Our heart is that the church of Jesus recaptures and grows families on mission – families that represent Jesus in words and actions to those around them.
Sometimes, when we’re focused on launching and establishing missional communities, we’re quite rightly putting a lot of our effort and resource behind growing the work at what we might call the ‘edge’. By this we mean the frontier, or the place where we are looking to establish God’s kingdom. This could be out in the city, or the community, but the emphasis is away from what we would see as the central church.
Like a lot of things in the kingdom, there’s a call to live in the tension of two ends of the spectrum. Most of us find it easier to live at one end or another. We either prefer to invest in community life on the frontier OR we prefer to pour our energy and effort into the central church. But actually the synergy comes when we invest at both ends of the spectrum. Getting the balance between the two can feel challenging.
The early church was made up of families (oikos) everywhere, connecting to a larger temple or centre. Ephesus is probably the best example of a missionary centre – training and sending the families on mission connected to it.
In Acts 19 and 20, Paul gathered the believers together – both in a rented lecture hall and in their own homes – and they began sharing the word and experiencing powerful miracles. There was a sense of gathering AND scattering. Over time people throughout the province of Asia (Jews and Greeks) heard the Good News.
Stories like Ephesus show us the value of having a centre that RESOURCES missionaries to be sent out in families.
The temptation is to see the centre and edge as two separate entities that need to be developed or maintained in isolation from each other. However, when we see them as one entity, intrinsically connected, we can begin to see how the the life of one fuels the other.
Missional communities allow people to see up-close what it looks like to live as a disciple and as a community of disciples. Imagine the life of a Missional Community rather like a burning torch. The great thing about torches is that they’re really portable and can be taken to anywhere they’re needed, bringing light and warmth in places of darkness and despair. They can also be used to start new fires elsewhere. To continue the metaphor slightly, the only problem with torches is that eventually they can go out if left on their own and have no way of receiving more heat.
So, if you just leave these torches out on the frontier they’ll lose heat, wither and die. There needs to be a constant flow of returning to a bigger, warmer centre for heat before being sent out again.
People don’t tend to gravitate toward torches that are burning out! This is why these torches need to regularly gather together so that they aren’t simply torches scattered along the missional frontier slowly flickering out. By coming together at the “centre” they can actually become a raging bonfire that continues to burn hotter and brighter when they return to the missional frontier. There are times when the torch needs to be sent out and “DO”, as well as times when the torches need to come together, creating a giant fire, feeding the flames of the gathered company, and just “BE” .
But how do you create this red-hot nature at the centre in the first place? Looking at three of the major bases in the New Testament – Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesus – we see a sustainable, fruitful picture of a centre for missionary resourcing and sending. There seem to be 3 key components:
Passionate Spirituality (UP)
In each place, the church was absolutely passionate about God. That passion was expressed in unbridled praise and worship, prayer, commitment to the teaching and obeying of the word, and lives oriented around fasting, feasting, and the breaking of bread.
Red hot centres are places where we empower people to feed themselves on God’s word and teach them to engage passionately in worship and prayer.
Radical Community (IN)
In each place, vibrant expressions of community existed. People were prepared to sacrifice and share life to levels that today we would call extreme, in order to be a family on mission together.
Red hot centres are a place where a culture of sharing and serving exists. We try to show each other what it looks like to live in a big family. Encouraging active participation rather than passive consumption is key and we can do this through things like sharing testimonies, developing welcome & hospitality teams or planning central offerings to other ministries
Missionary Zeal (OUT)
We see a movement of mission develop in each place, with each having a slightly different flavour. In Jerusalem, the church saw people added to their number daily – it seems like it happened more because of their life of radical community. Antioch enjoyed the presence of many missionaries and very large evangelistic gatherings. Ephesus sent out church planters and movement leaders in their own right.
Red hot centres provide a base for missionaries to be sent from. Each member is encouraged to serve rather than consume. They are not an end in themselves but rather a centre to encourage, equip and inspire each disciple to “go” and make disciples. Through testimony, teaching and training, they remind everyone of the good news, and commission them to go out with a clear vision to a specific context.
We need blazing bonfires with portable torches at the edges.
We need red-hot centres which encourage individuals and communities to go out “on-fire” for God, loving one another and hungry to share the good news with those around them.