By Jeff Vanderstelt
We all experience mission drift. We can tend to forget who we are and what God has called us to do together. A missional community can subtly become primarily a support group concerned only about one another, forgetting the mission of making disciples of others.
Some groups, especially if the members have been in the church for some time, gravitate toward only doing a Bible study together, so they need to be reoriented toward also obeying God’s Word while on mission together.
We’ve also observed that missional communities can turn into social-activist groups, with little or no gospel proclamation—good deeds with no words about Jesus—while others may become outwardly focused on mission while failing to commit to seeing one another develop into maturity.
So we encourage the groups at our church to reform their missional community covenants every year. Missional communities establish these covenants when they form in order to shape how they will live out their identities and rhythms in particular mission fields.
When our groups reform their covenants, they generally spend several weeks doing so, using our definition of a missional community—a family of missionary servants sent as disciples who make disciples—as a guide.
Start with the Gospel
The first step is making sure we all still affirm our belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t want to ever assume this, so it is the first part of our covenant. In fact, we encourage our groups not only to affirm their individual and collective belief in the gospel, but also to develop a plan for rehearsing it together regularly. We want everyone to be fluent in the gospel, speaking it regularly to one another and to those who don’t yet believe.
If you are part of a group, forming a group, or looking to reform a group, please make sure you build a strong gospel foundation and have a plan to help everyone become fluent in speaking the truths of Jesus into the everyday stuff of life.
Clarify the Mission
Next, we clarify our mission. We remind one another that we are commanded by Jesus to make disciples of all people groups. So we ask: “What people and place do we believe God is collectively sending us to this year? Who do we hope to see become followers of Jesus Christ?”
Our missional community has identified the faculty and families of Grant Elementary School, as well as the neighborhoods around it. Some groups focus on a neighborhood or region. Some focus on a particular group of people with common interests, experiences, or needs.
Whom do you believe God is sending you to? Who around you needs to know Jesus? Is there a neighborhood or network of relationships where people need to be loved like family, served as Jesus served you, and told about the good news of salvation found in Jesus’s name?
The possibilities for a missional focus are endless. Some ask: “Why is having a missional focus so important? Isn’t all of life mission? Isn’t every one of us a missionary?”
Yes, all of life is mission and everyone is a missionary. Life is the mission trip. However, we’ve found it’s important to also identify a collective mission—a missional focus. Too often, groups primarily talk about being on mission, but then the members leave the group meeting and find themselves alone on mission. As a result, many don’t engage in mission, or if they do, they are lonely missionaries.
Very few people will lead others toward faith in Jesus all by themselves. It does happen, and each of us should always be ready to share the gospel. However, the biblical narrative provides very few examples of mission done in isolation. Jesus assembled his disciples on mission in groups of two or more. Paul traveled with a team. The early church was together daily on mission.
We need one another, and we need to be together in order for saturation to be accomplished most effectively.
A missional focus also provides common experiences through which people can more effectively be trained. For instance, if we are all focusing on loving the faculty and families of Grant Elementary, our group will likely spend more time together at the school, engaging in common events and building overlapping relationships, and therefore experiencing more opportunities to be together for equipping in the everyday stuff of life.
Another strength of a common missional focus is that the people we are sent to can see what Jesus saves us into—the family of God. We are not just saved from hell. We are saved for God’s purposes now into life together on his mission. So much of our missionary work fails because people hear a message but never see its implications (reconciliation into a loving family).
We say the gospel has power to change our lives and relationships, but those with whom we share have no way of knowing this if they are never brought into a community that is experiencing it. Being on mission together consistently with a common focus provides a context in which to make disciples, as well as an experience of what life with Jesus is like.
Recently, our missional community, along with a few others, served at the Grant Elementary auction to raise money for art education. This elementary school, like many others, lost funding for the arts years ago. As a way to serve the teachers and students, parents host an auction to raise money to provide art supplies, training, and experiential learning. We’ve been actively involved with the auction for five years. This time, many of our members worked for several months in preparation and planning.
During the auction, 22 people from a few missional communities served. Many have no children at the school, and some are actually teachers at other schools. Several times throughout the night, those who were serving were asked: “Why are you doing this? You don’t have any children at Grant Elementary. Why are you here? You’re a teacher at another school? That makes no sense!” Each question provided an opportunity to talk about Jesus and his church.
A missional focus also helps us with our individual missions, as it gives each of us a context into which to invite our friends, a context where they can also experience the gospel being worked out in community on mission. For instance, one of the ways you could introduce your coworkers to Jesus is by inviting them to help with a service project your group is involved in within your missional focus—an auction, a community garden you’re building, or a house you’re restoring. This would provide an opportunity for your coworkers to experience what disciples of Jesus do, as well as how they interact as a loving family on mission together.
The word and work of the gospel is spreading out, saturating every place, reaching all people through God’s sent ones. Where is he sending you? Across the street, across your city, across the country, or around the world? With whom do you believe you are being sent? How might you covenant together on this mission?
JEFF VANDERSTELT is the leader for the Soma Family of Churches and the lead teaching pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. When he isn’t preaching or mentoring church planters, he and his family share life with their missional community. He is the author of Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life, from which this is adapted. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2015.