Can people go on mission without simultaneously working through what healthy community looks, feels and functions like?
One of the major contentions of Post-Christians in our city (Syracuse) is that life as a Christian doesn’t necessarily make you a better person. The typical perception by the 96%* in our city that don’t care to go to church and are unimpressed by our strides to be relevant is, Christians aren’t better humans than Non-Christians. I would dare to agree with them for the most part. This perception whether it’s completely or partially accurate is our street-cred. It’s incredibly important for church leaders and their people to embrace self-awareness that our way of life is not envied by others. We don’t appear to be better listeners, slow to anger, abounding in love, patient with others, slow to offense, intense relators, overly generous and faithful in friendship. These types of qualities are the most noticeable if you have them and the most noticeable if you don’t. To add fuel to the fire the breakdown of our families (the divorce rate) isn’t any better than the rest of the worlds. From my experience, teaching people their missional mandate and sending them on mission doesn’t help this issue, it actually might exasperate it. I don’t think missionality should be pitched, that would be an overreaction. A vibrant ecclesiology will thrust you outward incarnationally into the world. But at this point our American-Evangelical story looks a lot like Israel’s story in the 1st Century.
John the Baptist preached this message to the people of God “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Those who were hungry asked “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even the tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
What does this have to do with repentance? Is this the way evangelical Christians think when it comes to repentance? Do we speak in social terms like this?
When John the Baptist prepares people for the message of the Messiah, the community of God is an utter mess. It has completely gone bankrupt. They don’t know how to live with each other. They’ve trashed what it means to be human (image bearers) with each other. The very conduit of hope to the nations is in the midst of an emotional and physical collapse. We are in this same house of cards today. The Christian life, the "one-anothering" type is a fragmented disaster. We don’t know how to do authentic life with each other. We are not fooling anyone. How can we be the light of the world “On Mission” when we're clueless in how to live into community; on route to genuine mature love between each other? We're not anything to write home about. This reality will sabotage our missional efforts every time. We become delusional thinking we can be missional without being a tethered-community of people that has created a culture of love, honest dialogue, short offense accounts, deep trust and shared rhythms of life. I’m shocked at how many pastors and church leaders I know that live isolated lives, not living in close proximity and in emotional transparency with a gathering of people.
Sometimes I think the new fad of “being missional” is another badge of honor or point to preach that takes the pressure off grinding out the intensely relational “fruits of repentance.” The community of God is intended to be the model for how to be human, the embodiment of Jesus life. We need to get serious about this work. We need to strip away all excess churchy-stuff to find space to learn how to be this type of people together.
Harder and stronger preaching will not fix this. A 6-week class on the essentials of the Christian life will not do the trick. I'm sorry a prayer meeting won’t erase this reality. Counseling sessions won’t take. Formal accountability groups won't last.
We need to push ourselves into the awkward space of real life-on-life community. It’s not natural but it’s where the mustard seed of the Kingdom of God begins to slowly sprout. It’s not enough to talk about community, do bible studies and moan about our ideals of community not being met. We need to thrust ourselves into the Holy Mess, practically seeking to create a communal culture with 10 to 20 people. No, you don’t need to live in a commune to forge Kingdom-community. But we do need resident guides, shepherds and pastors to disciple us towards emotional maturity and relational Holiness with each other. It’s out of this tangible work that mission and renewal into our neighborhoods can have authenticity. Sojourners might actually find our way of life attractive. They might actually like the way we are human together under God’s rule.
*(The North American Mission Board; From 35,000 to 15,000 Feet: Evangelical Statistics in the U.S.)