A few years back, I saw an incredible performer while I was on vacation with my family. He was a magician and a juggler. But he also did this amazing plate spinning trick. I have no idea how he did it. He had several plates spinning all at once, he was juggling, and he was talking. I have trouble doing even one thing at a time, so this particular trick amazed me! He was awesome. Nevertheless, thinking back about him leads me to ponder about how I spend my time. In general, people spend the bulk of their time on what they deem important. Indeed, what they SAY is not important. What they actually DO in practice tells the tale. Moreover, if you look at a person’s checkbook, you can REALLY tell what they prioritize.
Churches are no different. Some churches focus on Bible study. Some focus on mission. Some focus on fellowship activities. Usually Christians and churches are focused and good at one thing (whatever that may be). Yet when we focus on one thing too much, we ignore other important matters. Jesus gave us a pretty straightforward mission (to make disciples). Unfortunately, it’s very easy to get distracted from that mission and get sidetracked. So what’s the answer? How do we keep all of those plates spinning at once? How do we not lose focus on making disciples, still have time to go to work, and find the time to raise a family? That’s a great question! I’m so glad you asked!
May I suggest the 3 R’s for the well balanced local church (Reaching Out; Relating In; Reuniting Up)? If we, as the church, are to be committed to connecting with God and with people around the table and in the community, we must be able to achieve a balance. Getting overwhelmed and burned out is NOT a fun place to be. I’ve been there and done that! Moreover, each of the three R’s includes an intentional “ing” at the end because each one suggests ongoing action. The truth is that this is a lifestyle we live rather than a product we consume.
Reaching Out (to non-believers).
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough” (Matt.13:33 NLT).
Reaching out is at the top of the list simply because it’s the last thing Jesus told us to do before He ascended into heaven. Therefore, it should be the first thing we do! It should be the freshest mission on our minds as believers. We are to make disciples. And the only way we can do that is to reach out. This is both an individual effort and the collective responsibility of the church. Yet it can’t just be something we study about and know. We must put this into action and spend as much time doing it as we spend preparing for a Sunday morning worship service. Yes. Read that line again. I said it. It’s out there!
Reaching out means that we get out into the community and into the lives of people that don’t know Jesus. It is true that not everyone has the gift of evangelism. Not everyone can meet new people, become their best friend on the spot, start sharing the good news, and make a new disciple of Jesus with one hand tied behind their back (I can’t do that either). However, everyone has someone in their life (friend, coworker, family member, etc.) that doesn’t know Jesus. Everyone can pray for opportunities and seek out ways to build relationships with people. In addition, we don’t have to do it alone. That’s what our Missional Communities (MC’s) are for as we each use our unique, God-given gifts.
Furthermore, as we build relationships with people that don’t know Jesus, we invite them into community with us and our MC as we do life together. That way, for those who are not particularly knowledgeable enough (or confident enough) to answer the tough questions, we have someone in our MC to connect them with who can. This is how the group can work together on mission instead of inviting everyone to a Sunday service where the “pastor” has to lead, shepherd, and convert everyone. That’s how we created the mess we are in today. That’s why our churches are shrinking. And that’s why our pastors are burning out and quitting the ministry. It’s simply not healthy, biblical, or practical.
The better picture is the one Jesus gave us about the yeast working through the dough (Matt.13:33). Ancient yeast and modern yeast might not be exactly the same, but the point is the same. The yeast works all the way through the dough and causes it to grow. Over time, the results are undeniable. Even though it happens slowly, the yeast grows. So as individuals and MC’s get out into the community and become a part of the community, they will inevitably blend in, build relationships with people, and make a difference in the long run. As the church, we can no longer expect people to come to us. We must go to them and work through the dough. They have no reason to come to us. They have no idea that they need Jesus. We must continually be reaching out to them.
This can take many forms. MC’s can be a part of a vast amount of ventures like sports, community events, and school activities. Since most families are most likely already a part of those things, all we need to do is add a bit of intentionality to what we do. That way there’s nothing we need to ADD to our schedules. Our schedules are packed tight enough as it is. Yet since we’re already there at an event of some sort, we insert Good News. We look for opportunities to build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.
Furthermore, it costs the church nothing! There’s no need to spend thousands of dollars on outreach events that don’t work. Just become a part of your own community! For example, throw a block party cookout for your neighbors where everybody brings food and it costs practically nothing. Or simply attend other events that you’re invited to. Just be intentional about meeting people. When people have a common reason to be at the same place at the same time, relationships will inevitably develop. And as we develop those relationships over time, lives will change (much like the yeast working through the dough) as we incorporate people into the life of our MC.
Relating In (to each other)
“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NLT).
The book of Acts gives us such a great picture of life in the first century church. Believers were reaching out like crazy, they were having meals together, praying together, meeting in houses, and studying together. They were in each other’s lives to say the least! So how did we get to where we are now in the modern church? Why do we invite people to sit and consume a show on Sunday morning as passive observers? What happened to the whole going from house to house thing? What happened to sharing belongings? What happened to being in each other’s lives on a daily basis? What happened to everyone participating? If you don’t know those answers, buy a good book on church history and you’ll be disgusted by the time you reach the fourth century! The church was just fine for the first three hundred years. It all went downhill once Christianity became legal (socially acceptable) and we started building buildings! That’s when it turned into a dog and pony show.
However, as we in the Missional Church reach out and incorporate someone into our MC, we discover what living out the book of Acts is all about! Relating in, for our church, is the life (the heartbeat) of the church. This is where all the “one-another’s” of the New Testament can happen. This is where people really feel like they belong and we become the church together. But an MC is not just a Bible study or a small group. An MC is a one-stop-shop where we can work together to reach out to the community, fellowship with each other, serve each other, have spiritual discussions, ask questions, study the Bible, build lasting friendships, pray together, make disciples, be accountable, and eat together (just to name a few). And when we’re a part of that, we’ll want to worship together as we gather as the local church. And that’s how we land at the final R (Reuniting Up).
Nevertheless, before we get to that final R, we must know that each MC is a little church. It might not be the entire local church, but each one functions as a church and as a family. There’s only so many people you can be close to at one time. Not everyone in the entire local church can be best friends. Yet we can connect with a couple families. An MC (even though there’s no set number) is usually less than twenty people. Once it gets too big, it becomes too hard for everyone to participate and know each other well.
Again, Jesus is the perfect example. He taught the large crowds for sure. But He also had the Twelve. He also had an inner circle of Three. And that’s where our blueprint for the three R’s comes from. We reach out like Jesus did. We go out into the community. We go after the one lost sheep. Once they are ready, we incorporate them into our MC as we learn to do life together. Jesus and His disciples did almost everything together. They didn’t just show up to the temple or synagogue together one day a week. They ate together, had meals in other people’s houses together, and they learned as they followed Jesus. And yes, they also worshiped together. It all works together. It’s an ongoing process. Getting people to a Sunday worship service cannot be our goal. It’s part of what we do, but it should not be the goal of the local church. It’s just one part of who we are.
If we really want to get a sense of what the church is all about (and was meant to be), being a part of an MC is the starting point. We really discover that WE ARE the church as we do life together, worship together, and go from house to house together. It’s where we can really grow in the faith. And it’s so much more than a meeting, a building, or a Sunday service. It’s a lifestyle. Furthermore, we can’t ALWAYS be reaching out. We need other believers. We need to restore each other, to challenge each other, to recharge our own batteries, to learn God’s Word, and to bear one another’s burdens as we learn to love each other just like Jesus told us to do (Gal.6:1-2; John 13:34-35). We need to be relating in (to each other).
Reuniting Up (in worship)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Tim.3:16-17 NLT).
We really do need to learn the Word of God. We also need to gather as the local church to worship. And two of the R’s already mentioned really help to balance out what we need to DO as well as what we need to BE as the church. Yet none of that will come to fruition if we don’t know God’s Word or gather in worship. And worship gatherings are a great way to teach the local gathered church. When all the MC’s come together, people can get a sense of what’s going on throughout the whole church and not just their MC. We get a sense of the bigger picture when the whole church gathers and as we hear stories of people coming to the faith, what other MC’s are doing in their neighborhoods, as we eat together, and as we learn God’s Word together.
A Sunday Gathering (or whatever day you worship) can generate a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It can recharge us for the week. It can inspire us and our MC’s to think outside the box and to try new things that other groups are doing. A Sunday Gathering allows us to receive our marching orders and catch the vision from our leaders. We really do need to sit under the teaching of God’s Word from somebody who really knows it and has studied it. It doesn’t mean that they need to have letters behind their name, but it does need to be a chosen servant of God who is called for that specific purpose. We really need to be taught by those who know, those who are doing it, and those who can guide us along the way.
Nothing irritates me more than someone who doesn’t back up what they teach. It is impossible for someone to pastor a Missional Church if they do not live it out on a daily basis. Being a pastor is more than just being a good speaker. It helps to be a skilled speaker (so you don’t put people to sleep) but it also helps to speak from experience. Otherwise, we have no business teaching God’s Word. If we don’t do it, we can’t teach it. Jesus lived out what He taught and we must do the same. So, in my humble opinion, a “teaching” pastor who only teaches on Sunday morning is unbiblical, irresponsible, and mocks the very words of Jesus.
Seriously, how can someone train church planters if they’ve never planted a church? How can someone teach the Great Commission if they never spend time with lost people? That is the ultimate hypocrisy. It just can’t be. So as we gather, we must learn God’s Word. We need to know what it says, what it means, and we need to learn how to apply it by watching what our leaders do. Our leaders aren’t perfect. We can’t do everything. But we can only teach what we know and what we do. Therefore, we need to learn from leaders that DO, not just leaders who teach words alone.
We also need to sing together. I know some people like singing about as much as getting a root canal, but did you know that we’re told to do it? It’s in the Bible! “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts” (Col.3:16 NLT). It doesn’t say we need to sing well, but singing is a great way to worship and praise God. And if it’s what He wants, that’s what we should want, even if it’s not necessarily our favorite thing to do. Nevertheless, music inspires, encourages, lifts up, and motivates us to action at the same time we are giving praise to God.
Finally, we are also required to meet together as the church. We can’t forget that the early church gathered for worship and was told to not give it up. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT). When we gather as the local church, we do learn God’s Word and praise Him in song as mentioned. In addition, it’s also a way of getting our message out to everyone at once.
Each local church has a specific DNA that makes it unique. Each local church has a certain vision and a way they carry it out. But it’s hard to do that and generate energy if we don’t meet together on a regular basis. Moreover, it’s totally legal (for now)! We can, so why wouldn’t we? The day is coming when we will have to go back into hiding like the early church. So why not make the most of every opportunity we have now (Eph.5:15-17)? Why not gather together? Why not eat together? Why not get to know each other better? Why not worship together? Why not learn together? Why not train together? We were meant to connect with God and with people. That’s God’s design. And as we do that more and more, hopefully it will inspire us to want to share it with other people as we reach out more.
The point of the three R’s is achieving a balance in what we do. Instead of just being an institution that teaches knowledge, let’s back it up with applied action! Let’s keep a never-ending circle going of Reaching Out, Relating In, and Reuniting Up. That’s a basic and a biblical structure for the local, Missional Church. How each individual church does that is up to them. Yet we must be more than a Pharisee Training Camp. We can’t constantly learn knowledge and perform rituals without application. We can’t expect other believers to do what we’re not willing to do ourselves. We might not all play the same role, but we all can be a part of the Great Commission by using the gifts we have been given. “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Peter 4:10 NLT; c.f. Rom.12:4-9; Eph.4:11-16).
Questions to consider…
1. How can you and/or your MC reach out on a consistent basis to the people in your neighborhood that don’t know Jesus? Brainstorm together and make a list of things you’d like to try. Put daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly things on the calendar that you’d like to try. And as you meet people pray for them by name!
2. What does it mean to do life together? Does it seem overwhelming to think about? How can you balance eating together, hanging out, reaching out, being accountable, praying together, and learning together while not neglecting your responsibilities at work and at home?
3. Before being a part of a Missional church and/or MC, what was your perception of what the church is? Describe what you thought going to “church” was then and what you believe “church” to be now.