This continues and wrap up (for now) this mini-series of posts on what we’ve learned over the last 3+ years about missional community rhythms. You can read the introduction, what we learned in year 1, year 2, year 3, and what we are finding now in year 4.
Over the last few years, we have struggled to find the right rhythm for our missional community. How do we give quality time to discipleship, to community AND to mission without overloading everyone’s diaries?
- In year 1, we morphed from a classic home group approach to a missional community vision. We actually got going on the MC adventure, but changed too many things at once as we overcorrected toward an outwards focus at the expense of community and discipleship.
- In year 2, we went back to basics and put discipleship and living daily on mission back on the agenda. This was worth doing and we did see an important change in perspective. I was frustrated that “my” plans for outward focused activities were not happening – even though we were deepening relationships with our friends and actually doing OUT in more organic ways.
- In year 3, we discovered the power of focusing our attention on one innovation in our group pattern of meeting: a monthly Sunday family gathering in our case. But we felt people wanting to join us still had quite a barrier to jump over between our social gatherings and our ‘spiritual’ gatherings.
- In year 4, we put together a schedule that we believe fits in with the rhythms of the people we know and that gives people events of progressive spiritual depth to join us at.
A very helpful set of articles by Todd Engstrom (do check out his blog!) clarified things for me. In a nutshell, he suggests “gather as family over a meal, as disciples in an LTG (Life Transformation Group, as defined by Neil Cole), and as missionaries in a third place.” I shamelessly took and expanded on a simple venn diagram that he drew to explain this, and you can see my version below.
This picture gave us a simple way to think through our rhythms.
Firstly, let’s look at the ‘third places‘ – natural, neutral and regular places where members
of the group gather alongside non-believers. For us this includes the mens’ “beer and curry nights”, the mums and toddler group, the Scout troop, and a variety of local events such as fêtes and festivals. We don’t all need to go to one third place all together as one big group. Let’s value and pray for those things that we are already doing together and where our lives are already crossing, and use those as places to spot new people of peace. This covers the ‘community in mission’ side of things, so to speak.
Secondly, let’s gather as an “extended family” (with or without the kids) over a meal. We decided to do this once a month on a Friday night (with the host inviting their people of peace too) and once a month on a Sunday afternoon for afternoon tea with all the kids. We will have some kind of minor spiritual content at these events – giving thanks, asking for prayer requests, or similar. This covers the ‘community together’ side of things.
Thirdly, let’s makes sure we are growing in our discipleship and ability to make disciples. For us this is working itself out through the use of LTGs – groups of 2 or 3 who meet regularly to reflect and respond to what God is saying in their lives and to pray for others , in our monthly ‘core team meeting’ where I will encourage further reflection on our discipleship. It also includes the women’s Bible studies and mens’ pub discussions we will hopefully be running too. This covers the ‘community of learners’ side of things.
As you can see, new people could progressively engage with us in each three of these ways: firstly in a third place, secondly in a ‘family gathering’, and thirdly in things with more spiritual content such as LTGs or Bible studies.
As people flow (in diminishing quantities!) from right to left in the diagram, and spiritual vitality and energy for service flows left to right, we really do need to cover all these three bases we feel!
I described this as “secret sauce” as we felt it really simplified things for us. However, perhaps we theoretically knew most of this at the start, and it was simply that we had to go through the learning curve ourselves before it all clicked.
So that is where we are in our thinking today. No doubt it will evolve. I hope you have enjoyed this series on missional community rhythms / routines / schedule – and found some of it to be helpful. I would love to hear what you have found work, and what problems you have had to overcome in your context.