This is the last practice that I've found to be essential for leaders who want to move beyond "normal" community where small groups connect people and into "missional" community where groups experience life together that makes a difference in the world.
This practice is about how the leaders of the group work with leaders beyond the group. This is essential if the group really wants to move beyond the normal small group experience. Most groups don't have enough resources—time, energy, gifts, etc—within the group to have the sustaining impact that is needed in the world. There are two kinds of relationships that groups need in order to create synergy
1. The Relationship with an Elder-Like Leader. I hesitate to use the word "elder" (I give an entire chapter to this in my book MissioRelate), because it is so commonly used today as a label for a church governance role. Here I'm talking about the need for someone to serve as a wise guide, a prayer partner and a pastor who can help deal with difficult situations. Traditionally, we have called such a person a "coach" or group "supervisor." I don't care what you call the person, the role is that of an elder who knows God and can speak into the life of the group. I use the word "elder" because I like how Paul speaks of people like this in the early church. I've found that groups that remain in the normal group experience often outgrow the need for an elder (coach). The remain in mediocrity and can handle such a state very well all on their own. But when they want to move into mission, they enter into the land of risk. That's when the wisdom of an elder is most needed.
2. The Relationship with Other, Like-Minded Groups. One of the things that can jump-start a group to move beyond the normal is to partner with one or two other groups to take on some kind of project that will cause them to be present in a neighborhood. Recently, I spoke with a pastor in New Jersey who connects three groups who work together on a Habitat for Humanity project. When groups work together in this capacity they have the ability to break out of old habits and minister to needs in a way that they might not be able to do as an isolated group.
3. The Relationship with Local Ministries. Too often the church has thought in isolation. They think that any ministry must be developed within the confines of the church organization. But there are so many good ministries out there who are looking for partners who can invest life. These include things like Habitat for Humanity, local homeless shelters, ministries for orphans and battered women. There are a ton of them. At my former church, we had a list of different kinds of ministries so that groups could easily discover the options and see where they wanted to get involved.
4. The Relationship with the "Locals". This falls in line with Practice #7 Be Present in the Neighborhood. We need to listen to what God is already doing in and around us and to do this requires relationships with our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family members. These I call the "locals." We must listen to the needs that are being expressed which could be as simple as a wife needing help with her chronically-ill husband to addressing racial tension in specific part of town. But we have to listen if we are going to actually go with God's life and share God's message of reconciliation. We cannot assume that we know what they need. We listen and then walk with them.
For the last post in this series, click here.