Although there are a number of reasons why we have chosen to implement missional communities at The Austin Stone, there are a few critical reasons I want to highlight:
A Theological Reason – The Community Apologetic
A Philosophical Reason – Discipleship in a Consumer Culture
A Pragmatic Reason – Reaching All of Our City
A Theological Reason for Missional Communities
There are several theological works that have been written to date on missional community and missional church, ranging from personal identity rooted in Scripture to the organizational mandate of the church. Among these resources, I recommend books like Total Church, The Forgotten Ways, Let the Nations Be Glad, and other resources that are helpful.
One of the key distinctive theological reasons we have chosen missional communities resides in the Community Apologetic.
Through passages like John 13 and John 17, we see a unique testimony that God’s people collectively give for the gospel. Theologically, we would draw heavily on the writings of Francis Schaeffer, Lesslie Newbegin, and Deitrich Bonhoeffer for the development of this idea.
This is also validated throughout church history-the most persuasive argument for the Christian faith is the Christian community. The majority of conversions throughout church history have come not through argumentation, but through belonging to a meaningful community before belief is ever required. For more on this idea, see the writings of Rodney Stark.
For us, this means that the church must not simply gather for worship and scatter for mission as individuals.
We must gather for worship AND gather for mission.
Practically, in order to embody the church in unique cultures in our city and be effectively mobilized for mission to our ENTIRE city, this means that we must have smaller, nimble communities who are uniquely expressing the gospel in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and networks of people.
Throughout the New Testament, it seems that the community is involved in all facets of life, not simply a once a week gathering for mutual accountability and encouragement in the mission.
A Philosophical Reason for Missional Communities
Philosophy of ministry is the direct application of theological convictions into a unique cultural context. Our theological convictions about the character of God, the truth of the gospel, and our mission in the world don’t change, but our culture shapes how we apply those truths into functional ministry.
In Austin, Texas, we find ourselves ministering in a highly consumeristic, radically individualistic, and materialistic group of people.
Unfortunately the worldview of the culture has also pervaded the worldview of the local church, and many of the people who engage in our worship services, listen to our sermons, and participate in our ministries are more formed by their unconscious desire to consume than the gospel.
We are systemically discipled by the culture, and the church must have a systemic response to disciple in the way of Jesus.
The American church has often recognized the problem of individualism, presenting small groups as the typical solution for isolated people. Similarly, we recognize the problem of materialism, and have presented opportunities for radical generosity.
It is very rare, however, for the church to have a response to consumerism. We are still plagued by systems of thought that cater to consumers, rather than encourage individuals to be self-feeding missionaries.
Honestly, this is why The Austin Stone has gotten so much push-back from our people on the idea of missional community – we are actively combatting the idolatry and worldview of the church that has run deep into our hearts and minds.
In order for the church to be effective in discipling the people whom God has entrusted us, we need to have a systemic response to the pervasive worldview. We cannot expect to confront idolatry on a deep level if our systems are reinforcing consumerism.
Think about the typical small group-it is highly driven around the needs of the Christian, it is often centered around teaching or bible study from an outside source, and rarely does it demand more than simply a meeting once per week.
Missional Community presents a compelling alternative that calls people from consumerism to the life of a missionary in community in a way that is attainable for the everyday person to live out their God given identities and calling.
A Pragmatic Reason for Missional Communities
As a church, we believe that God has called us to make disciples EVERYWHERE in our city. 71% of the city of Austin, if asked to come to a worship gathering, would decline.
If we want to engage the entire city with the gospel of Christ, we have to take the church to people. This requires every single member of the body of Christ to life a missionary life, not simply the organization itself.
Practically, missional communities provide the vehicle by which the church scattered can engage every sphere of society. Thousands of people gathered on a Sunday makes little to no difference missionally in the lostness of our city. Thousands of missionaries incarnating the gospel together in our city has the power to change a city.
Also, as a large church, we must have a place where the saints are cared for and pastored, where the “one anothers” of Scripture are lived out, and where we can exercise oversight and authority consistent with the New Testament.
If all we were to do was corporately gather, and corporately engage in mission, our elders would still be lacking in our execution of the biblical vision for shepherding the flock of God.
Pragmatically, we need a vehicle by which the church can care for one another, support one another, and where we can practically meet the needs that arise in the community of God.
What are other ways we can be faithful to the Word and also confront consumerism within the church?
What are the primary reasons you are considering missional community?
Share your thoughts through social media by using #MissionalCommunity