One of the defining characteristics of missional communities is how they organize their rhythm of life around being on mission to a particular neighborhood or network of relationships. A missional community is, after all, a community with a mission. That particular mission, however, can (and should) look different for every missional community.
In time, disciples, leaders and missional communities multiply. This creates the potential for missional communities to focus on the various people groups and places of your city. This is the beauty of missional communities: they provide a common vehicle that allows people to pursue a diversity of callings.
While every MC will have a different look and feel, they should all be shaped by what Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch have coined as the “missional-incarnational impulse.”
The missional impulse is the notion that we are to be a sent and sending presence in the world. This is the “going” of our collective vocation as the people of God. As a sent people, we are inherently movemental, which is to say, in Bible-speak “apostolic.” Part of living out the missional impulse is being willing to cross boundaries and engage people on their own turf as it were.
The incarnational impulse addresses the issue of “how” we go. Jesus says to the 12 apostles in the gospel of John “AS the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” The Father sent Jesus as one OF us, that is to say, incarnationally. He not only came to our turf, he also came to us on our terms. He humbled himself and submitted to our human form (Philippians 2:1-10).
So what does it look like for a missional community to engage a neighborhood or network in a missional-incarnational way? Where does the journey begin, and how does it take shape over time? In his FREE e-book One Of: Beginning the Missional Journey, Alex Absalom has developed a great tool to describe what this journey can look like.
These words describe four distinct, yet overlapping phases of what the missional-incarnational journey can look like. Interestingly enough, these four words roughly describe the same approach that God has taken with humanity throughout history.
These four words, grounded in the nature of God and his desire to pursue a relationship with us, serve as a theological framework to help guide MC’s on their journey.
Lets a take a quick look at how we can apply this to MC’s.
Every MC should have a specific group of people that they can say “We are being sent to ____________.” Clarity on this is critical in order for the MC to be effective. For example, a MC should not have an entire zip code as their mission focus. Rather, the zip code could be phase one of narrowing down which neighborhood or which network of relationships within a particular subculture in that zip code, they feel they are being sent to.
Once an MC has discovered what particular neighborhood or network they are FOR, they have to discover ways to actually be WITH them. This involves creating a rhythm of life where the MC can intentionally interact with people to build meaningful relationships.
In some respects, this phase is like a two sided coin. On one hand, being ONE OF means we shift from talking about “those people” and start seeing ourselves as being ONE OF those people. On the other hand, we cannot control whether or not the people we are sent to actually see us as being ONE OF them. So in one sense, being ONE OF shapes HOW we see ourselves, and in another sense it describes how we are being seen by others.
The amount of time it takes to move from WITH to ONE OF will be different for every situation. As a general rule, the greater the cultural distance between you and those you are being sent to, the greater amount of time it will likely take before you are seen by them, as being ONE OF them.
This is a pivotal phase because when you start being received by those you are sent to as ONE OF, it creates a fertile relationship for the gospel to be shared in a natural, relational way.
Being considered ONE OF the group does not necessarily mean the group has let you IN. One of the ways you know you are IN is when your presence does not interrupt the natural rhythms of the group. You can show up and things keep going as normal. People do not censor their conversations or activities because you are there. You even get invited to spontaneous activities and gatherings, a good sign that you are now on the “inside.”
From an evangelistic standpoint, when people begin to respond to the gospel and choose to submit to Jesus as Lord, not only is a new kind of group formed within the group, the Holy Spirit also moves IN and begins to start the process of FOR-WITH-ONE OF-IN all over again within that person/group.
Missional Community Rhythms
This template of FOR-WITH-ONE OF-IN is an excellent way to structure an MC’s rhythm of life for the first 6 months to 12 months. For example, as an MC is in its beginning stages, what if they spent 2-3 months figuring out what it really means to be FOR a particular neighborhood or network.
This means listening both to God and the people and places you are being sent. For example, if an MC is feeling called to be on mission to a particular neighborhood, they may want to go on prayer walks or even a police ride along. They might just to gather quietly inhabit that spaces where people can soak in the culture of that area. They might meet with city council members, local business owners, and other stakeholders in the community to get a sense of what that neighborhoods strengths and weaknesses are. The cultural web is a great tool to help an MC discover the culture of a neighborhood.
After the MC has spent an adequate amount of time DISCOVERING the neighborhood, they may want to start DEVELOPING ways they can either demonstrate that they are FOR the neighborhood, or how they can start spending time WITH the neighborhood, or both.
In one sense, the journey of FOR-WITH-OF-IN can be described as a particular group of people reenacting the story of God so another particular group of people can experience this same story. It is a journey that began with God and continues in the life of God’s people as they participate in God’s work in missional-incarnational ways.
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