Pastors are trendy fellows. Perhaps because we’re heaven-bent on mission, we strive to always be on the cutting edge to effectively reach people. Being trendy means adopting trendy language and bantering phrases about without fully understanding the implications of their meaning.
When I returned to America, two things were true of Pastors. They loved skinny jeans and using the word “missional”. Thankfully the skinny jeans were a passing fad, and the missional concept stuck.
There is another word that concerns me.
When used as a noun, and preceded by the word “missional”, community means a gathering of Christians who are intentionally on mission together within a given context. That last sentence was a rapid spray of machine gun fire, spattering buzz words like a mad man.
When used as a verb, it means that your church has some undefinable, unquantifiable quality of togetherness, intermingling, and unity. When somebody says, “I used to go to a church service, but there was no ‘community’, they mean that their new church has “it”. Their old one didn’t.
Being old has some advantages. I’m too young to have experienced the Jesus movement, but old enough to listen to hippies-turning-yuppies talk about “Koinonia”. Same dictionary, different glossary.
That greek word was bantered about when I first came to faith, and after hearing it in context, I realized that they were describing a warm, fellowship of unity.
It’s not new.
The hippies spoke of it being very powerfully present during the Jesus movement, and bemoaned the loss of it as the churches grew big. That’s not my beef. I don’t care about what size the church is, or how you keep or lose a sense of “community”.
What concerns me is that once again we’ve adopted a trendy buzzword that has changed how we think without realizing how damaging it is.
Let me start by saying this.
Your “community” is not your community.
Your church is not your community.
Your church is not where you live, work, and play. It’s a group of people who live within your community. Your church is the people you worship with. They worship within a community…but they will never truly be your community.
The danger in calling your church your community is that we run the danger of isolating ourselves further from our surroundings. Insular churches become that way by allowing the church itself to become its community.
As I point out in my next book Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art, the missional community model is struggling as much as any other model of church with the same thing…reaching the people around them, and fighting not to become a spiritual backwater that exists for itself.
Getting out into the community is where it’s at. Because that’s what your community is. Community is a place. The church is a people. A people in a place. That place is your community.
My neighbors are my community. My coworkers are my community. My fellow shoppers are my community. Do we have anything in common? Maybe. Maybe where we shop, work, live, or play. But fellowship only comes when we have Jesus in common.
And because we don’t have that in common in my community, I am missionally engaged. I am burdened for my community. But church, you will never be my community.
You will always be a part of it, the people I share Jesus with in worship. But my community is the place that I share Jesus with in witness.
As a serial church planter, I’ve learned that like the apostle Paul, community is created as new converts gather around the feet of Jesus. Paul never had “koinonia” unless he created it through witness.
Until we learn what our community is, we run the danger of letting the next faddy buzzword painting us into a corner where once again, we take a phrase that should motivate us to mission, and make it all about us again.
Make us insular.
Jesus was once asked “Who is my neighbor?” In answer, he told a parable about a pagan Samaritan man who didn’t believe in the God of the Old Testament, but embodied somebody who risked it all to save another person’s life.
That parable tells us, your community is the people around you. Don’t walk around them like the Pharisee, or the Priest, only associating with your own kind. Embrace your community, and get your hands dirty with them…in order to save them.
You can pre-order my new book Reaching The Unreached: Becoming a Raider of the Lost Art here. It’s on sale right now for 11.95!