There have been a few new breakthroughs in the thinking around Gospel Communities. We’re learning a lot from the Soma Family around the world and from other groups like the Tampa Underground Network. This isn’t breaking away from the basic idea of a Gospel Community, rather it’s about better design, better clarity, better potential for growth and better support.
We’re going to look at…
Essentially GCs are the church in its micro form. So this begs the question, How do we define a church? In the New Testament we see all these communities that are worshipping Jesus – they’re loving one another, and they’re involved in Jesus’ mission. Typically they’re small, flexible and powerful, and they change the world.
In the New Testament there’s a minimum definition for these churches. This gives us a framework for our GCs.
So worship, community and mission are like an ecclesial minimum. Every true church has at least these 3 components. And where these 3 things overlap – that’s where we’re being the church of Jesus Christ. And every GC, which is essentially a micro church, needs to operate within this definition. Often church is just worship and community and there’s no missional component… there’s no component of engagement with the mission of God in the world. So it’s a good thing, but maybe not church per se. All 3 things are vitally important.
And when these 3 things happen we can ask God, Where do you want to send us? Where do you want us to be? Where do you want us to plant ourselves? And he can send us to every pocket of people, to engage every evil, every injustice in the name of Jesus. To see his rule and reign extended all through our city and world.
What do you think about that as a minimum definition of church? This is the core work of the kingdom of God, and this is a great framework for designing a GC.
Every church needs 2 spaces to operate within. This material comes from theologian Ralph Winter. He says there’s 2 vital spaces that churches operate in.
So, these are the 2 spaces the church needs to operate in. And when a church tries to compress both of these into one particular time, or make it one space… when that happens the church is anaemic. They cross the street, they meet the witches coven. There’s a very clear definition of mission. They are there in the name of Jesus – and that’s beautiful work… But the worshipping community component is weak. It’s kind of thin and small. It’s there… but it’s hard to generate that in the context of mission to a coven. It’s there – but it’s harder. It’s harder to feel like it’s a place of healing and belonging.
But meeting in a house, surrounded by other believers – these awesome lovers of Jesus – and you belong. And there’s healing… That’s just very special and very important. But then the mission aspect might be weak – it might be very small. So the church doesn’t feel the fullness of the kingdom blossoming in their midst. So there might be some missional components in that. But its thin.
And so, every GC needs to operate in 2 spaces. The space of the sodalic and modalic. The space of risky apostolic mission, and the space of just belonging in community. We must operate in these 2 spaces as GCs.
So we’ve talked about the sodalic and modalic. How do we do it? How do we put all that together?
I want to propose a model of a GC with both spaces – both the sodalic and modalic – with 2 objectives. One, to be a family, a Christian family. The other is to go into mission. To be a family that’s on mission, so that the modalic and sodalic are happening in kind of the same context. Which allows your GC to fully blossom.
Sodalic and modalic spaces
Now, to be a family – that’s kind of the worshipping community space. Just imagine a circle… and that circle is kind of where the worshipping community happens primarily. There’s a lot of prayer. There’s exchange of ideas. There’s a lot of bible study or something like that. Maybe you’ll sing worship songs in that space. This is the safe, modalic space… that allows us to kind of have a home base.
But then also imagine in the diagram… these rectangles or squares. These represent the places of mission – the places that are sodalic and risky.
General & specific missions
Some of those might be general… might be like your neighbours, or co-workers – something like that.
Some of them might be very specific. Like Shem and Grace Swaddling reaching out to housing commission people who are struggling with various forms of addiction. That’s a very specific demographic to go after. To believe Jesus is calling us to these people. And we want to go there.
So within a GC there needs to be the modalic – the home base. And the sodalic – the risky, kind of apostolic missional endeavours. Both of these need to operate in one GC – but in 2 different spaces.
3 growth mechanisms
Now this model has 3 growth mechanisms built into it:
So within this one model… There’s a diversity of mission. It allows for both the modalic and the sodalic to be operating. And there’s 3 growth potentials – inviting missional Christians, including people from outreaches, and the potential to plant new GCs. All within the one model of a GC.
So the first challenge is how do we make a GC feel like a family? We have this worshiping community and we want to feel like a family. We want to love each other well. How do we do that?
Often Christians say things like, ‘Well, we need to have a Bible study.’ Absolutely. Or, ‘We need to have food.’ Definitely – someone cooks dinner or we have a potluck or something like that. All those things are great, but we need to understand where they fit in the priorities of a worshiping community. Just because you have food… and just because you have Bible study… that doesn’t mean you’re going to be a worshiping community. It doesn’t mean you’re going to feel like family. It doesn’t mean Jesus is actually invited to come.
So we want to connect with people. We want to go deeper with people. But fundamentally we must have a space where people encounter Jesus. That’s where the healing happens. That’s where genuine community occurs. It’s when Jesus is at the centre.
And so we have to prioritize that. Food – good. Fun – good. Movie nights – great. Bible study – cool. Prayer times – excellent. But fundamentally… (and we’ve all been there… we’ve all been in Bible studies and prayer times where we’re not sure Jesus was invited)… we must as GC leaders say, ‘No, first and foremost we must have a space where we encounter the living God.’ And so we want to make space for that.
We have to remember that Christian community isn’t based on affinity… which is the same tastes. Nor on proximity… we’re in the same room. That’s not what makes community. Community doesn’t mean… ‘Well, because we’re all in the same living room now we’re community.’ No, that’s not Christian community. That might be secular community – that’s not Christian community. And nor do we all like the same types of food, or the same types of music, or dress the same way… or we’re at the same stage of life. That’s all affinity based. That doesn’t mean it’s Christian community. Christian community… like Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about… is based on the grace of Jesus Christ. If the cross of Jesus is not between us, it’s not Christian community. So when there’s tension, when there’s the opportunity for fragmentation, when we’ve stepped on each other’s toes… the blood of Jesus binds us together.
So definitely connect with people. Food, fun, sharing of stories, all that kind of stuff. Laughter… please have laughter. All that’s great, but go deeper. Share each other’s hearts… share a vision… discern the Spirit’s leading together. And learn to be honest. And we want a chance to respond, and interactivity, all that stuff. That’s going deeper… But in the bullseye… it’s Jesus. In the bullseye… it’s encountering Jesus… in all aspects of our relationships.
This is going to help us. This is going to move us towards feeling like a family. And a family is something that’s going to endure all the trials… all the hardships. It’s going to help people persevere on mission.
So I have an example format for this. You can vary this if you want to, but here’s my example for you guys. So let me just lay it out for you.
First of all, have a time to connect. So as you gather this worshipping community, connect. Food and fun and sharing victories of God from the past week. Sharing your struggles. Praying for each other… like the greatest need… like turn to a brother or sister… ‘My greatest need right now is this.’ And then that person prays for you. Maybe the whole group prays. It’s up to you – you’re the leader.
The second piece is vision. We need to keep talking about this. Why are we the church? What does it mean for us to be the church? What if we actually were the church? What would it look like, what would it be like? There has to be kind of a 5-minute period, at least. Or sharing the vision of what it means to be the people of God where he’s placing us. So you could share that through a story. It could be a testimony time. Or something like, ‘Guys I just want to share that it’s so important that we stay faithful even when it’s hard… because this is what the church means to the world… This is what it means to the single mothers we’re reaching out to. This is what it means to those Blaxland School families. This is what it means to my neighbour. We must stay faithful to each other and to Jesus and his mission. Guys, let’s be the church.’ That type of vision stuff… you have to touch on that somehow.
Time to hear, or equip
The third piece is a time to hear, or equip. Or maybe both at the same time. Whatever is appropriate for you – you guys can contextualize this for yourself. But the idea is, ‘Let’s hear from the Scriptures.’ ‘Let’s do listening prayer.’ ‘Let’s do Bible study with each other.’ ‘Let’s actually have a discussion about Jesus together.’ ‘Let’s really hear from him.’ And I love the word ‘hear’ because it’s not, Let me do the talking, and tell you all about him, like you’re all my little disciples. That’s not the posture. The posture is more like… we… must hear from God. I might be older one, the elder in the group, but we all must hear from God. We all have to hear from God.
Or you could do something like a training or workshop. Or maybe there’s some exercises that help equip your guys for their mission. So you could change it up… one week do one… the other week do another type of thing. That’s up to you. But some type of learning, hearing, equipping time
The next part is discernment. Just because you did a workshop doesn’t mean you learned anything. Just because you did a Bible study doesn’t mean you heard anything.
So we must have time for listening prayer. In fact, the best thing we can do to equip any missionary who is going to go out into their mission field – their sodalic place of risk – is to learn to hear from the Spirit of God. Can they get a sense… ‘I think God is saying this.’ They can be humble about it. They should be humble about it. ‘I think from this Bible study God is saying this to me.’ Can we give space for that? It doesn’t have to be a long time. It doesn’t matter what’s been said. It doesn’t matter the passage we’ve actually looked at. It doesn’t matter what training exercise we’ve done… ‘What are we hearing from God?’ That’s the centrepiece of missionary life. That’s going to equip them to go into any place, any darkness… in the name of Jesus. It’s because they’re hearing from Jesus. So giving a space or a place for people to share… ‘This is what I feel like the Spirit is saying to me.’
And then ‘I will’ statements. We hear from God and we turn to someone and say, ‘I will’… and fill in the blank. ‘I will approach my neighbour this week, and just kind of give them some vegetables I’ve grown. It sounds weird but I think maybe God wants me to do that’… ‘I think God wants me to ask my boss if I could pray for him. It’s going to be a bit of risk, I might get fired, I don’t know, but I feel like God wants me to.’
The fifth piece is mission prep. And this is left off of a lot of Bible studies. How are we prepping for mission? Not just equipping for… prepping for mission. This binds us together as a family. Especially as we go into diverse missional settings. We’re making a plan for missional engagement in this next week. Share who, how, when you’ll engage them in mission. Share what you hope will happen. And of course pray for each other. So give this some space. It could be a long time. It could be a short time. You could write stuff down. You could share it in pairs.
There’s lots of flexibility in all of these 5 sections: Connecting – vision – hearing or equipping – discernment – mission prep. I feel like if we really want to be a missional family, a family that’s on mission, we need to be preparing each other… so we’re unified as we go out.
So that’s ‘creating family.’ I feel like this example format really gives us a head-start towards feeling like a family. So over time we feel like family. ‘We’re different. We’re diverse. Sometimes we make each other mad. But yeah we’re the family of God here.’ And we’re able to go out on mission unified in the Spirit, equipped and supported.
The second challenge is equipping your people for mission when they’re going into diverse mission fields. How does that work? You’ve got somebody reaching neighbours. Somebody reaching co-workers. Somebody reaching Littleton stores. Somebody who still doesn’t quite know what they’re trying to do.
So what’s your role as a leader?
Give them permission to try and fail in mission
Encourage them, pray for them. It all comes down to – Do they feel permission to try and fail?
Help them persevere when mission is hard
These are our 2 primary roles as far as equipping people for the space of mission. Also, there are some secondary things you need to help them with.
Help them identify what type of mission they are on
Each individual needs to pinpoint whether they are on a specific mission… for example, young families at Blaxland Public with kids who are struggling academically at school. So the needs of those families are quite specific. That demographic is tighter.
The other possibility is… Are they on a general mission? For example, co-workers, friends, family? Or the homeless, or neighbours… something like that. Something that’s more general. These groups are actually very diverse. For example, your co-workers’ needs are very diverse. So the way we approach a general mission is slightly different to how we approach a specific mission, like Blaxland School families with academically struggling children.
So people need to know… ’Am I doing a specific mission or am I doing a general mission?’ And then once they’ve figured that out…
Teach them 2 universal strategies
It doesn’t matter if it’s specific or general, these things apply, these questions apply. So as a GC leader you need to help them with a strategy – and there are 3 pieces that apply to all missions. So regardless of the people group, every missional Christian will build upon the foundation of these universal pieces of strategy:
So as a GC leader you’re going to be always unpacking or inspiring or training people to saturate their life with Jesus, and to intentionally go deeper in relationship with the people they’re trying to reach – the people they’re called to.
Stay within the framework of grace
As we ask these questions, do this strategy, try to equip people for mission… as leaders we must understand that this is all in the context of grace, love and patience. There is permission to try and fail. And people are going to say they’re going to do something, and cross the street and talk to a neighbour, and 3 months later they haven’t done it. That’s ok, grace and love…
But there does need to be accountability and intentionality. If you feel like God is inviting you to join him on mission to reach your neighbour… and is inviting you to cross the street and get to know their story… and you kind of refuse to do that… that’s a discipleship issue. There has to be some kind of responsibility here.
So again, in the context of grace, in the context of ‘You’re family, I’m going to still love you’… ’we’re still going to be family’…. at the same time I’m still going to ask you – ’Are you doing what you think God is calling you to do?’ There’s going to be accountability and intentionality. Don’t just tell me you’re going to love God and love people, and then never put it into real action. Jesus calls us to put our hands to the plough. We’ll hold you accountable to that, but in the context of grace. In the context of no legalism. In the context of mercy and patience.
Remember encountering Jesus and his grace is the bullseye of feeling like family. And it gives us the context for equipping people for mission. That’s the second challenge of leading a GC.
Finally, let’s unpack a possible 4-week cycle for your GC. It’s up to you whether you use this.
Partly this helps us do the full range of things we need to do. Too often our focus is too narrow – just dinner and bible study. We need to keep our heads up, saying, ‘God, what are you up to?’ and being creative with how we help our family bond, and how we engage the Word, and how we hear from Jesus.
So this is a 4-week cycle. How do we make sure we cover the full range of things? We don’t have to fit everything into 1 week all the time. We can have themes, we can have rhythms. So here are a few ideas:
This is just a tool. Use it or don’t. But have fun diverging with ideas. Not always converging and boxing God in and saying, I guess every week… No, ’Let’s have fun.’ You’re a GC. You’re free in Christ. Go and walk in the freedom that Jesus gives you.