“Missional community” is a nice phrase that hides a rich description of how we are to live as believers together. This little phrase works because it also mirrors the life of God – in God’s very essence he is a loving community on a mission. As redeemed people in His image, we mirror His life together.
Neither mission nor community has priority; neither can exist without the other. Mission and community intertwine like the strands of DNA. We are a community because we share a common purpose — a mission that began when God sent Jesus. We are a mission because the reality of the Spirit in our common life generates an overflow of love.
This circle diagram is based on the Trinitarian nature of God. But you can easily substitute “local church” in the center. This rhythm of inward and outward movement is what generates life in the Body. If one of the rhythms stops, we have problems. As Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities put it, action and prayer belong together. Vanier writes, (Community and Commitment)
“The more we become people of action and responsibility in our community, the more we must become people of prayer. If we do not nurture our deep emotional life in prayer hidden in God, if we do not spend time in silence and if we do not know how to take time from the presence of our brothers and sisters, we risk becoming embittered. It is only to the extent that we nurture our own hearts that we can keep interior freedom. People who are hyperactive, fleeing from their deep selves and their wound, become tyrannical and their exercise of responsibility only creates conflict.”
This idea of “interior freedom” mirrors the life of God. God is completely free. He is completely secure in His own love. When we are not truly grounded in the life of God, we act in the world from a deep need to be known and loved. As a result, our actions are actually ego based rather than agape based. We are always looking for approval, or to prove that we are significant. Moreover, we become driven, because our need for approval is endless. We worry about “our” ministry and “our” impact, even while we claim to be working for God. We tend to measure our worth by our success. God simply looks at our relatedness to Him, and it is the richness of that relationship that allows the living water to flow through our lives.
If we nurture a life of relatedness to God, a life of prayer, we have our need for significance and approval met internally, and to a greater extent we are free from the need to be seen and approved. We can then accomplish things that others cannot, because we don’t care who receives the credit. We are less likely to be lured by outward measures of success, because we have heard the Father say, “You are my beloved.”
In the same way, a community can become driven in its mission. As Gordon Cosby put it, “Vision is the destroyer of essence.” Many great causes burn people out and abuse them, because a great cause must be rooted in something outside this world in order to be sustainable. Jim Wallis put it like this:
“Both [vision and nurture] are key to community. Without nurture, a community will exhaust itself in pursuit of a vision. Without vision, a community will become stuck in self-preoccupation and will travel in circles. With only vision a community soon loses any real quality of love. With only nurture the community soon forgets what its love is for.”
In these times, when the church has been in a settled state for so long, we are more likely to have forgotten our mission and to be inward focused rather than outward focused. “Community” has become an idol for some, even though the rich qualities of community life are quickly lost when we lose our sense of common purpose. Where young leaders may make mission an idol, in too many places God’s mission in the world is taught, but not practiced.