Keeping it All Together

Church consists of those called out of the world system by the gospel of Christ into his new society which is on mission for him. But how does the society carry out the mission? Through my reading, I’ve encountered two schools of thought divided over their answers to that question.

The first position, set forth in books like Total Church by Chester and Timmis and The New Parish by Sparks, Soerens, and Friesen, could be described as “community on mission.” This approach maintains that our life together in the community gives shape and credibility to our witness in the world (as evidenced by the multiple authorship of these books). A “missional community” might collaborate to clean up a park in their neighborhood as an act of mission. They might hold their meetings in a coffee shop rather than in a home in order to demonstrate their life together before the watching world. Whatever the manifestation, the entire group works together to demonstrate the norms of the kingdom primarily within one field. This approach has merit in that it places a high value on our lives together and on the unity of the church as a demonstration of the genius of God through the gospel. Conversely, “community on mission” tends to compartmentalize the individual lives of Christ’s disciples, limiting their missional activity to what is engineered or endorsed by church leaders. As such, movements that take this approach tend to grow very slowly if at all since twenty+ people are required to lead one person to faith.

The second approach which I will call the “multiplication model” focuses more on the responsibility of each believer to share the gospel within their daily interactions. Organic Church by Neil Cole and T4T by David Garrison advocate for this approach. With the multiplication model the influence of the kingdom can spread at a nearly unbelievable rate by leveraging the power of exponential growth. Instead of twenty people leading one person to faith one person might lead twenty. While the community on mission approach focuses on the interdependence among believers, the multiplication model emphasizes equipping and accountability as primary functions of the community. As a task-oriented person, I’m more drawn to this second approach, but as a practitioner I have to acknowledge that some important things tend to fall off of the bullet train on the way to world evangelization. For instance, neither author addresses directly what a church should do once they’ve actually shared the gospel with everyone in their sphere of influence and they settle into the normal church life – even though both authors acknowledge that this will happen eventually.

Our mission, “Sharing life,” offers a third approach which incorporates the other two. “Sharing life” is intentionally ambiguous to reflect our dual emphasis. Sharing our lives in authentic community is no more or less important that sharing His life through intentional daily proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. Our resources such as “The Three O’s” prayer form simultaneously draw believers in to community and out into their mission in the world. We believe that maintaining this tension creates an environment of holistic discipleship which fosters Christlikeness in each believer.  As each person becomes more like Christ, more people will be led to Christ and developed into greater Chrislikeness and so on. So, our mission, “Sharing life…” aims at our vision “…so more people will become more like Christ.”

Published by Nathan Wilkerson

Holding on for dear life.

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