3 Reasons Why Missional Communities Are Not the Only Discipleship Model
Missional Communities are the “it” thing in the church right now. Honestly I love it. The Church in the West needs a discipleship movement. There isn’t a planter that I work with that isn’t taking seriously God’s command to make disciples. For many of us, thinking of discipleship as the operating system of the church is foreign. Many, myself included, are naturally bent to think of the worship service as the OS for the church. We still have a long way to go in terms of putting discipleship into practice. But, the conversation that missional communities have sparked it is extremely valuable.
There is so much being written about missional communities that I don’t feel the need to add the chorus of voices. If you want to learn more, the best book I’ve read is “Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide” by Mike Breen and Alex Absalom. It’s a good balance of theory and practical.
But before you decide to dive head first into missional communities, you need to understand that they are not the only way to make disciples. Missional Communities are a model for making disciples. They are an effective model in many contexts, but not all. I want to give you three reasons why missional communities are not the only model for discipleship and then in following posts, I’ll blog about other models. In a summary post, I’ll take a look at the commonality between all the models.
3 Reasons Why MCs are not the only discipleship model:
1. It’s not a cultural fit. MCs are derived from the early church’s practice of gathering in an extended household or oikos. They were communities on mission. MCs range in size from 20 -70 and fill the role of social space. (For good material on the four spaces see Alex Abasalom’s blog.) In many contexts, social space is lacking for people. Thus, MCs fill a need in their life. But if a social space already exists, it will be difficult to get people to either get out of their existing social space or be a part of two. For example, I live in rural Illinois. Extended families are still common. Extended families fill the social space for many people. This is also true in large Hispanic populations.
I can argue the other side of this coin. Acts 10 and the conversion of Cornelius is a great example of an extended family becoming saved all at once. I agree that the ideal would be for an entire household to be saved and the existing social space be redeemed for Christ. However, I think that’s unlikely to happen in American culture today. We are a much more independent culture. Each family member makes their own decision to follow Christ. We do need to send disciples into these existing social spaces to be missionaries. I just don’t see the Missional Community model working well here. It has the potential of taking people out of their existing social space and into a new more “Christian” one.
2. It doesn’t fit the leader. I see many leaders jumping into missional communities because they are the “it” thing in the church. They want to embrace the cutting edge. I love that in a leader. But not all leaders are a good fit for missional communities. In a church plant, missional communities are a slow grow strategy on the front end. They can’t adequately support financially a church planter. Unless the planter is willing to be bi-vocational or is supported fully by another church, it won’t work. In addition, the leader of a group of 20 – 70 is a different skill set. The entrepreneurial leader may not have the patience for the long tail of the MC approach. The big visionary leader also isn’t a great fit. You don’t need a leader with their head in the clouds as much as a leader with their feet on the ground. A vision for multiplication is a must, but until the MCs have multiplied a few times, the visionary leader isn’t a good fit. I’d also say the leader that has theory only isn’t a good fit. Too many are going to a conference and then coming home and trying MCs. Most will need to experience it first to truly understand it and effectively implement an MC strategy.
3. There are other models. Mentoring, Apprenticeship, Small groups and discipleship within the family are all models of discipleship. Even Sunday School was an effective model of discipleship in its early days. The model isn’t as important as the fact that discipleship is the primary engine or OS of the church. The chosen model must be a contextual fit for the leader as well as the culture.
I certainly don’t claim to know it all on this subject and maybe I’m badly representing missional communities. I’d love to know what you think. How are you intentionally making disciples? Are missional communities the only way to make disciples or are their other effective ways to make a disciple? Let me know in the comments.