Disciple-Making in Missional Community
Unlike curricula and models of disciple-making with application that is mostly if not entirely individualized and leaves application privatized for every person to practice in solitude, missional disciple-making emphasizes application with other disciples.
In describing the missional church, Darrell L. Guder says that Christians “form themselves as an intentional mission community living in the same neighborhood, making lifestyle decisions that enable them to organize their daily lives and family interactions as a primary form of witness.” The missional community creates a culture of mission as the members discuss how the gospel addresses needs in their context. They share life experiences and serve those around them with Christ-like compassion. This may encompass acts such as feeding the hungry, distributing shoes to the homeless, visiting shut-ins, mentoring the fatherless, tutoring the illiterate, assisting the elderly, or praying for the discouraged. Christian disciples support one another in accountable relationships, spurring one another on toward love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24). This communal culture cultivates a missional lifestyle in disciples personally and collectively.
Missional communities comprise normally 12 to 40 adults plus children, historically the size of an oikos, an extended family, or house church in early Christianity. This size of gathering facilitates participatory, face-to-face dialogue, and easy inclusion of others. As a fundamental element of missional ecclesiology, Christian disciples practice the “one-anothers” of the New Testament such as: “Love one another” (John 13:34), “Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16), “Teach and admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16), “Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13), “Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “Encourage each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) “Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16), “Pray for each other” (James 5:16), “Offer hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9), and “Spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” (Hebrews 10:24).
Through mutual ministry to one another, they learn to identify and use spiritual gifts that God has given them, and therefore become more confident to engage in mission through various ministries in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and wider community. Nevertheless, while missional communities view themselves as church (ecclesia), they recognize the importance of meeting regularly with other disciples of missional communities in larger gatherings for the corporate worship of God.
A missional community meets in members’ homes, apartments, or third places such as parks, cafés, pubs, or community facilities. They eat together, play games, celebrate birthdays, and talk, but as mentioned above, they discuss life issues, the gospel of Jesus Christ, neighborhood interests, and local challenges. They organize as a community around a common mission to a particular group of people, location, or a cause. This leads to service, cooperative projects within the neighborhood or city, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in word and tangibly demonstrating it in deed. Thus, the missional community as ecclesia is in Newbigin’s words a “sign, instrument, and foretaste of the Kingdom,” and a “hermeneutic of the gospel” to the world around it.
Missional communities encompass disciple formation through rhythms of studying the Scriptures, testimonies of faith, admonishing sinners to believe the gospel, and seeking justice for the sinned-against. They may subdivide into smaller groups of three or four—men with men and women with women—for accountability in Bible reading, confession of sin, and prayer for one another and non-believing others.
Thus, missional communities are the ecclesial community to form disciples. This is the substructure of a local congregation and equal in importance, if not prior, to the gathering of corporate worship. This may be difficult to understand by many who have been shaped by Christendom-bound ecclesiology in which corporate worship defines “church” and all meetings are secondary or tertiary at best, if not optional. A missional ecclesiology, however, defines church (ecclesia) by gathering in worship (upward), building up one another (inward), and scattering in mission (outward).
The ecclesiology of missional communities can be understood by many in western contexts when examining practices of short-term missions. Short-term missions are oriented toward disciple-making with evangelistic activities, community-based projects, and basic discipleship training. They equip Christians as short-term missionaries to function as team members with specialization of talents and gifts, and everyone contributes to the mission. The weeks of training and the experience of cross-cultural ministry push team members of out their comfort zones and lead them to think like missionaries. The mission shapes their Christian identity.
The ecclesiology of missional communities can be understood also when examining the practices of para-church campus ministries. These ministries are also evangelistic and disciple-making-oriented. They train students to initiate ministry with other students in a university context, often with teams of disciples that enter missional spaces such as dormitory floors, fraternities, sororities, and sports teams. Para-church ministries identify marks of a disciple that they seek to form and employ modeling as well as cognitive and experiential learning. In this disciple-making culture, the expectation of disciples is to reproduce disciples, having the aim “to win, build, and send.” In many ways, para-church campus ministries have reclaimed elements of missional ecclesiology that are eclipsed by Christendom-bound ecclesiology.
1. Vanderstelt, Saturate, 111.
2. Guder, Missional Church, 239. Cf. Jonathan K. Dodson and Brad Watson, Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities (Austin, TX: Gospel-Centered Discipleship, 2014), 53.
3. Kreider and Kreider, Worship and Mission after Christendom, 148.
4. Breen, Leading Missional Communities: Rediscovering the Power of Living on Mission Together (Pawleys Island, SC: 3DM, 2013), 15.
5. Acts 2:43; 16:40; 20:8; Rom. 16:4–5; 1 Cor. 11:18, 33; 16:15, 19; Gal. 1:2; Col. 4:15; 1 Thess. 1:1; Phlm 2. Considering the size of average first-century houses, there were probably twelve to fifteen persons in “the church in the house” and not more than sixty to eighty as “the whole church.” Robert Banks and Julia Banks, The Church Comes Home (Peabody, MA: Hendrikson Publishers, 1998), 29. Breen, Leading Missional Communities, 4–6, 100. For mission in through the oikos see: Roger W. Gehring, House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub., 2004), 179–196.
6. Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 223.
7. Robert J. Banks, Going to Church in the First Century: An Eyewitness Account (Jacksonville, FL: Seed Sowers, 1990); Robert J. Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012); Keller, Center Church, 312–313. In addition: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10), “Honor one another above yourselves (Rom. 12:10), “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Rom. 15:7), “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16), “When you come together to eat, wait for each other” (1 Cor. 11:33), “Have equal concern for each other,” (1 Cor. 12:25), “Be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2), “Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Eph. 4:32), “Forgiving each other” (Eph. 4:32), “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19), “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21), “In humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3), “Bear with each other” (Col. 3:13), “Instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14), “Build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11), “Encourage one another daily” (Heb. 3:13), “Live in harmony with one another” (1 Pet. 3:8), “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others” (1 Pet. 4:10), “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Pet. 5:5).
8. Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 223; Breen, Leading Missional Communities, 82.
9. Breen, Leading Missional Communities, 63, 91–92.
10. Breen, Leading Missional Communities, 8–9, 80, 83. It must be noted that a missional community organizes primarily around mission rather than organize for community (fellowship), but community (fellowship) is a natural byproduct.
11. Keller, Center Church, 283–289.
12. Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 232.
13. Keller, Center Church, 322–325.
14. Neil Cole, Cultivating a Life for God: Multiplying Disciples Through Life Transformation Groups (Spring Hill, CA: CMA Resources, 1999), 54–61. Based on Matt. 18:20, Vanhoozer holds: “Two or three participants can thus be a localized church.” He adds Tertullian’s claim: “One Christian is no Christian” (Unus Christianus, nullus Chritianus). Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 167, 175.
15. See Loren B. Mead, The Once and Future Church: Reinventing the Congregation for a New Missional Frontier (Washington: Alban Institute, 1991), 6, and Jürgen Moltmann, The Open Church: Invitation to a Messianic Lifestyle (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), 33–34.
16. Breen, Leading Missional Communities, 83–84; Vanderstelt, Saturate, 118–119.
17. Heechang Kang concluded: “Cross-cultural experiences positively shape missional pastoral philosophy and church ministries. While Western missional scholars argue about definition, characteristics, and strategies of missional leadership, they rarely elaborate the significance of cross-cultural encountering experiences and theological internalization and reflection of different cultures.” Heechang Kang, “Missional Understanding of Gospel, Church, and Culture of Pastors in the Korean Church: Three Case Studies” (PhD Dissertation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, 2017), 187.
18. Peyton Jones, Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 100–101.
19. Webber, Ancient-Future Evangelism, 33.