Earlier this week I began a 4 part conversation with Mike Breen, one of the most prominent leaders in the grouplife trend known as missional communities. If you missed part 1, you can read it right here.
Mark: Yesterday you gave us an overview of the idea that every niche in society could have a missional community designed specifically for it. Can you give us an example or two of the kind of fruit MCs are bearing?
Mike: Let me give you two specific cases. The first is one that reached out to students in college who were really in the clubbing scene. This particular Missional Community, their community came together at 2am every Saturday morning, they’d pray together, read scripture, talk about their weeks, and then set up an outdoor cafe on the street outside the club. When the club closed and the students poured out, the cafe gave them a place to come off all of the drugs and alcohol and provided a safe place for them to talk about life. Literally hundreds of kids, as relationships developed over time with people in the Missional Community, became Christians.
Another example is a Missional Community we’ve seen focusing on families with young kids in the suburbs. They simply gather together 2-3 times a month for a meal where everyone brings something. They share things they are thankful for and everyone participates (even the kids) and they pray for each other. But they also commit to hang out and invest in each others lives outside of these set times. So the MC is in the overflow of their lives. They do play dates. Progressive dinners. Game nights. Go to movies. Celebrate birthdays. They are integrally connected in each others lives and they simply invite people in on the fun. It’s really that simple and lots of people have come to Christ through seeing the power of the Body of Christ functioning well together.
Again…it can be really, really simple.
Mark: I imagine there are really two effects of this kind of ministry…both in the lives of those who are touched by the missional community and in the lives of those who are involved in the ministry itself. Would you have an example of the kind of impact on the believers participating?
Mike: I think one of the really harmful things that has happened in the past few decades is that people have started to separate Mission and Discipleship…as if somehow you could be a disciples and not be missional! Jesus pretty much says this is one of the most important aspects of being a disciple (Luke 9, Luke 10, Matthew 10 & 28, Mark 6). What we’ve seen is more spiritual maturity and very real discipleship happening when people are on mission within this extended family. And it’s not hard to see why. That’s what they were created for! These people feel alive in ways that they only ever dreamed of.
Mark: What are the important first steps in developing this kind of ministry?
Mike: I think the biggest thing is recognizing that as disciples, our lives must be shaped in the same way Jesus’ life was. To be quite honest, most people say this but don’t live it out. If people are going to start these kinds of communities in their church, they are going to need a language to create a culture that wants to be like Jesus, to live as he lived. So we’ve found the language of UP/IN/OUT to be really helpful in shaping this kind of community.
Then we just ask people to look at their lives, the church community and their small groups: Is this happening? And if it isn’t…what are we going to do about it?! The tension, along with the Spirit at work, will breed action. “So you’re pretty bad at doing mission. What do you think you should do about that?”
Mark: What are some of the mistakes you’re seeing some ministries make?
Mike: The BIGGEST mistake, by far, that I think people make is assume that mission can be done without discipleship already firmly in place. Dallas Willard puts it this way: Every church needs to be able to answer two questions:
- What is your plan for making disciples?
- Does your plan work?
Sadly, most churches have plans that simply don’t work. They say they work, but if we evaluate the fruit of the disciples lives in scripture vs. the fruit we see in most of our churches, what we quickly realize is that we’ve just changed the criteria to fit the meager fruit our communities produce.
I firmly believe that we don’t have a missional problem in the United States. We have a discipleship problem. If you make disciples, you’ll always get the church. But if you make the church, you rarely get disciples.
We’ve been in church-making mode for so long that we have long forgotten our task was discipleship, not building churches (which Jesus says in Matthew 16 was his job). If you make disciples like Jesus did, you get mission. If you focus on doing discipleship, your church will grow.