Why is it so easy for Churches to form small groups but so difficult to get volunteers for outreach days?
One of the biggest challenges that the Church needs to face if we are serious about genuinely discipling people into Christian maturity, is to challenge the idea that discipleship and mission are two different things.
Being engaged proactively in mission is the best way to grow as a Christian. Is it an accident that Jesus was constantly sending out his disciples, reflecting with them and then sending them out again? (Luke 10:1-23).
Mission is the most natural place for healthy discipleship to take place - here are 3 reasons why:
Mission raises questions
Being around people who are different from us makes us consider why we do the things we do, and why we think the way we think.
It can be really destructive for people to surround themselves with only those who agree with them – they are less likely to be challenged, but when they are, it is more likely to be painful. If we regularly spend time with people who are different from us, it can make us less defensive but also more certain of what we actually think and how this plays out in practice.
I’ve found that exploring this process with God and in our Christian communities can raise some really healthy questions for our own faith development.
-What does it mean to be Christian?
-Why do we think it is good for people to meet Jesus? (Do we think that? Really?)
-How does our lifestyle reflect our belief system?
Mission stops us being insular
Every Church I’ve been a part of thus far has at some point asked itself this question: How do we encourage our small groups to be invitational as opposed to closed communities?
If you manage to get your groups to that point it can still seem like a giant leap to ask “how do we make them more missional?”.
Answers on a postcard please!
My sense is that we might have got the whole approach a bit off. What would it look like to build small communities out of missional opportunities instead? I’ve found that if you start with mission, Christian communities tend to develop fairly organically. They are often a bit messier and more chaotic than a traditional small group, but they offer regular proactive opportunities to work alongside other Christians in seeing the work of God in the world.
Whilst I was at university, I was involved with a community that ran a club outreach project called ‘Tea and Toast’. We opened the church next door to the big student club in our city and served ‘Tea and Toast’. I wasn’t in a small group at this church but I made loads of Christian friends and it was great to have a shared vision that wasn’t simply making safe spaces for ourselves. I was discipled more by that ministry than I was by all the small groups I was part of/led during my time as a student.
It’s also amazing how many of the people who were involved in that project are now in Church Leadership of various forms - at least 75%. Getting teams involved in things like Alpha and Youth work are also brilliant for this - it flattens the hierarchy of church leadership structures and creates ‘co workers’ in Christ (which I figure from the amount of times that phrase is mentioned in Paul’s letters is a pretty biblical thing!).
Note - it is far easier to start missional communities than it is to transform your existing small groups into these communities. I would suggest starting new communities alongside what you already have to begin with!
More mission, less church politics -delightful!
Mission teaches spiritual discipline
Missional engagement does more for spiritual discipline than you could ever imagine. It helps us pray more, invest more and give more as we begin to grasp more and more of the vision of what it really means for God’s Kingdom to come.
Why? Because we don’t want to do it most of the time.
Mission can be really hard. Often just before I engage with an outreach project or a missional opportunity I really, really don’t want to do it. My gut is saying “no Sarah, why not just stay inside and watch Hunted?”.
This is incidentally also exactly how I feel just before I go running. I never ‘want’ to go running but I go because I ‘know’ it is excellent for my physical health. 9 times out of 10 once I have actually been running, I feel so much better. I don’t judge whether or not I ‘should’ be a person who runs based on whether I’m always excited about running.
Funnily enough I find exactly the same thing with Mission. It’s easy to get into a mentality that says you have to be in a certain heightened emotional state of excitement in order to engage with Missional activities with integrity, but this is simply not true. If Mission is fully saturated into our lifestyles, there are going to be times when we step out in faith out of obedience before we ‘feel’ a certain way.
Side note - if you, like me, sometimes struggle with a low mood, this is really great news. My experience has been that God often shows up in my times of unwillingness when I step out anyway, which is an extraordinary thing to experience. My obedience to mission is an act of worship to God that says (even in moments of tiredness and doubt) “I’m still here - I’m committed to this”.
So there you have it- 3 ways that focusing on Mission creates disciples without focusing on discipleship- why not have a go at creating a missional community this year and see for yourself?