Mission: alone or together? (Talking to Michael Moynagh Part 1)

Not cheap, but worth it!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.

Hauerwas recognises
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…

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5 thoughts on “Mission: alone or together? (Talking to Michael Moynagh Part 1)

  1. “but for now what do you think?” – Sam you asked… 🙂

    “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.” – Yes.

    “In workplaces, leisure centers, schools and colleges, Christians are left isolated from the essential community.” – Yes.

    “Recognition that mission (or evangelism) is the task of the community not just the individual.” – Yes.

    “a focus on mission in that place: maybe an estate, or helping disabled children. These communities can begin to plant further communities from them.” – No. It is not the place that is paramount but the ‘gifts’ & ‘tools’ that are taken to that place.

    “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.” – This has been the proforma for the church for the last few decades. As an advocate of this idea, please explain how this has been effective in our (western) society? –

    No longer are members of our society raised thinking we need Jesus to know how to love. And that churches are accessible has done nothing to make believers (on its own) for decades either.

    “If you’re a Christian, do you feel isolated during the week with a pressure to ‘do mission’ on your own?” – Yes!! If you don’t feel this pressure, then maybe there is still something you’re missing from Christ’s mission & instruction.

    Is mission a call for communities or individuals? – Yes, Communities!!

    Sam, this is part of my obssessive fantasy. We have been failing for decades. Why have our disciples felt like they’ve had to do it as a minority of one on their own, in an increasingly uncompromising arena? We have to go back to forging COMMUNITIES to equip each other for this. So that the evangelist isn’t just the minority of a minority of individuals within any given church; but returns to being the BODY of the church!!!

    For that to happen a great deal of equipping is needed. A great deal of confidence needs building, & then a great deal of fellowship needs nurturing, within the church community to sustain it…

    Sam, i have felt obssessively about this for some time. Please help me see some balance to this outlook –

    (Point of interest: I concluded my MPhil with a very similar sentiment.)

    Please elucidate why…

    God bless you brother 🙂

  2. “but for now what do you think?” Sam you asked… 🙂

    “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.” – Yes!

    “In workplaces, leisure centers, schools and colleges, Christians are left isolated from the essential community.” – Yes!

    “Recognition that mission is the task of the community not just the individual.” – Yes!

    “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.” – No. It is not the place that is paramount (in our society). But the ‘gifts’ & ‘tools’ that are taken to that place.

    “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. ” – No. Not in western society. We need to recognise that western culture has long since abandoned any call on Jesus in promoting the notion of ‘love’. And we need to recognise that the church has remained accessible to those who don’t believe for several decades & this has done little (on its own) to win believers, relative to those that have abandoned Christ.

    “If you’re a Christian, do you feel isolated during the week with a pressure to ‘do mission’ on your own?”. Yes! And if you don’t (feel a pressuer to ‘do mission’), I think there is something you have missed in Christ’s mission & instruction.

    “Is mission a call for communities or individuals?” – Yes, communities!!

    Sam, this is very much part of my obsessive fantasy. A missionary or evangelist just should never feel isolated or like they are in the minority of minorities within their ‘church’. Our disciples need to feel more equipped & with greater confidence to go out and sow seeds for belief; and then they should be secure in the knowledge that there is a church BODY behind them ready with fellowship within the church COMMUNITY so that they need never feel isolated, but supported & on a journey of growth to save…

    God bless you brother

    (‘Point of interest: I concluded my MPhil with a very similar sentiment.’) – Please help me to learn some of the things you have learned & see differently! 🙂

    • Thanks for your comments Rob. I’m just about to post my reflections on the chapter which you might like to read. I was interested in your comment:

      …“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. ” – No. Not in western society. We need to recognise that western culture has long since abandoned any call on Jesus in promoting the notion of ‘love’. And we need to recognise that the church has remained accessible to those who don’t believe for several decades & this has done little (on its own) to win believers, relative to those that have abandoned Christ….

      Speaking of a faithful community being accessible for non-believers isn’t so much meaning local church as we know it at the moment (meeting in a building in a particular parish), but communities actually within workplaces, schools, or neighbourhoods. For example, if several Christians in a large office began to meet regularly at work both to pray and encourage one another, but also to find ways to bless their workplace – to love in the way you lament we so often don’t. I think this is effective for mission because of the shift from expecting people to come into organised church gatherings to actually living out Christian community and faith in the place where people are. One of the problems facing the church is the assumption that religion is irrelevant, but if people could see what it looks like to be a Christian actually in the workplace then that would be potentially effective witness.

      I love your heart mate. Have a look at the next post. I’d love to know your thoughts on how local church (and St Mary’s in particular) could better support each other as we go into the mission field of daily life.

      • Yes! Amen & Lifted by your elucidation! 🙂 At root, some of my lamenting is to do with the PERCEPTION of what church, & by extension, Christianity is to the layperson within our society & culture. This has needed countering for far too long. What you speak of above is 1 way our brothers and sisters could, through more of a concerted, collective effort, seek to redress. In short, I wish everyone could know what our faith, hope & way actually IS rather than people just bearing the culturally indoctrinated presupposition of what it ‘isn’t’…
        Will read your next post… 🙂

  3. I have thought about the man in the cafe inviting people to ‘ask him anything’. This is the man alone, a sole crusader working in isolation. Surely, revival lies in the growth of ‘community’? – The dream being an army of disciples commissioned to every sphere of life. x

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