By Ed Stetzer
Community is the vehicle of God’s mission.
In this blog series, we are looking at the topic missional effectiveness. Once again, missional effectiveness is embracing the totality of the missio Dei—including its message, movement, and marks—and enacting it in the life of a local church.
So far, I have covered the message and movement of God’s mission. In the next several blog posts, I will describe the marks of missional effectiveness. In essence, I will be answering the following question: what does it look like for the message and movement of mission to be enacted in the life of a local church?
Observing the grand narrative of scripture, I have come to believe there are at least three marks of enacting God’s mission. Today, I’ll cover the mark of community.
The Missional Mark of Community Explained
In Genesis 1, we are introduced to God and His mission. We learn that God created man and woman in His image, placed them in the garden, and told them to, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fist of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).
From the very onset, the Bible communicates that God is on mission to create a people for Himself who will be the vehicle by which He advances His kingdom throughout the created order, thus having His glory—displayed through the lives of His image-bearers—fill the entire world.
Therefore, a mark of God’s mission is the creation of a people, or of a community, who serve as God’s vehicle of advancing His kingdom. This is the essence of the missional mark of community. And this mark is present in both the Old and New Covenant in places such as Exodus 19:4–6 and 1 Peter 2:9–12. These passages point to the reality of God creating a community for Himself.
In the context of Exodus 19, God established His covenant with Israel, which, according to Christopher Wright, made Israel a missional community. In his epistle, Peter borrows language from Exodus 19. Both of these passages find their origin in Genesis 1:26–28.
We learn here that a missional community is: (1) created by God and for God, (2) distinct from the world because of its obedience to the word of God, and (3) used by God as an attractive community for the world.
#1: Created by God and For God
In the passages cited above, God is the one who created His people. He created Adam and Eve, Israel, and the Church. God’s people are His possession, His treasured people. A missional community understands that it has been created by God and for God.
This understanding not only leads the community to be in right relationship with God, but also one another. Why? Because they are a family brought about by their Father and King. A church that is in right relationship with God will be in right relationship with one another.
#2: Distinct from the World because of its Obedience to God’s Word
Having been placed in the garden, God not only gave Adam and Eve the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28), but He also gave Adam instructions to guard and keep the garden as well as to enjoy freedom by eating from every tree except one. Adam was to pass along these instructions to Eve. Obedience to the word of God was the difference between living and extending Eden and being kicked out of Eden.
In the context of God’s covenant with Israel (Exod. 19), God gave Israel Ten Commandments to govern their lives, as well as over 600 more commandments to implement as a people. Obedience to the word and commandments of God was the difference between enjoying long life in the Promised Land and being taken into captivity in Babylon.
With regard to the Church, Peter exhorted it to be holy (Pet. 1:15-16), to long for the pure spiritual milk of the word of God (2:2), and to come to Jesus, the living stone (2:4). As they do, Peter explained they would be “built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5).
It seems that longing for the word and coming to Jesus are prerequisites for the community of God to be holy and distinct. Thus, everything about the community of Jesus should revolve around Him and His word. Many describe this as gospel-centeredness.
#3: Used by God as an Attractive Community for the World
Both Moses and Peter used priesthood language to describe how the community (or nation) is to relate towards those outside. The term “priesthood”, applied to the community in both scriptural passages, speaks of living in the presence of God and mediating between God and those outside the community. Just as Israel was to be a people standing in the presence of God, reflecting His glorious light, and being a mediator for the nations living in darkness, so too is the Church.
As local churches are created by God and for God, and obey the word of God (in all areas of life both individually and corporately), God uses them as an ‘attractional’ mechanism to draw others to Himself. As churches embody and enact the life of God, they become an attractive community to a watching world. In fact, Peter shares that by observing our good works, those far from God will come to glorify Him (1 Pet. 2:12).
The Mark of Missional Community Exemplified
The Jerusalem Church in Acts serves as example of a church that exhibited the missional mark of community. When Luke gave us a snapshot of the early church in Jerusalem, he revealed that they were devoted to God, His leaders, His word, and one another (Acts 2:42–47). As a result of gospel transformation, they attracted many Jews to their faith family. You could say that the church in Jerusalem had a strong centripetal force at work used to draw in many locals.
The Jerusalem Church also had many leaders who sought to protect the integrity of the ministry and mission (Acts 4, 5, 6, 7, 15) as well as add structures to enhance ministry and mission to the community (Act 6:1–7). In short, the Church in Jerusalem excelled as a faith community in its local context.
While the Jerusalem Church had a strong communal foundation that exhibited a gospel-centeredness, they eventually allowed their ethnocentrism, preferences, traditions, rituals, and practices to encroach upon their missional effectiveness. As a result, they became a community that existed for their own glory, neglected to obey the word in all areas of life, and became a non-attractive community due to unnecessary barriers they erected.
The mark of community speaks of a missional people. To embody and enact the mark of being a missional people, churches must be intentional about teaching that church, or ‘coming to’ church, isn’t about believers consuming elements from a religious vending machine, but about being part of God’s people (a community), who exists for His glory, obeys His word, and is used by Him as an attractional sign to the world.
In the next post, I’ll talk about the missional mark of sentness.
This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/january/towards-missional-effectiveness-mark-of-missional-community.html
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