Over the summer, we were reflecting on the different terms and phrases that have grown up around this movement. Common language is such a vital tool in growing a culture – it brings common understanding, expectations and clarity to what is going on. This is particularly true of community life. If you want everyone in your community to understand the culture of the community, then common language will be essential. However, we also value simplicity and practicality. Language should be something that edifies a community and empowers people, not confuses them.
Over the last few years we have talked a lot about things like Missional Communities, Oikos and more recently Family on Mission. Whilst we have been hugely encouraged by how empowering these things have been to many others, we’ve also noticed that every so often, introducing all these phrases together has brought about some confusion, as the distinction between them hasn’t necessarily been clear!
With this in mind, we thought we would try and spend a bit more time on communicating these three ideas and how they fit together. The reality is that they are all about living in the same way – the greatest mistake would be to get the impression that they are somehow three different things!
Let’s start with Missional Communities. There’s a whole lot written about this, but as far as we are concerned, no matter what church you go to, Missional Communities are groups of people that should be defined as having the following 5 characteristics:
1. Clear MISSIONAL VISION and purpose
2. Balanced and shared lifestyle of UP/IN/OUT
3. Connected/accountable to – and ORBIT in and out of – a local church
4. Extended family/”SOCIAL SPACE” sized – usually 15-30 (you can read a bit more here about this)
5. LAY-LED by everyday church members – not a paid role for church staff
(If this is new to you, or you’d like to hear more about this – you might find this video helpful to watch)
Now – these things are (hopefully!) quite straightforward, but one logical question might be to say “how do these communities actually live and function together?”
If you’ve read our blog for a while, you may remember an extract from our book Family on Mission that we posted last year, which was entitled “Why Missional Communities aren’t the final destination”.
In this, we outlined the fact that Missional Communities really aren’t the end game. They are simply just the name that we give (lots of other churches use different names – that’s not important) to a structure within a wider church community that is helping and training all of us to live in a certain way of life that seems to be outlined in scripture.
That way of life is what we would call a “Family on Mission”. It’s our simplest way of describing what we believe is at the heart of the Christian life: To be in close relationship and partnership with others as we seek to be Good News to those God is bringing in to our lives. It’s relationship and adventure. It’s all the way through scripture, and even describes the very nature of God Himself: the Covenant family of the “three in one”, on a mission to redeem the whole of Creation. And we get to join in!
Now the problem is this – over the last few years we have all done lots of thinking, talking, and thrashing out what this whole idea of “mission” means, but we haven’t really talked all that much about family. The unfortunate truth is that by looking simply through our own cultural lens, “family” can become quite a loaded, intangible and sometimes even divisive word. Consequently, we may perhaps feel that we don’t really know how to build one.
But the disciples DID know how to build a family. The evidence of Jesus’ training of them is clear: Acts 2 marks the explosive birth of the early church. And straight away, the model we see is one of faith being lived out in small communities, or – more specifically – households. A family household would be known as an “Oikos” and if you went into ANY oikos in the New Testament, you would expect to see the same family patterns emerging. Most of it actually revolved around sharing things. The account in Acts 2 seems to say that the believers shared (vv 42-47):
– Times of teaching and prayer
– Times of fellowship (which appears to simply be fun & friendship with other believers)
– Times of eating together
– Belongings and resources
– The Good News with others
These 5 things are what we sometimes call the “marks” of an Oikos. You could think of them as 5 good habits that healthy families in scripture seemed to get in to. Now, a habit is something you do often. That’s why whenever we get the chance to work with people starting or growing Missional Communities, we are keen to point them back to this kind of family life, as described in the passage, and get them to think through how they can grow regular rhythms of these habits in their Missional Communities.
So understanding how an Oikos worked and applying those habits in our Missional Communities is simply all about helping each other to live as a family on mission together. A Missional Community is just a vehicle to help us live this way. It’s also the best way we have found for these kinds of families to connect to a local church at the centre (you may have also noticed that Acts 2 talks about “household” AND “temple” – connecting to a larger centre is incredibly important, but we won’t go in to that today).
Maybe in 50 years time, no one will talk about which Missional Community they are in anymore, but our personal desire is that across the Church there will still be an ever growing number of us that will be continuing to rediscover and represent what it means to truly live as a family, on a mission to be Good News to the world around us.
There’s much more to be said about all of this, but hopefully this helps to bring some clarity and explanation! Do get in touch with any questions or comments ☺
If you’d like to read more about any of these ideas – our books Leading Missional Communities and Family on Mission take a much more detailed look at what we are talking about here and are available through our online shop.