Q & R: Missional Communities

Here’s the Q:

I’m interested in learning your thoughts about Missional Communities. I was hoping to learn how to incorporate some of the elements of that, in a neighborhood-based holistic missional Christian community context, in our ministry work here…. Any thoughts you can share would be appreciated.

Here’s the R:
Thanks for this question. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for several years.
If the gospel is like wine, then it is fluid and flexible and can be carried by many containers. Some folks have suggested I have a “weak ecclesiology” because I’m not picky about the shape, size, or form of the container. I’m sure they’re right, in the sense that after serving as a pastor and church planter for twenty-four years, I have more questions now than when I started. To me, if it’s faithfully conveying new wine in a needy world, I’m not terribly concerned whether its structure is episcopal, presbyterian, congregational, incarnational, attractional, house, cathedral, chapel, pub, online, IRL, or whatever. I think each form and structure has evolved and survived for good reasons, and I imagine each has strengths and corresponding weaknesses. To me, diversity doesn’t necessarily mean division … it can simply mean diversification.
With that in mind, I see springing up all over the world a kind of ecclesial base community that seeks to facilitate community and conviviality, with an eye towards supporting participants in mission and encouraging lifelong spiritual formation. Those three angles – community, mission, and spirituality – seem to me to create a lot of space for good things to happen.
For a host of reasons, people forming these communities may not want to call them churches. Many of the cultural assumptions that go along with the word “church” will mitigate against the spirituality, community, and mission the group is seeking to foster. (It would be interesting to hear examples of these assumptions that people think of … maybe on my Facebook page?)
Quite often, these communities gather in a home, restaurant, park, or other public place. They may “gather” or communicate primarily online. They often share a meal, or not. They may develop or adapt a simple liturgy, perhaps including the eucharist (perhaps not calling it that). They may develop and engage in mission projects or activities together … or they may simply support one another in developing a missional approach to life at home, in the neighborhood, at work or school, in civil society, and so on. They may plan a lot of fun things together, simply sharing life. Obviously, they’ll be there for one another during hardship, stress, or trauma.
If I were to point to three groups as models for this kind of experimentation, I would point to:
a) the various Twelve-Step recovery groups that draw from the seminal work of Samuel Shoemaker.
b) the base community movements of Latin America, which are widely thought to have dropped out of existence entirely, but are still alive and well in some places, with lots of future potential.
c) Church of the Savior in Washington, DC, especially this fascinating spiritual R & D project, led by my friend Becca Stelle: https://sites.google.com/site/becomingchurchinc/churchofchristrightnow

Missional communities have been springing up under various names since Acts 2. I hope you will share what you learn through your experiments – and avoid the “here’s the secret formula!” trap which so often tries to turn unique creative projects into mass-produced assembly-line clones. After my next book (on Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, to be released in September 2012), I hope to devote a few books to providing resources for new and gestating missional faith communities. Thanks again for your question, and God bless you in your work!