At City Life Church, a City Group is a missional community, where we can be the church to one another and to the city. It’s not just a “community group”, focused on ourselves. It’s not just a mission-focused group, focused on the city. In a sense, it’s both, a city – group.
So let’s talk about the phrase “missional community”, and we’ll start with the 2nd part…community. Everyone knows what that is, right? In a traditional sense, a community is a group of people with common interests who typically live in the same area. Think about a small town community that supports common interests and causes, like schools, libraries, and Friday night high school football. With a community, there is care, there is purpose, and as members contribute, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Christian community is similar, in some ways. Christians however look to Scripture for guidance and inspiration, and the most common scriptural inspiration for community comes in chapter 2 of the book of Acts:
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:46-47
Committed to following the teachings of Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit, the first Christ-followers worshiped God together, ate together, and shared life with each other. Other inspiration for Christian community can come from a Bible search of the phrase “one another”. (Rom. 12, 15:7, Gal. 6, Eph. 4:32, 1 Thess. 5, 1 Peter 4)
Christian community goes way beyond the practical of eating meals together, celebrating birthdays, or providing meals when a family has a new baby. Those are all great things, but Christian community also includes:
- Speaking the truth of Scripture (in love) to each other
- Praying earnestly for other’s needs
- “Being there” for others, emotionally, and sometimes physically, when life gets rough
When we first came to City Life Church, we found community in the North Central City Group. They accepted us unconditionally with all our past church hurts, all our fears, all our faults, and all our grey hair. They welcomed us unconditionally, and that’s a beautiful thing.
So next, let’s look at the 1st part of that phrase “missional community”…missional.
What does it look like for your community or group to be missional, to exist not just for itself, but for others, for the city? And what does it look like for you to be a “missional” Christian? Businesses commonly have a “Mission Statement” to define and help employees focus on the purpose of the company. Our mission as Christians was given to us in some of the last words of Jesus that were recorded, in chapter 28 of the book of Matthew, commonly referred to as “The Great Commission”:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20
Pretty straightforward, right?! We are to guide people to Jesus, help them understand who He was and is, help them understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and teach them how to be His disciples. So if we attend Sunday morning church gatherings, listen to sermons, teach Sunday School, serve on church committees, and go to Christian concerts, we’re being good, missional Christians, right?
We can be “good” Christians and not walk in the fundamental mission that Jesus left us with. OK, I’m not here to lay guilt on anyone! I’m probably more guilty than anyone here, of being occupied with a church calendar, and trying to live my life as a “good Christian”. But what would it look like to live out our Christian lives intentionally, with a missional mindset?
Ellen and I used to avoid our neighbors because we wanted to protect our children, and to “avoid evil”. We wouldn’t go to neighborhood cookouts because…GASP…they were serving beer! I’m not kidding! Then God showed us how wrong we were, that Jesus died for our neighbors the same as He died for us, and that we needed, as Jesus said, to be salt and light in, and to, the world.
In 1999 we were living in Cleveland, Ohio, and we moved about 20 miles across town to be nearer to the church that we were a part of. On the corner of our street was a family of five, the Stephens, where the father, Pat, was an assistant chief with the Cleveland Police Department, and his wife Sue was a nurse at the Cleveland Clinic. For about 5 years we prayed for our neighborhood, but frankly, the busyness of church, family and work kept us from really getting to know the Stephens or others on our street. Then one day, I looked out into the backyard, and Pat and another neighbor were out working, digging a drainage ditch. So I grabbed my mattock and shovel, walked over, and said, ‘hey guys, can I give you a hand?’ In just one day we became good friends! Several years later, we were able to pray for Pat’s wife Sue when she was battling a brain tumor. We never “preached the Gospel” to Pat and Sue. I do believe that we helped prepare the soil of their hearts for the seed of the Gospel to land upon.
All it took was for me getting out of my pre-occupation, stepping away from my own long to-do list, and popping out of my Christian bubble. And in hindsight, I do wish I had also taken that next step, to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them.
With a more missional mindset, maybe I invite that neighbor to come with me to a Sunday morning, or with me to a City Group gathering, or maybe I take what I am learning about God and life and myself, and I’m open and honest about it, in a conversation with a co-worker.
So what then is “missional community”, or what we at City Life Church call a City Group? It is our Christian community working together and encouraging one another in being missional.
In the 1950’s, ‘60’s, and ‘70’s, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Americans committed their lives to Christ, hearing Christian evangelists in large public gatherings, and having the embers of the Christian teachings that they had heard as children fanned into flames.
Today, we live in a post-Christian America. People weren’t brought up going to Sunday School. People didn’t grow up praying at mealtimes, or directing their thanks on Thanksgiving Day to God. People are skeptical of televangelists and holier-than-thou Christians. But we can serve our neighbors when it’s time to dig a ditch or rebuild a fence. We can listen and show compassion when they’ve lost their job or their spouse is battling cancer. Then together, in our Christian communities, we can model love and commitment to those lost and hurting people.
Being a missional community means that we join together to love a neighborhood or a group of people (like from a workplace or a sports league or a Meetup group), so that in relationship we can share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them.
Being part of a missional community also means that we can support, encourage, and pray for the missional efforts of our friends. I’m probably never going to work at Austin ObGyn Associates! But I can pray for the women in our City Group that do work there, because their work there goes way beyond work, it’s a ministry to the women that they serve.
Evangelism today can mean public preaching. But for most of us, ‘preaching the gospel’ and ‘making disciples’ will most effectively look like three strands of a rope:
- Building relationships
- Introducing people to community
- Sharing the Gospel
(from Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timms)
But this isn’t a “checklist”. We aren’t to see people as “projects”. And these aren’t “steps” that necessarily come in order or sequence. It’s a flow that ideally is part of our rhythms of life with Christian and non-Christian friends.
A family in our City Group showed a great example of this dynamic earlier this year. They had a birthday party for their son, invited the City Group, and they included friends and co-workers and their families. We got to meet them, and to start getting to know them, as we ate way too much party food and had a great time as a dozen kids rocked the waterslide.
This is what can (and should!) happen in a missional community! And at City Life Church, our City Groups are to be just that—missional communities.
Ellen and I came to City Life Church because of its distinctive focus on missional community. We knew we needed community, we needed a tribe, that we needed relationships with other Christians. We also believed that we weren’t here on Earth just for ourselves, that we had a bigger purpose, a missional purpose, for being here. We live in the Steiner Ranch neighborhood, which sometimes feels like is about halfway between Austin and Amarillo. We’d love to launch a City Group in our own neighborhood some day.
But until that day, we’ll be supporting our City Group “family” in their neighborhoods:
- With their get-togethers with friends and neighbors and co-workers
- With their Super Bowl parties
- With their neighborhood service projects
What about you?
Where do we, this body of Christians we call City Life Church, go from here? First, we don’t go under, with guilt for any sense of failure in sharing the Gospel and making disciples. Satan, the Enemy, is an accuser, and he wants us to be discouraged, to go under, and to be ineffective. Secondly, we pray: God, change my heart! Give me compassion for the lost. Give me Your eyes. Help me see the people that need You, just as much as I needed You. And finally, we partner! We commit to work together, in our community, in our City Group, for the Gospel, for our neighborhoods, for our workplaces, for our city. There is a reason why each of us is here, at this time, in this city, for God’s mission, for God’s purposes.
I’m not going to go under. I’m not going to listen to the lies of Satan. I’m committing myself anew to ‘make disciples’ as Jesus commanded. I’m committing to getting out of my Christian bubble, looking outward, and being intentional in relationships with the Gospel. And I’m committing to loving people, and sharing the love and truth of Jesus, as an integral part of my work, family, church, and recreational life.
Will you commit with me? By God’s grace, and His will be done, we can impact this city for His Kingdom! Let’s go make disciples, in community, by loving people, and telling them about Jesus.