ride the bike of oikos. They are the scaffolding that allows us to rebuild the household of oikos. MCs are the cocoon that allows the butterfly of oikos to emerge. You get the picture. In fact,

we think that in 50 years, people will look back and say, “It’s hilarious—they used to make people join MCs because they didn’t know how to do this! Isn’t that amazing?”

We believe oikos is something the Spirit of God is doing in this time to restore the church’s ability to function fruitfully in discipleship and mission the way the early church did, publicly living out our faith in the various neighborhoods and relational networks of our cities. We firmly believe this is the make-or-break issue for the Western church. We simply will not see God’s dream for the world come true unless we learn how to function as extended families on mission.

The good news is that it isn’t actually that complicated, and God will give us the power to do it.

This isn’t a task reserved for church leaders, pastors, or experts—it’s for everyone! When MCs are led well, they are an extremely effective vehicle for training ordinary people to follow Jesus together and re- learn oikos, so we want to equip you as practically as possible to do this. But remember: The goal is not to run a program called “Missional Community.” The goal is to learn how to function as an extended family on mission. We really believe this is something everyone can learn to do.

Think of it like this:

MCs are a great vehicle with a powerful engine (discipleship, but we’ll get to that in a bit), but the thing about a vehicle is that it’s supposed to take you somewhere.

The destination the vehicle of MC takes us to is oikos. To drive successfully and purposefully, you need to know where you’re going, and you need to know how to drive the vehicle. That’s what you’ll find in this book.

A quote widely attributed to Margaret Mead captures the idea well: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed [people] can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”*

*Attributed to Margaret Mead in Frank G. Sommers and Tana Dineen (1984), Curing Nuclear Madness, p. 158

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5 replies »

  1. Yes! This is very helpful. MCs are necessary because of the lack of functioning oikoi. I think it’s also important to explore the relationship between ecclesia and oikos. In 1 Tim 3:15 “God’s household” (oikos) is also “the living God’s assembly/gathering” (ecclesia), evoking the gathering of the freed people of Israel to meet and hear from and learn to live for the living God who had redeemed them. There’s clearly a lot of overlap, but perhaps the ecclesia dimension focuses on community built and shaped by the worship of God, and the oikos dimension on life as God’s family?

  2. Yes we’d agree George, there is definitely overlap. We’ve found it helpful to think about “ecclesia” as the general principle of God’s family gathering, but then asking the question of “how does God’s family gather?” The disciples seemed to live their lives on a continuum of temple gathering and household gathering (Acts 2:46). i.e. both were important and lived out continually. From our point of view, although many of us have become well practiced in how to live within the “temple” gathering size (Sunday/public worship space), oikos represents the extended family/household gathering size that is particularly absent in many cultures today. This is where we feel Missional Communities can become the “training wheels” that help us learn how to take hold of oikos living again.

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