The past six weeks or so I’ve spent discussing the importance of creating extended families on mission (missional communities of 20-50 people) and in the midst of that time, I’ve been doing workshops talking about similar things.
In these last few weeks, two things have stuck out to me in interacting with pastors about missional communities:
- So many pastors are looking for the Silver Bullet. They are looking for the one thing that can save the day and keep their church (and the church in general) from the precipitous decline they are facing.
- They are hoping to master whatever this Silver Bullet is, whatever it may be, and hoping they can do so almost overnight. As if you could stick their church in a microwave, and two minutes later … DING! … ”it’s ready!”
First, I do believe there is a Silver Bullet for the church and it’s discipleship. However, the issue is that discipleship is something that is simple, but hard, not complex and easy. It takes a while. And because we’ve been about building churches first and foremost (hoping it would grow as quickly as possible) and rather whimsically hoping we get disciples out of it, we’re not accustomed to the amount of time and energy it takes to make even one disciple.
More and more, I see this phenomenon happening with missional communities (MCs) as well. I meet pastors who are looking for a quick fix to their seemingly unfixable problems. They assume that learning how to start, grow, disciple people and multiply MCs is as simple as doing a 40 Days of Purpose sermon series. But it’s just not. It takes a long time to learn it.
Think of it this way.
Most pastors spend years and years becoming experts in running Sunday morning worship gatherings. They go to seminary for it. Spend 15-30 hours of sermon prep each week. Many grew up attending worship services and are thus preconditioned to have a certain level of expertise already (through the immersion process). If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say it takes about five years of hard work before a pastor feels really competent in large gathering services. A lot of time and energy have gone into this.
Why do we assume that learning something like missional communities will be any easier or take less time? Why do we think we can learn to do MCs faster than we can learn the worship service, something that most of us grew up with? MCs are foreign to so many of us. It’s not like we can stick it in a microwave and pop it out.
I was talking with our Director of Content last week, Doug Paul, and he mentioned that he didn’t feel he was competent in launching, growing and multiplying missional communities for 18 months … and even then, he only felt he was “OK” at it and was still a ways off from “very good at it.” I imagine people like Michael Stewart at VERGE/Austin Stone and Jeff Vanderstelt at SOMA would agree, as they’ve been doing great work with missional communities for several years now. It’s not easy, it’s not quick and it takes time to learn.
Now it’s completely worth it, but if we approach it like it’s a quick fix that will come easily, we’ve got a surprise coming our way.
I keep coming back to this quote from J.S. Bryan, but I think it’s so true:
Many men can build a fortune, but few men can build a family.
Similarly, I would say that many pastors can lead a worship service, but few pastors have the patience to learn the art of missional communities. It’s going to take longer than a week, a month or a year!