02 April 2013

Where's the Spirit in Missional Communities?

If you’re familiar with the lively soundscape of a modern worship set or a historic setting with breath-taking liturgy or the delivery of an inspiring sermon then a Missional Community can be a bit of a, well… let down. Some entering into a Missional Community go through a transition. When your senses are atuned to these channels it’s natural to expect to feel a certain way in church.  Our eyes and ears are accustomed to the obvious most blatant signs that “something spiritually dynamic is happening”. Without these channels it can be difficult to decipher the whereabouts of the Holy Spirits activity. 

Emotional Expectations
On the surface there’s nothing spectacular about 20, 30 or 40 people doing ho-hum activities together; eating, conversing, singing (without bells and whistles), serving (without much fanfare), dialogical teaching (with interruptions and questions). I’m being a bit sarcastic but I’m attempting to poke at a real emotional occurance for people when they enter into this simplified, raw, relational way of being the church.  In a Missional Community many of the dynamics that sparked an expressive return may not be there for orientation. Many aren’t aware of their emotional expectations until they begin to feel unmoved by the challenge of being the church. I've noticed that when faced with paring back the complexities of church life, some discover they were more dependent on the packaging than the contents.  

So where’s the Spirit? Good question.  The re-discovery of the Holy Spirit begins with a renewed perspective; new eyes to see.  The perspective is directly tied to “church-going” vs “church-being”. Church-going relates with spirituality through what is offered. In this perspective, an individual anticipates encountering God through the template of what is provided: worship, preaching, liturgies, discipleship programs, church wide events etc. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these offerings. Still I think there is an underlying psychological precedence that gains footing; participation is qualified through consuming.  An unsaid value is fostered in our minds “if there’s nothing spiritually interesting to consume, I don’t feel God at church.”  We're accustomed to this way of encountering a worship gathering. We naturally prop up the visible, the magnetic or the most visibly inspiring. As leaders we know we can tinker with the elements, add certain factors and manufacture a meaningful experience. Both the contemporary church and the liturgical church have the strong tendency to communicate methodologically that "the Holy Spirit is moving" because of what we view on stage and take into our senses. I'm convinced this has had a catastrophic impact on our attention spans for beholding the Holy Spirit in the ordinariness of being the people of God.

Church-being develops eyes for the movement of the Holy Spirit in the seemingly mundane, shared work of growing up in Christ together. When I saturate in the New Testament letters, beyond the initial inaugural event of Pentecost, “church-being” is bare-bones but extremely nourishing. In Philippians 2 the Apostle Paul goes under the hood to show us the guts of the Spirit’s activity:
“If you have the community of the Spirit, if you desire tenderness and compassion between each other, then learn to love well, do the persevering work to find commonality with each other, build deep-spirited bonds. Let the Holy Spirit teach you how to cut-away selfish ambition and self-centered obsession as you share life together.  Let this lead to humility that sacrifices for the needs of others, stop looking to your own demands to be met… therefore, continue working out your salvation with fear and trembling. It is God who is moving amongst you to act in this way, to fulfill his divine purposes in the world.” (The Message)
Essential Material
Can God really be this earthy, gritty and ordinary? Could this be the most essential material of the Holy Spirit’s company? I believe so. In the scope of the early church there's nothing more supernatural than these elements in Phil 2: vital connections, intimate partnerships, permanency, inconvenient responsibility and mutual care. In Matthew 18:19, Jesus points directly at the unimpressive exercise of finding each other relationally and declares "that's where I'm at." Working out our salvation, in loving dialogue, is inherently a spirit-filled sacrament.  

The Primary Space
I've traveled the world to find the treasure of where the Holy Spirit dwells. I've scoured the scriptures to find the secret.  Honestly, it was slightly anti-climatic to discover the Holy Spirit's primary dwelling is in the temple of one-anothering. When we delight in each other, in our frailty, in an attitude of gentleness and humility we touch God. Pneumatology begins and ends with inhabiting with each other.  This is the furnace that burns away my privatized spirituality, my tolerance for self-loathing, my envy, my hatred, my idols, my demand for attention, my backbiting and my stubborn negotiating with God’s purposes for my life. This is the signal flare for the Kingdom of God.  Again, identifying the Holy Spirit's home is difficult when wearing the blinders of institutional attachments, idiosyncratic worship needs and individualistic appetites. We need a centered theology that identifies community-building as the primary witness of the Holy Spirit. Is there room for diverse expressions of the Holy Spirit, YES; but I contend covenantal-interaction is the blazing nucleus, everything else is an accessory according to 1 Corinthians 13. We must re-imagine God’s Spirit meeting us in our relational calisthenics.


  1. Right on Brother Dan. Thanks for hitting the nail on the head and letting the rest of us watch. Much appreciated!


  2. "We need a theology that identifies community-building as the primary space and evidence of the Holy Spirit." Do we need to speak in terms of primary and secondary?

    Appreciate you!


    1. I think Primary might be appropriate. I think all other manifestations of the Spirit flow out of the labor of life-on-life. My interpretation of the N.T narrative is that this is the axiom for all other legit Holy Spirit activity.

      Peace to you friend.

  3. I love how you've reminded us of the Holy Spirit's power and presence in the seemingly-mundane actions of day-to-day community. Your challenge is helpful and instructive as we seek to encounter God in all types of fellowship.

  4. Thanks Christena.
    Really looking forward to your book.

  5. "In this perspective, an individual anticipates encountering God through the template of what is offered: worship, preaching, discipleship programs, church wide events etc. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these offerings. Still I think there is an underlying psychological precedence that gains footing; participation is qualified through a consuming paradigm. "

    Great article! I think this is a great point. I believe the root cause of this 'consuming paradigm' is that there is a hierarchy or divide between believers (clergy/laity). The lower class feels like their food must come from the 'gifted' upper class. I believer the phillipians verse hit the nail on the head.

  6. I like you because you have a brain and a spirit and you're not afraid to use them both. Some are all brains and no spirit and some are all spirit and no brain.
    Keep sharing what you're hearing and pondering.

  7. A few years late but really enjoyed this.