16 October 2012

Go Small, Go Missional

Recently I was at a missional conference and I found myself twitching at what surrounded me.  Sure the theme on the conference flyer said "missional" but the enterprise of “Bigness” was shouting at me from every direction; big buildings, big personalities, big movements, big stories of catalytic missional churches, big book tables with big stacks of missional how-to books.  The team I was with thought it was all a little curious.  I find myself increasingly becoming uncomfortable with the narrative being painted.  I'm not anti "mega" but I do think our unchecked passions for "big" are sometimes tangled up more with our cultural measurements than with how God authentically operates.  Going “Big” tickles us all but it has become a diversion from the diagnostics of real-time oikos as the sampling of the Kingdom here on earth.

There is No Secret Sauce
Are we looking for some leadership secret to catapult our ministries to the next level? In coaching church planters and seasoned pastors I hear this sentiment between the lines with those considering the missional movement.  As a planter forging communities on mission I’ve had to come to accept that there is no secret sauce.  Sure there are some important shifts I’ve had to make and wisdom I've gathered along the way.  Still, there is no fast track to multiplying missional people.  Remember you're working with people not mechanical parts.   It's tempting to think there is a cut and paste opportunity within our reach that will open the flood gates.

Think Small, Really Small
Because we want to “take back the city for God” we overlook the very place the church has become most bankrupt and hollow - community.  Reorienting around social and emotional rhythms is not what blows up the charts.  The work of teaching, discipleing, modeling and practicing shared life might seem so small in comparison to city wide impact.  This is where we need some recovery.  In some sense we’ve taken our cues from Hollywood and Wall Street when it comes to measuring impact and growth.  The church needs to pay attention to the tiny details of our “life together” instead of longing for high visibility.   For community to be sustainable and nourishing it needs to be detached from pressured agendas.  For far too long the evangelical church has neglected this sacred space, the living laboratory of community where there is emotional and spiritual rub.  This cannot be a hurried space.  This hub of our lives needs to become so central that we pay close attention to the way we are with one another.  Are we insecure, easily offended, passive aggressive, guarded, posturing, emotionally honest, distant or bitter?  Our healthy love is to be one of our greatest prophetic witnesses to the world. (John 13)  It takes serious, mutual, concerted energy to cultivate this.

Emotional Return on Missional Living
A horse race mentality has crept into the missional conversation.  There is a looming message I’ve heard at conferences that “missional people get missional results.”  I desperately want to see people know the all consuming love of Jesus and gather all of their life under his Kingship;  but when you move into the neighborhood and begin to incarnate with actual, living, breathing, complicated people you will start to understand the snail’s pace of the process.  Loving people is small stuff.  And small is what matters; lending my mower, sharing some fresh made brownies, enjoying a BBQ together, helping with a car repair, babysitting their kids, watching a game together, listening to the drama of their week.  This might not be the recipe for building a high capacity organization but it does build tethered relationships.  Looking around at the Christian landscape it’s obvious we do “organizations” and “events” really well but we are really poor at the nuance of relationship.  As a former event planner, I know events offer high emotional return and an immediate sense of gratification.  I believe this is one of the reasons why Christians get all jazzed up about an evangelism or worship event instead of staying home and sharing a drink with their friend who’s a disoriented God seeker.

A Mustard Seed Mentality
Recently I wanted some trees for our yard.  I could just see them in my mind as I sat in my lawn chair.  I was tempted to go and buy fully grown trees, load them in a truck and park them in my yard.  Instead why not plant them?  I think this is the tug-o-war we feel within the missional movement.  We want visible results and credibility.  But inherent to missionality is slowness, carefulness, patience with the process and a quiet footprint.  It’s OK to go small, to plant small, to treasure the incremental.  Be intentional about the small but powerful mustard-seed investment in a neighborhood and learning to share rhythms of life with other Jesus followers. (Matt. 13) Stop envying the seeming "bigness" of other's misssional traction and get on with pouring into the people God has place around you. We need more leaders to break their starry-eyed relationship with Big Christian movements and go subterranean with building for the Kingdom of God. 



  1. Great thought bro... this is a huge problem that needs to be called out. THanks for being a voice in this movement towards authentic, incarnational living that focuses on life on life relationships that are full of deep commitment and honest challenge. This I believe is God's heart beat and is not going to be something that is fast and grows into something that requires big buildings, big personalities, or big plans. It is simple yet swallowed as easily as swallowing an elephant. It challenges the very narrow expression of the church we have adopted and accepted in the West.

  2. Thanks Dave, love this - "It is simple yet swallowed as easily as swallowing an elephant." Peace.

  3. Dan,

    Loved this post very much when I first read it, and after rereading today, I'm extrapolating a few discussion items for our community. The tiny details of life together, along with a an intentional process of tending the soil in our community in the midst of our community at large, seem to be a key focus for us right now.

    I've also struggled at times with a "cut & paste" mentality, all the while knowing that it would only achieve so much. Ultimately, I've ended up doing some much-needed personal formation work on my insecurities, as well as extroverting my thinking with my community at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. Your post has helped me solidify why this is most definitely important in terms of incarnation and fostering a "tethered community".

  4. Also, where'd you get that mustard seed graphic? If you made it, can I "borrow" it? :D

  5. It's an icon we designed for one of our Axiom's (Renewal) in our church. Sure go ahead an use it.