A missional community is a team of people from a congregation which works among its local community and social networks to sow the gospel, reap the harvest and engage new converts in the initial stages of discipleship. There are approximately 80 missional communities in around 40 LCA congregations from across Australia and New Zealand. This is the story of just one of those communities.
None of us felt like an evangelist when we started.
But after 10 months of being part of a missional community – also known as a ‘Love Life Community’ – we’re starting to see its fruits. This is both in our own faith and understanding of Jesus and in the lives of the friends and colleagues God is connecting to us.
The basic idea of a missional community is simple. Instead of everyone in a congregation trying to serve in ministry and do a little evangelism on the side, one or more teams of between three and eight people are intentionally released from serving in other areas to focus their energies on local mission.
This means having time to meaningfully connect with individuals, not run programs. While doing so, the team members continue to worship with and be pastorally supported by their congregation.
One of the most exciting things… was really starting to understand that serving in local mission is about being a part of what God is doing, rather than trying to force things to happen.
As people come to faith, the missional community connects them into the mother church for ongoing discipleship. All of this is done with faith that our gracious God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is already at work in the lives of not-yet-believers, drawing them to himself, and that our role as a missional community is to prayerfully discern how God is at work and where we can join in.
In our case, our congregation – Immanuel Lutheran Church, Woden Valley, in Canberra – is one of the ‘Sending Churches’ in the LCA, supported and trained by Church Planting Mentor and Mission Facilitator Dean Eaton.
As Dean trained us in evangelism and local mission, some of us were challenged by God (and our pastor) to step out of our comfort zone serving in church and be part of a missional community. Our congregation now has three missional communities representing three different age demographics.
It’s now been 10 months since we took up that challenge and, while God hasn’t worked through us in quite the ways we were expecting, we have grown in recognising the prompts of the Spirit and being faithful in following them.
So what does a typical month look like for us as a missional community?
During the working week
We work in our normal jobs, open to opportunities for conversation that come up throughout the day. Sometimes talking about our weekend we get to share a lesson from the sermon on Sunday and discuss that briefly; another time a conversation with a nominally Catholic colleague will turn into a discussion of baptismal anniversaries and what baptism means. Often, the conversations won’t go anywhere near God, but it’s a chance to build a deeper connection and get to know the person more as a friend.
There are a couple of people we’re intentionally trying to connect with and with whom we will catch up weekly for lunch. In a month we might have two lunches where we discuss life, work and shared interests, one where the conversation briefly turns to God before moving on, and one where a throw-away mention of the Holy Spirit or asking the question, ‘What’s wrong with the world and how would you fix it?’ turns into a half-hour discussion of church and sin and faith.
On evenings and weekends
We’re learning to intentionally include not-yet-believers in what we’d be doing already. We might catch up with friends at the markets each Saturday, or invite
a couple of people over for dinner or board games, again aiming to build the connection and taking the opportunities God provides to talk more about him. We don’t try to artificially push these situations towards God, but we look for what he is doing in them and where he prompts the conversation. We also go along to a monthly board games session at the local library, as a way to connect with people outside our work – or in a ‘third space’ – who have a shared interest. Once a month or so we go on a prayer walk around our local community – letting the people and places we see shape our prayers.
Each Sunday morning before church we meet up at a local coffee shop to debrief about how our week is going. We bounce around ideas about the next steps to suggest to the people we’re connecting with to help them see God. We also spend some time dwelling in the word, and pray for one another and those we’re trying to reach. Every six to eight weeks we meet with our pastor to share with him how we are going and to get his support and insight.
So, all in all, a typical month for us probably doesn’t look that different from a typical month for you. We’re just being intentional in connecting with people and taking the opportunities God provides to share about him in the activities we’re already doing, and meeting up each week to share how we’re going and encourage each other in this.
The past 10 months have been a slow journey of discovery for us, both in growing to understand more what we are doing and growing to discern how God is at work.
One of the most exciting things, seven months in, was really starting to understand that serving in local mission is about being a part of what God is doing, rather than trying to force things to happen ourselves. This has freed us up to not be worried about whether we’re doing enough, and instead to be open to God using us when and where he chooses.
We’ve also learned the importance of recognising where people are at on their journey to God and offering them stepping stones to step closer to God, rather than just seeing evangelism as presenting the gospel to people. It’s about encouraging people into relationship with Jesus, not simply presenting them with truth. For those ready to investigate, a gospel presentation is helpful. But for those further away from God, it’s too much too soon.
Dean Eaton’s book, SENT: Seeking the Orphans of God, has been really helpful in giving guidance and practical examples in this. Finally, we’ve seen that evangelism is really just sharing Jesus – not only telling people about him, but seeking to live him out to our friends and colleagues too.
We still don’t feel much like evangelists – we still feel more like a bunch of ordinary Christians trying to muddle through and hoping God will use us.
Thank God that he has a long history of using ordinary people to grow his kingdom. Perhaps he’s challenging you and some friends to form a missional community, too …
What is SENT: Seeking the Orphans of God?
- The result of two years of ‘road testing’ with church communities, SENT is a set of evangelism resources, including a book, videos and promotional tools.
- The book not only describes how to form missional communities and the people within them, but also describes how a missional community does relational evangelism together.
- It provides small group Bible studies and activities, introduced through online video interviews with experienced evangelists. The activities help encourage discussion and decision-making on how to approach the task of relational evangelism among family and friends.
- There are two supplementary bonus resources included in the book. The first is the eight-week small group Bible study RENEW Love Life Communities. This is designed to enable the formation of a team within a congregation or church planting team to engage in relational evangelism. The second is RENEW Missional Leadership, a series of 10 devotions for church leaders. These are designed to help congregations develop evangelists and facilitate training and support for the church to reap the harvest.
What they say about SENT
‘SENT Seeking the Orphans of God and the accompanying Love Life Community st udies are quite possibly the spark that could bring your church alive.’ Dr Andrew Menzies, Principal Stirling Theological College – University of Divinity
‘This book … will help you cult ivate an inclusive loving community t hat invites all to live into t he divine dance of t he Fat her, Son and Spirit.’ J R Woodward, National director, V3 Church Planting
Andreas Mayer is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Woden Valley, in Canberra, along with his fellow team members Jacob, Kate and Aiden.
For more information and resources for local mission, go to the SENT Website – including the free PDF book SENT: Seeking the Orphans of God. You can also buy a softcover copy of the book through Openbook Howden and Amazon.
This feature story comes from The Lutheran July 2017. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.