If you have any interest in organic church, emerging church, missional communities, fresh expressions, new monasticism or any other recent expression of church and mission READ THIS BOOK: Michael Moynagh’s Church for Every Context written with Phillip Harrold. He brings together about a decade’s worth of theology and practice around new forms of church and mission.
Chapter 7 piqued my interest in particular as Moynagh poses the question: is mission by individuals or communities?
Reflecting on Stanley Hauerwas and Leslie Newbigin (guess why I was interested?), Moynagh argues that, though we often recognise the importance of the church community for mission, our general model is to gather in a residential area and then send individuals off alone to evangelise throughout the week.
the importance of church community as the place where Christian character is formed. This community shapes the language, actions and perspective on the world of its members and thus shapes them to live distinctively. It is in these distinctive lives, shaped around Jesus, that Christians point people to God. Similarly, Newbigin argued that the only way the church can faithfully and credibily represent the gospel in today’s society is by a congregation of men and women who believe and live it.
So the church as community is essential for mission….but…
Moynagh argues, both Hauerwas and Newbigin seem restricted by their inherited view of what ‘the church’ actually looks like – they have in mind gathered congregations meeting in residential areas on Sundays. This means they continue the model we see all over the place of the majority of mission being left to individual Christians sent out into the week on their own. In workplaces, leisure centers, schools and colleges, Christians are left isolated from the essential community.
The solution? Recognition that mission is the task of the community not just the individual.
Moynagh sees precedent for this in the nature of God – that He exists in community as the Trinity; in human nature – that we were made ‘male and female’ – made for community; in the history of the church – that Jesus formed a community and the early church met as community in homes, public places, shops and other places of life.
Moynagh gives a couple of examples of what he has in mind:
1) Mid-size communities that begin to meet maybe twice a month in a particular place with a focus on mission in that place: maybe an estate, or helping disabled children. These communities can begin to plant further communities from them.
2) Groups of Christians starting to meet in work places to run courses or find ways of serving their workplace. They could invite other people in by simply explaining what they do: “We discuss how to serve our workplcae, then read and discuss a story about Jesus, then play some music and those who believe pray quietly”.
There are a myriad of examples, but the point is to find simple and practical ways to form Christian community wherever we are. We need to recognise that a community living faithfully to Jesus, demonstrating His love, and being easily accessible for those who don’t believe, is extremely effective for mission. (Point of interest: I concluded my MPhil with a very similar sentiment.)
In my next post I’ll share some of my reflections on this, but for now what do you think?
Is mission a call for communities or individuals?
If you’re a Christian, do you feel isolated during the week with a pressure to ‘do mission’ on your own?
Do you have other ideas for how to form Christian community in different spheres of life?
Post a comment and let me know…