From the time we launched the Acts 13 Network there has been one consistent question, “What is a missional community?”
The reason I get asked this is because we call our Sunday gathering “Missional Community” and not “church”. As much as the question is, “What is a missional community?” it is just as much, “Why aren’t you calling your gathering church?”
I want to try and answer this as fully as I can. To begin let me lay out two premises that we have: (1) words have meaning and (2) words create culture.
The words we use matter. They shape what we do and impact who we are. This means that everything we do builds and shapes our culture. We desperately want to be a church planting movement. This means that we want everyone who is in our community to see themselves as movement launchers. We need them to know that within them is the DNA to launch a Jesus movement wherever they are. Everything we do has that end in mind. All of our words matter and shape the way we think about our calling and mission.
We consistently wrestle with a simple question: “What is ‘The Church’?” It is simple in the sense that it is four words long. That’s where the simplicity ends, unless you spend time in the Scriptures. In the Scriptures, The Church is the bride of Christ, the family of God, the branches on the vine, the ekklesia. The Church is the people of God. What the church is not, is a building or a time of worship.
We hear “I am going to church today” or some variation often. If we rightly understand that the Church is the people who God has called to himself then this kind of speaking makes very little sense. It would be as if I woke up and declared, “Today I am going to Dan Rose”. I am Dan Rose, it makes no sense for me to say that. Why then do we speak of the Church this way?
When we call our worship gatherings or buildings “church” we are disconnecting them from who we are. Church is not a place we go or a thing we do, if we follow Jesus, it is who we are. When we disconnect “church” from our identity we are effectively stating that our faith is something that only matters at a specific place during a specific time.
Now, back to the question. What is a missional community? It is the kind of community that the Church practices. When we gather in community (in a chapel, sanctuary, home, field, pub, etc…) and we are the Church, then we are engaging in missional community. As the Church, we have been mandated with a mission to make disciples of all nations. It is the purpose of our community. The Church gathers to do mission it does not gather to do Church. The Church gathers to do worship it does not gather to do Church.
Some will say, “But the word, ‘church’, carries all these meanings in our time. It’s too difficult to change that.” Yes, it’s hard. Yes, there is much confusion surrounding the word “church”. However, if more of us can begin to bring clarity to what we are doing and saying, then the word can be recaptured to refer to our identity as the people of God. In most of areas of theology we work very hard to be clear. Why not in this area?
We use words like “missional community” because they most accurately describe what it is we are doing when we gather. The Church needs to recapture the reality that “Church” is who we are not what we do.
Yes! Had a recent run-in with this “going to church” phrasing that got me thinking, “Wait a minute, we don’t go TO church, we ARE church!” I belong to church, a people not a place. When I am “there,” I’m not at church, I am church. Without us gathered there, there is no church, right?
Using your incarnational vernacular, would you say that when we incarnate a place, it becomes us but we don’t become it?
Thanks for crystallizing that idea. I agree with your call to converse differently about this. The danger is that we fall into what we have become – seeing church as something to come and go to and from as in separate from us. That can’t be good.
Glenn, that’s an interesting way of putting it, “It becomes us but we don’t become it”.I think that’s right, sort of. Jesus is the root of incarnational thinking. He clearly brought about transformation. But, he also became what he wanted to save (a human). What do you think?