Monday, September 29, 2008

Missional Community

Last Saturday night, I was having some serious fun – and I wasn’t with my church family. That’s not meant to be a criticism of St. John’s – just an expression of “wonder” that I could carve out some time to be with people who are not part of my church, and enjoy it. If you must know, my two daughters dance in a local hula dance troop, and I was koholo-ing with my oldest in a father-daughter number along with several other dads. The song was “Pineapple Princess” and let’s just say that only a dad and his daughter could do it justice with words like “Pineapple Princess, I love you you’re the sweetest girl I’ve seen / Someday we’re gonna marry and you’ll be my Pineapple Queen!” Practicing that song with Corynn has been a terrific bonding time; and an unintended benefit has been the opportunity to get to know some men who are not part of my “church circle.”

Perhaps you’re getting the idea that one of my biggest challenges is building relationships with those who are not members of my congregation. Admittedly -- so much of my time is spent studying and preparing for worship services, attending the steady stream of administrative and leadership meetings, engaging in pastoral care, and simply enjoying the rich friendships we’ve made with our St. John’s family -- it would be quite easy for me to go weeks without meaningful contact with the people in our larger community. That’s a problem…because I firmly believe Christ calls us to be invested in relationships with those who don’t know him and have no experience of his transforming grace.

No doubt Jesus’ original disciples experienced a similar tension. Theirs was a close-knit fellowship of men, and not a few women, who experienced a richness of life together. “Jesus called those whom he desired, to be with him (Mark 3:13-15) in a deep and abiding friendship. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” Jesus said. “I do not call you servants any longer…but I have called you friends” (John 15: 15). He made it clear that his followers were his true family (Matthew 12: 46-50); and in calling together 12 men – mirroring the 12 sons of Jacob and the 12 tribes -- he was making clear his intention to reform the broken and scattered family of Israel. No, Jesus did not form a corporation or a political action committee or even a religious institution -- he formed a family.

That being said, I want to suggest that the very things we cherish about our own church family (the closeness, the honesty and forgiveness, our inter-generational and multi-ethnic variety) could actually be a hindrance to the mission of Christ….if we hold them too tightly. Perhaps you’ve caught yourself or heard someone else say, “You know, I just love this church because people know my name and I know theirs. If the church grew any larger…I’m afraid we would lose the closeness that we cherish.” I too can say that “I love this community, and those ten or one hundred people who know my name” -- but I have to be careful not to make that “community” into an idol. For Jesus called the twelve “to be with him,” and then sent them out. He called us to be a missional community… a community with a cause. The “us four and no more” attitude is what flash freezes our hearts, closes off the outside world, and remakes the church into a private club that is ours to enjoy at the expense of the seeking, lonely, and hurting people outside who need the love of God as much as we do.

Lately, I’m finding that to push myself beyond the walls of the church is not as difficult as it first would seem. Christ calls me to begin by being aware of where I already naturally connect with people in my everyday life – whether talking with a new friend at the local gym where I work out, extending myself in hospitality to one of my neighbors, having dinner with some international students from UCLA Village who want to practice English, or dancing “Pineapple Princess” with a bunch of crazy dads in my daughters’ hula dance troop. I'm thinking about a friend right now who loves to play the "cruise director" and invite friends over for a fun time of board games. What a great answer to the lonelines and isolation of a big city like Los Angeles, and what an opportunity for deep and meaningful friendship -- Jesus' style.

Building authentic friendships with those who are outside the church community…and including them intentionally in my own circle of relationships is where I need to begin. God will give you and me the words to speak as we live out a Christ-honoring life before others, for his desire is to welcome these new friends (like you and me) into his forever family. Now here are two questions for you: (1) In thinking through the idea of missional community, what would it mean for you to personally bring together believers and seekers in a circle of friendship, and so lay the foundation for the sharing of love, real life and faith in Christ? Or, (2) name 3 ways that your Lifegroup could become a 'community with a cause'?


MomBrode said...

We thought we would blog the answer to the last question for Lifegroups this week: "Name 3 ways your Lifegroup could become a "community with a cause". It went along with the idea that knowing friends in the church community can hinder our missional outreach.
Our 3 ways to reach out will be to
1. Pair up after Sunday worship to greet new people in our church that we don't know. (After church we often catch up with our friends in the congregation. This definitely hinders our outreach to those who are newcomers to our church.)
2. Sit in the back of the church once a month to greet newcomers (who generally sit in the back at the church) at the Greeting One Another time. This can also lead to talking to newcomers after church.
3. Participate in the Fall Festival this Saturday and greet those in the community who might attend - at our dessert table.
Love to all, The Phoebes

Carol C. said...

In thinking about “missional community,” I realized that I feel like I have no ability to draw someone to Christ, and my contacts with strangers are mostly limited to brief encounters. Why should someone listen to me and make a decision as profound as coming to Christ when they don't even know me?

When Jesus was finished talking to the woman at the well, her response was to go out and tell people, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29 NKJV)

Although, as Christians, we're supposed to have the power of the Holy Spirit and the ability to do the things that Jesus did, I've never had an encounter where I WOWed someone with my special abilities so that they wanted to believe what I was telling them about Jesus.

In the absence of that ability, I have to believe that, in most cases, our impact will be on people we have built relationships with over a long period of time. It's a one-on-one thing, and it takes time and patience.

Of course, there are people like Billy Graham, and other evangelists, who can put on a big event and give an invitation to come to Christ and many will come forward. But the majority of those people who come forward have probably had seeds of faith planted and watered by people who have known them, so they're ripe for the harvest.

Until we get to heaven, we most likely won't know what impact a word or a gesture on our part had on someone else's life. I guess I'm trying to talk myself into not being discouraged if I don't see a harvest. (See John 4:35-38)

There's a partner in the firm where I work who is Jewish, but he's not a Jewish believer in Christ (like I am). We have had many, many religious discussions over the years and, although he disagrees with me, who knows what decision he'll make when he's face to face with God. I hope he'll remember what we've talked about and that he'll recognize who Jesus is in that moment of decision. I hope some seeds have taken root.

Irina said...

Our group felt very inspired by the last question. While we will take some time to further define our idea, what we would like to do is invite people staying at PATH in West LA, and cook dinner for them here at St. John's. We would create a fun evening and also a time where they could hear about Jesus and be ministered to, if they want. Thank you Steve for inspiring us. As a Lifegroup, we look forward to using the gifts God has given us for the purpose of reaching out to others.

Steve Craig said...

Wow! Mombrode,Carol,and Irina have given us some GREAT ideas for being a truly missional community. Worship, community events which take place on our church campus,long term relationships with people at work, and welcoming folks staying at PATH in West LA to dinner at church. Carol aks a great question: Why should someone listen to me and make a decision as profound as coming to Christ when they don't even know me? PRECISELY! Why should they? We need to get to know our neighbors, and build real relationships... and that often takes time. It also means we relinquish control of that process to God because we do not know what the outcome will be. Our job is to be faithful servants of Jesus...and true friends to those who are outside the church. "Everyone will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another," Jesus said. And again, actively "love your neighbor"! Let's do it so that God can reveal his Son through us. Thanks again for your comments. Anyone else want to chime in?

Hwee Tin said...

Our Phoebe lifegroup met this morning and here are our responses to Q#5
Q.Who are we tempted to exclude in our backyard from the saving mission of Jesus?
A. Nasty drivers and mean people whom we have to deal with... Sometimes when we encounter unreasonable people, our natural responses are anger and self righteousness..and we are ready to write them off as if we have the right to do so..
2nd part of Q: what would your prayer be for them today?
A. Unanimously we felt that the prayer should be for us or at least start with us. We pray for forgiveness for our pride. Teach us to see them through God's eyes. And to help us be more tolerant and open minded and to give us courage and boldness in handling the situation.