Whenever I interact with people about being missional, most think they have a solid understanding of the concept. After all, the church is big into missions, our members have taken short-term mission trips, and we've sent money to missionaries overseas for many years. "Missions" described with these examples defines something that a church chooses to do outside of its normal rhythms. Church is what we do in a basically Christian culture while missions is something that we do for people outside that Christian culture.
Therefore, the term missional community (or missional small groups) is often interpreted as a group of people who choose to perform a set of tasks for another group of people outside the church or outside the group. It is typically something they do for the unchurched. So some conclude that a group that cooks at a homeless shelter once a month or packs food boxes for needy families is missional in nature. Others assume that missional small groups are about evangelism, employing servanthood and relational outreach strategies.
People Are Not Projects
This presents a problem. Both the missions and relational evangelism perspectives can turn missional into a task to be performed for those outside the group. The insiders have the right information and they go to prescribe what they have for the outsiders. For example, in groups that emphasize relationship evangelism I have found that the focus was on "getting people to come to my group" and not about what Jesus was doing in their lives. As a small group leader, I remember making "evangelism" plans for our group so that we could connect with the unchurched. Our intentions were good, but we turned the unchurched into projects because we assumed that we knew what they needed. We were trained with a set of prescribed answers. We knew what they needed, whether they wanted it or not.
Here's the truth: being missional is not about a task or work to be done that is based on the assumption that we as insiders know what the outsider needs. It is not about doing nice things for them or "getting them saved" and into our groups or congregation. They may very well participate in the life of the group in the future, but a MissioRelate group does not turn people into projects.
A False Dichotomy
Challenging this perspective is very difficult for many. We naturally divide activities between those things that are for group insiders and things that are for outsiders. Worship, prayer, teaching, and fellowship are for insiders. Outsiders need what we have on the inside. In other words, the "missio" part is for outsiders and the "relate" part is for insiders as they love God and one another.
MissioRelate eliminates the walls of insider versus outsider activities. It is a way of life where what has traditionally been viewed as insider stuff—discipleship, Bible study, small group meetings, worship, spiritual disciplines, and community—are done so that others can see. That which has been viewed as outsider stuff—community service, serving the poor, praying for the needs of a community, and sharing our faith are done with others so that they see the life of the group and even participate in the relationships of the group. Most importantly, these things take place before or even without expectations that people will become a part of a small group.
As You Go
Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." The verb "go" can be translated as active, as it is in most modern English Bibles. But in the Greek it is not an active verb and it can also be translated "as you go." Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of this passage in The message catches this meaning beautifully:
Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.
As we go about life, doing what we do every day, and in the normal stuff we do, we are to make disciples. The call to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world is to be part of the life we lead, part of what we do, not something we should need to make plans to do. Evangelism is not what we plan to do for outsiders but what flows out of our lives. This is the reason I emphasize three missional rhythms of group life. Everything we do as a community has the potential to be missional.
- Missional Communion: When we learn to pray as a part of our life together and do it in a way that others can see, this is part of our witness. We don't pray so that people will see us, but we don't hide the way to connect to God from those outside the church. We let them see our relationship with God.
- Missional Relating: How we love one another is one of the most important witnessing tools we possess. To live in a self-sacrificial way where we honor others more than ourselves will stand out in our culture.
- Missional Engagement: This last rhythm is about having conversations with people in our neighborhoods, listening to them to the point that they are heard and loved for who they are, not because they are a project to be won over.
The mission to share Jesus' Good News with the world is not simply something we do externally after we do our insider stuff. Our mission is to live the life of the Good News so that others can see.
—Excerpted from MissioRelate by M. Scott Boren, copyright 2011 by Touch Publications, Inc. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Touch Publications, Inc.