Recently, I asked if a common mission produces community (click here to read) or if the experience of community results in mission (click here to read). Both are taught, often with great passion. Both have scriptural support. And both seem to have anecdotal evidence (great stories) to bolster the claim. However, when I have stepped back from both scenarios and looked beneath the specific path that a group has taken, I've found that in every case something deeper is really going on. In other words, the argument of community first versus mission first is a argument that leads us to miss the real thing that produces both.
I'll first explain why this is true and then I'll point to the deeper issue that often is overlooked in small group strategies.
Paul instructed the church at Philippi, "Consider other more important than yourself." This is the mind of Christ and this is one of the primary ways that the Spirit works through his people today. The problem is that this mindset—the word "consider" is a mindset kind of word that plays out in action—is so contrary to the American way of life. I don't have to go into all of the ways that our common life is shaped by a "consumption" mentality. We are taught to "consider" ourselves as consumers. We don't turn this off when we enter the church. We cannot turn this way of "considering" off when we show up at a small group meeting. We consume small groups. We consume each other. And when we don't like what we consume, we figure out how we can consume elsewhere.
As a result, there are those who consume the group meeting. Or they consume the feeling of community. Or if they prefer, they consume a common mission.
Often leaders fail to see this and they only create small group systems that feed consumers. It might look successful. However, when when you get inside it, the story being told is not one of the Kingdom of God. It's one where people are getting their spiritual goods and services through a small group. A lot of good things happen in these groups, but I do think we need to ask some different questions about them.
So what's the deeper thing that is needed to produce missional community? Discipleship!
Everybody agrees that the church should be on mission. Everybody wants community. And there are lots and lots practical methods for accomplishing mission and community. But the magic is not found in the methods. I've seen all kinds of methods work. And I've seen all of them fail, often disastrously.
The magic is found in the "way" that the method is lived out, a way that tells a story. This way of agape love—"considering others more important than ourselves"—is one that is only developed and passed on through discipleship. This is something we learn to do through practice as we relate with one another, usually outside the meeting in very intentional and deliberate ways. (BTW-this is the foundation of my books Missional Small Groups and MissioRelate: Becoming a Church of Missional Small Groups)
Most of us want a formula or an axiom, something like "common mission results in community." But when you observe the churches where this is being promoted, they are driving their mission and their community through relational patterns of intentional disciple-making. They might not be using those words, but that's what's going on. We don't need formulas. We need a way of practicing, which is the point of my Missional Small Groups Study Guide (Click Here for a Free Download).