Foster Environments for the Re-Socialization of Jesus Followers that
Results in Community & Mission
Developing small groups that live in community and on mission is about helping people live in a way that aligns with the life that Jesus demonstrated when he walked on earth. He came not only to save us from the penalty of sin. He also opened a door of freedom so that we might freely live in a new and different way, what Jesus called “abundant life.”
This abundant way is a revolt against the “principalities and powers of this world” that do not line up with God’s ways. They include patterns of this world such as individualism, nationalism, sexism, and racism, just to name a few. These are ingrained patterns that shape our thinking and are so common that they go unnoticed. We have been socialized by these patterns, which means that we have “picked up” disciplines that reinforce the life according to these patterns. When I say that we “picked up” or socialized, I mean that we have been trained by these disciplines because they are so common that we don’t have to talk about them. We just do them because it’s the common way life is done. It's like asking a fish to describe water. How would a fish describe the only thing it knows. (As if a fish could talk in the first place.)
To be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) means that we must re-socialized so the patterns of the world do not control us. Community and mission is not something that is common to the normal patterns of socialization that occurs in our common life. Most of the time we swim in the waters of the rat race of workaholism, feelings of isolation as we drown ourselves in so many paper-thin relationships that we are not truly known by anyone, and self-protection in a dog-eat-dog world. We have to discover a new set of disciplines that will train us for life in community and mission.
The typical approach to small groups is to organize a system, train leaders, recruit members, and provide curriculum. Then we organize groups and leaders, expecting (hoping) that they will experience community and mission. However, putting people in groups won't change the water in which they swim. But we have to equip people in the disciplines that match community and mission. If we don’t, then it’s absurd to expect groups to actually experience them.
How then do we foster environments for this re-socialization. Here are some thoughts:
- Create an “easy in” starting point. When novices to this topic are first exposed to spiritual practices that will shape them for community and mission, they become overwhelemed. It's crucial to help people start with only one or two disciplines and add more disciplines later. Go deep with that discipline and allow people the space to make it a part of their lives. I like to use a simplified version of lectio divina and lead people to go deep with this one discipline.
- Be Intentional. Because of the way our brains work whenever we are trying to learn something new, we must focus on a new task in unnatural ways. It will feel like work, but that is the only way new habits will be developed is to be intentional.
- Focus on repetition. The key to impacting our world (missional living) is not found in the big, visible actions, but doing little things quietly and repeatedly. Glory is found in one-time sacrificial acts and is fleeting; Transformation comes when we love others in many small, seemingly insignificant ways.
- Do it alone. There are some disciplines that are private and empower us to clearly hear God voice. Without these, we will turn our walk with God into externally focused actions. There are many great resources that can help with this, including Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, and Practicing Our Faith by Dorothy C. Bass and Henri Nouwen’s Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Find a resource that works for your church and begin to help people develop these disciplines.
- Do it with others. Community and mission cannot be experienced in isolation. This is about creating a space where groups can be outposts in the midst of the world, displaying the presence of Kingdom of God for the redemption of everything. My book Difference Makers seeks to help people along this path of learning how to be in community and on mission together. It is a “getting-started” guide that can help you foster environments where people can learn how to organically be God’s people who live in community and on mission.
[This post is abbreviated and adapted from chapter 13 of MissioRelate.]