This is an excellent post from David Fitch. It is very similar to how I envision a missional community gathering. On Sunday nights at 6 pm at The Commonplace I have Vespers and Lectio Divina (Bible meditation) and I have invited anyone to come and join me. This little gathering that has never been more than 4 people is in the spirit of this post. There is a standing invitation for you to join us in this quiet contemplative, and mission formational time.
As I understand the missional church, the Sunday gathering can never be the focal point. And yet it plays a crucial role in the formation of a people into God’s Mission. It is essential for the sustaining of a missional community who lives life in the rhythms of mission. We do not gather for self-improvement as Christians (although this happens), we do not seek to attract more Christians into this church for the sake of building a “successful church.” Yet here we are shaped by the Spirit into a political force for the Mission of God in the world. Assuming all this, if you were to come and visit one of these gatherings, I think you would notice some things that should tip off that this church has a culture of Mission. What would you notice? Here’s my (off the cuff) list of 8 things to ponder that should tip us off that this gathering is Missional.
1.) There is no single dominating leader/pastor: You won’t be able to tell who the senior pastor is. There will be leaders, but no one leader will dominate this gathering. There probably will not be one dominant preacher. Leadership will be diffused. There will be a high percentage of people involved in various forms of leadership.
2.) The Service isn’t Produced: The liturgies, preaching and music will have an organic sense to it. It will be a family type gathering not a show. There will probably be candles, art and other tactile means to enter into the reality of God in Christ. The production value of the service has more to do with organic artistry, not professional produced excellence. Above all, there is a focus towards the communal encounter with the living God. We don’t have full-time paid professionals to orchestrate a Sunday morning service. In fact, if we all came together 5 minutes before the gathering time, and 3 of the leaders for the service were sick, I would like to thin we could put it together without a hitch. This is because the gathering is about the regular liturgical shaping of who we are into the Mission of God.
3.) There probably will not be many strangers present in this service: There will not be as many strangers, for these kinds of connections take place outside the Sunday gathering. We do hope to see people who don’t walk with Christ among us – but they will be folk who have gotten to know people in our community (who do walk with Christ). We hope to have people among us asking a lot of questions who have arrived here through an important relationship in their lives.
4.) Socio and economic diversity: Everybody should not be of the same socio-economic strata. Maybe you couldn’t tell on your first visit, but there should be people hanging around living below the poverty level who are being helped and sustained by this community. You should see folks with handicaps welcomed and loved and feeling comfortable. You should see these kinds of diversity as the justice of God through reconciliation of all kinds permeates through this cmmunity into all our other relationships.
5.) Sunday Morning Greeters?: OK, I don’t know about this one. All I know is that you should notice strong and viable friendships happening. And this might make it harder to or more uncomfortable to actually meet people if you’re s stranger just visiting on a Sunday. Most connection happens in relationships outside the church from which people come to the gathering. This means that visitors will find true communal connection on a Sunday morning gathering more difficult. We should expect people to make significant connection with strangers (especially strangers to the gospel) outside the church gathering.
6.) The Sending Out: The high point of the time together should be the benediction!- The Sending Out. There will be various liturgies and worship all centered in the encounter with the living God. It always ends however with the sending out for mission. There is a centrifugal nature to the missional Sunday morning gathering.
7.) The Gathering is Participatory: We sit together in a round before God around the altar, not as passive spectators for a performance. The service is active and participant driven. I can’t imagine a missional church that trains its people to sit passively on Sunday all facing in one direction as if they come to sit and receive. Anyways, this is how we arrange the gathering place at LOV [Life of the Vine]. Is this just us?
8.) Ethnic Diversity?: OK I admit to being troubled by this one. Especialy after last weekend’s missional learning commons. Should missional communities be diverse by definition? Even if we are located in a predominantly white context? Should all Christian communities be diverse even if they have to pay people of a different ethnicity to come and be a leader/singer ? I deliberately left this one up for grabs. Missional communities are not typically diverse. But we can do some things to prepare the way? We’ve had many suggestions? Any new ones?
Anyways, these are just a few hints as to what someone might notice upon entering a missional community’s Sunday gathering. I am sure there are many more. I’m not sure the comunity I co-lead can live up to these ideals. Any immediate ones you’d like to add to the list?