29 October 2009

A Warning List for Those Who Would Join a Missional Church Gathering

Heaven knows that Mosaic has had its fair share of challenges establishing itself as a viable, thriving church community over the years. There are enough reasons, theories and rational explanations to write a book on the common variables Mosaic shares with many fresh expressions of church (wait... hundreds of books have already been written on the subject); these variables have, for better or worse, shaped Mosaic into the delicate yet resilient, vacillating yet enduring, joyful yet exhausted community that we are.

There are myriad obstacles that have challenged Mosaic's growth, depth and presence in the west end of Glasgow. Some of these obstacles are cultural; some are circumstantial; but some come from within. I wouldn't identify it as 'in-fighting,' per se. I think it's more clearly associated with a misunderstanding of what our church's vision is, and where Mosaic is going.

In my limited experience, I've come to learn that 'broken fellowship,' or relational fallout among members of the Church community, can often be linked to differences in the understanding of common values and vision, combined with the definition and application (or living-out) of those shared values and vision. What ultimately results is the loss of faith, trust and respect in one another's leadership or role within the church/community - wounding, bitterness and blame may potentially follow.

I suppose this could now become a 5-Point rhetorical analysis on the areas of character, responsibility, biblical behaviour and such, but I'd prefer to take this opportunity to prehab the issue by addressing the root of such problems, particularly as it relates to our existing community at Mosaic.

David Finch is the pastor of a missional church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago called Life on the Vine Christian Community. He's also the author of The Great Giveaway, and writes regularly on his blog, Reclaiming the Mission. Almost three years ago he wrote a post entitled A Warning List for Those Who Would Join a Missional Church Gathering. Although he admits to having written it during a time of frustration with his own church-plant, and the fact that "some people (NOT ALL!) weren't connecting with where the church was going," I found much of what he was frustrated with to be similar to that which we have encountered as a church pioneering as a missional community.

In order to make some of the core points on the list more relevant to Mosaic, some of the content has been adjusted, and as I am not currently writing from a place of frustration, the tone of the list will most definitely be different. The overall ethos of it, however, will remain true to the general message of what people can and should expect when joining a missional community church.

Like some members at Finch's church, Mosaic has struggled at times to get people on the same page with where we're headed as a church. Are we a Bible-teaching church for mature Christians? Are we a 'seeker' church for first-time churchgoers? Should people feel like they're in church when they're at Mosaic, or should it feel more like a café, a pub or a living room? Is Mosaic a place where people will grow deep into their faith in Jesus, or is it a place where they will explore spirituality and participate in ongoing discussions about God and culture and Creationism and Intelligent Design? Of course, the hope is that the answer to all of these is, Both, or Yes, or All! We could talk ad nauseum about when 'church' happens and what it means to 'be the church.' We could talk about the purpose of the Sunday gathering and who it's for and who it should really serve. But really, all I want to do is help the folks that I do life, church and community with understand what to expect in a missional church/community... which may be the best place to start...

EXPECTATIONS - Many people bring with them (from previous churches) expectations that certain things will be in place when they come to church. One of the expectations that has been an ongoing topic of discussion at Mosaic has been an established youth program that is consistently in place every week that parents can count on for their kids. You know the kind - it's the only kind that most of us know - arrive, give kids hugs, kisses and name badges, and then leave them with qualified childcare providers until returning after church to collect them before going home - the Sundays of my youth in a nutshell.
I'll be the first to admit that participating in the childcare at Mosaic can be exhausting some weeks; and sometimes I fall into the trap of believing that church shouldn't be so draining. One of the concepts that some are having great difficulty grasping, is something that many of us are convinced of... that the best way to raise children is in vital community where we encounter Christ together in worship and mission; where youth are asked to join in mission with adults (of course, we also have a high value of mentoring and educating the youth so we're not chucking the baby out with the bath water when we seek to adjust the norm when it comes to youth programs).

The following list could be read and viewed as somewhat harsh, or perhaps a bit off-putting - typically anything that rings with some level of absolution (especially when it conflicts with other points of view) can be interpreted as unsettling to say the least, and downright threatening at worst. Nevertheless, it's important to be wary of expectations at the outset of a missional community. Most missional gatherings begin by calling out already existing Christians to gather in a time and place to give witness to the Kingdom of God (so that God might expand it). Most seasoned Christians come from somewhere else with perspectives and expectations about what church is. I think a warning list, therefore, serves a good purpose for both the beginning stages of a community's planning, as well as for a church community (like ours) that has struggled since its inception to truly land on a common understanding of what it means to be a missional community.

I believe an important posture to have is that of a learner, or someone that is teachable. I'm not saying that on my authority this is the official missional community list. As always, these things should be unpacked, sifted through and shaped by those in the community that call Mosaic home.
Is this list necessary? What would you add or subtract from the list?


  1. Should not expect to come to church each week as a consumer - getting what you need for your own personal growth and development, and your kids needs, and then leave until next Sunday. Expect mission to change your life - however, expect a richer, fuller life than you ever imagined.
  2. Should not expect that Jesus will fit in to our conditioned capitalist assumptions, lifestyle, schedule or accoutrement that may have been adopted before coming to Mosaic.
  3. Should not expect to be anonymous, unknown or able to disappear in this church community. Expect to be known, loved and supported in a glorious journey.
  4. Should not expect production style excellence all the time at Sunday worship gatherings. Expect organic, simple, creative and authentic.
  5. Should not expect a cracking youth program that puts on a show every week and really gets the kids 'pumped up,' without parental involvement. Instead, as the years go by, with our children as a part of our lives, worship and mission (after the hype would have died down), expect our youth to have an authentic relationship with God through Christ that carries them through a lifetime of journeying with God.
  6. Should not expect every Sunday to be a 'feel good' experience, or leave feeling ecstatic. Expect that there will ALSO be times of pain, lament, exhaustion, self-examination, and just plain silence. At the same time, never let us get away with allowing you to leave unchallenged to dig deeper in your faith, worship or mission.
  7. Should not expect sermons that promise that God will prosper you with 'the life you've always wanted' if you just believe him and step out on faith and give more money. This is a life that Jesus promised would be filled with loneliness, trials and persecution.
  8. Should not expect rapid growth whereby we grow this church from 10 to 1,000 in three years. Expect slower, organic, inefficient growth that engages peoples lives where they are at, and sees troubled people who would have nothing to do with the gospel marvelously saved.
  9. Should not expect that all meetings will happen where we meet for church (The Annexe). Expect a lot of the gatherings to be in homes, out in culture, or sites of mission.
  10. Should not expect arguments over style of music, teaching or even outlying doctrinal issues like dispensationalism. Expect mission to drive conversation.
Oh yeah... and one more thing: you should not expect that community comes to you. The truth is, real community in Christ requires effort and a reshuffling of priorities for you and your kids. I understand that you want people to come to you and reach out to you and that you're hurting and busy - we all feel that at times - but assuming that you are a follower of Jesus Christ (this message is for the people who would claim that), you must learn that the answer to all those things is to enter into the practices of "being the Body" of Christ, including sitting, eating, sharing and praying together.

As I read and reread this before posting it, I'm reminded of the struggles we have to contend with by choosing to be part of a missional church. There are certainly easier models that I could be a part of as a leader or as member, and maybe more importantly, there are a number of churches out there that may have more mass appeal, that people may feel more comfortable in. I'm not criticizing those models, I'm simply saying that I have chosen to be part of something more organic, something messier. We'll never be program-driven or teaching-driven. We'll likely never be able to compete with youth programs that attract kids like magnets to a frenzied collision of enthusiasm and energy every week. We're not likely to volunteer how many people 'attend our church.' When we gather, we don't gather for the sake of church, and we don't gather for the sake of community. But when we gather to worship God and love people, we are the Church... and we're in community.

It may be cliché to say we are Christ-driven, but what impassions us is shaping those in our community to know and love God more deeply, and in turn, to bring His Kingdom to a hurting world through mission.

1 comment:

virandmel said...

Chris, you really have a gift of communication. This expresses a lot of what we are constantly sorting out in Brussels too! May refer others to this list...