This post by Jeff Vanderstelt (posting at Desiring God) describes ‘missional communities’ in terms of their four essential characteristics – family, missionaries, servants, disciples.
Some people think this is what ‘church’ is meant to be. I personally really like the ideas presented here, and agree to an extent that this is what ‘church’ is meant to be. But I think we should be really careful if we say that...
Firstly we need to define ‘church’. The Bible uses the word ‘church’ to refer to a group of people in a particular city, not to any particular building or activity or event. So the question of what ‘church’ is meant to be is basically asking what a ‘Christian community’ is meant to be. Which makes it a very broad question with broad answers. Essentially, to see Christ, to delight in what we see, and to express what we see in words and actions.
Perhaps it would be more helpful to ask ‘what is church meant to be, that is distinct from private Christian life’. Why did God ask us to be a community of believers rather than lone rangers? Somehow Christ can only fully be expressed in the complex contexts of a community where individuals have different strengths and weaknesses. And as we see Christ more fully in such a community, we delight in this and become more like Christ – we mature in the faith, and thus express Christ more fully ourselves. Discipleship/missions happen as we and others (Christians and non-Christians) are brought into this community Christ-expressing atmosphere and are exposed to the image of Christ. And this Christ-expression and discipleship can happen all of the almost infinite number of contexts that arise in community life.
Which brings me to my second caution: obviously there are contexts that ‘church’ is meant to encompass (at least some of the time) that aren’t directly mentioned in this post and may not arise so naturally in a community – like communion, worship, etc… But I think these could easily be incorporated into this model. In fact, a community that worships and has communion together will more effectively display Christ to those who interact with or within that community.
Finally, any critical analysis of 'church' has the danger of encouraging sin - offense, pride, self-righteousness, legalism, dissatisfaction, selfishness, gossip, disunity, bitterness, fear, etc... These are generally considered bad ;) We have to walk a fine line between having a constructive vision for 'church' that we apply in ways that build the body of Christ and honor God, and having a destructive vision that we apply in ways that destroy the body and dishonor God.
I really appreciate the way this view can expand our view of church and missions to include, essentially, all of life – as it is lived out in community with a gospel intent and the support of other believers. We’ve probably all heard something similar before, but for some reason this particular description makes it seem much more practical and down to earth – and also a lot more faith-filled and exciting and God-glorifying – than many other ways I’ve heard it described… a much needed view I think. God help us joyfully, humbly, and constructively pursue your vision for Church in the power and leading and grace of Your Spirit!
Anyway, what do y’all think?