By Paul Bradbury, pioneer minister in Poole, Dorset
I lead a small charity called Poole Missional Communities which, since 2008, has been exploring and experimenting in mission among people with little or no background in Christian experience. We talk a lot about missional community as the kind of basic unit of mission in all we do.
What is a missional community?
Here’s our working definition: Missional Community is a flexible term to describe a group of Christian disciples who form community with a particular missionary purpose. A common commitment to prayer and living out the Christian faith together are the basis for their mission as a community. Mission can be to a particular place, a particular age group or subculture, or around a particular mark of mission e.g. care for environment, social justice.
More recently we have sought to describe some of the principles of missional community. Missional community is not really a form but what happens when a group of people intentionally set out to share life and ministry together with a common set of values inspired by the gospel.
The small, weak and unlikely
Recently I was reading 1 Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath, and started to reflect on the connections it was making for me with missional community, particularly in the times we are in. The context of 1 and 2 Samuel is of a significant shift in the life of the people of God as the time of the judges morphs into the era of the Kingdom of Israel. Israel asks for a king, just like all the other nations, and God reluctantly gives them a king. But there is a constant theme of the small, weak and unlikely person being chosen over the strong one who looks like the sort of person a king should be.
It is similar with David and Goliath – David, the youngest of all the sons of Jesse, who has already been chosen to succeed Saul, comes against the classic powerful warrior. He rejects the armour of Saul, another rejection of the normative cultural expectations of kingship, and advances on Goliath with nothing but a sling and “five smooth stones from the stream”.
David or Goliath?
Sam Wells has written on this story, reflecting how the Church in our age continues to think we should be Goliath when really, are we not called to be David? Small, vulnerable, armed with nothing but five small pebbles and a slingshot – and our faith?
I believe the Church is being called into a time when it must learn again to trust in the small, the local, the relational and in the rather ordinary business of building connections and being neighbours and loving people in the midst of their lives. We have trusted too much in the big and the flashy, the technique and the enterprise. But the world hungers for authentic human relationship and for an encounter with God that is embodied and trustworthy.
Five smooth stones
So what might be the five smooth stones of missional community? Here’s my take:
Christian community that is small enough to enable us to be “one another”, to adapt quickly to the changing world around us, to be participative and foster belonging.
Christian community that rejects the accelerating pace of modern life with events and programmes that must always be better and more popular than the last. Community that doesn’t exhaust people, that is humanising and spacious enough for the voice of God to be heard.
Christian community that is local and deeply attentive to its context, not just so that it can respond to a perceived need on its own terms, but so that it can join in with the story of a place and make authentic connections between the life of a community and the good news of the gospel.
Christian community that is earthed in people’s lives, the kitchen table, the back garden, the cafe and the street, that is stripped of all the accumulated hindrances of buildings and staff teams and therefore simple enough to give space for relationships to be the priority.
Christian community that is open: open to the leading of the Spirit, to building the Kingdom in partnership with others, to conversation and dialogue as means of doing mission with others, to discipleship as a journey together into which we invite others as co-learners.
That’s my take for the moment. It’s a work in progress.
This material originally appeared on Paul’s blog at hislightmaterial.wordpress.com
Poole Missional Communities has produced a resource to enable people wanting to form missional community to get started – more information is at poolemc.org.uk/resources