“Save us, O Lord our God,
and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.”
— Psalm 106:47
Missional communities exist to grow in love for God.Missional communities are groups of people that learn to follow Jesus. These communities consist of disciples, meaning people are being renewed by the gospel through abiding in Christ. Missional communities are environments to pursue knowing God and the power of his resurrection with others and for others.
“Love the Lord your God”
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” — Mark 12:28-31
This is the golden rule or greatest commandment: to love. This is what we were created for and this is the cornerstone of all Christian and Jewish ethics. As Paul writes, "If I don’t have love, I have nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
Love is the only complete reaction to the gospel and expression of the gospel. It was love that motivated God to save us (Jn. 3:16) and love that motivated God’s rich mercy towards us (Eph. 2:4). It is love that we receive in the gospel and it is love that we give because of the gospel. As God pours his love out to his people, the only natural response is holistic love and devotion for him. This is the worship our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies were created to give. God is the one we were meant to direct that love towards.
God demands our affections because he is the only one sufficient to receive them. We are commanded to shift our entire being from love of self to love of God. The gospel requires we relinquish all other idols and masters and give ourselves to Jesus as the one true God.
Growing in Our Love Through Listening
The beginning of Jesus’ answer is not “Love God” but “Hear! The Lord Your God is One.” This timeless command starts with a proper orientation of who God is and of listening to who he is.
A missional community pursues growth in its love for God first by beholding God with wonder, awe, reverence, and need. A missional community focuses on hearing and remembering who God is. The beginning of loving God is a desperate attempt to wade through doubts to discover God himself.
Reading the Scriptures Together
A community will not grow in love for God if it refuses to open, read, and ingest the Word of God. It cannot be a footnote or a side-bar. A community that has any ambition to be more than a dinner club, must come humbly to the Bible as the necessary source of understanding who God is. We grow in our devotion to God by putting ourselves under what he has already spoken and revealed.
The Scriptures carry divine authority. Unlike anything that can be said or spoken, the Bible carries weight. The Spirit works through Scripture like lightening through steel to electrify our faith. It is fundamental to forging conviction and worship.
Ways to Begin Reading the Bible as a Community
- Read one of the Gospels together, asking questions about what is challenging and appealing about Jesus. Who is he and what is he doing? How are people responding to him? How do we respond to him?
- Read through a letter in the New Testament asking four simple questions: Who is God? What is he saying about himself, his work, and his people? What passage do we need to meditate on, remember, and believe.
- Memorize a Psalm together.
- Have a shared reading plan.
- Get into small groups of two’s or three’s to do more study and in-depth discussion on the Scriptures.
- Follow the Christian Calendar (Advent, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, etc.) using the themes and Scriptures as a guide.
- Follow a simple curriculum. NT Wright’s “For Everyone” series and John Stott’s guides are excellent.
Paul Miller writes: “Prayer is a moment of incarnation – God with us.” But it doesn’t feel that way. Communal prayer is awkward. We don’t know what to do, and we don’t know what to say. We don’t know how honest to be. Furthermore, our prayers are not about God or his presence with us but about us. We typically pray with ourselves and our current felt needs as the focal point. We do this because we are the focal point! To grow in our love for God our prayers must center on God. Our gaze has to move from ourselves to the one who holds all things together. This is the only way to begin a praying life. Then, when we bring our concerns to God, we are able to acknowledge his presence in the details of our lives and his power to love us in them.
Take a quick survey of Paul’s prayers and you will find overwhelming evidence that Paul doesn’t pray for sick grandparents, stress free trips to the super-market, acceptance into good colleges, or even good jobs. Paul was praying for increased love, greater understanding of God’s love for us, power, thanksgiving for belief, changed hearts, power to defeat sin, joy, peace, and prophecy—among other things. Paul was praying in light of the gospel and for the gospel to advance in and through the church. These are inspiring prayers and they are unifying prayers because Paul’s gaze was not toward the earth but toward heaven. Paul was praying for heaven to break into our everyday struggles, not for the struggles.
Ways to Begin Praying as a Community
- “Pray the Bible”—Read a passage of scripture together, lead people to pray different phrases in their own words or respond to the passage in prayer.
- Lectio Divina (Divine Reading)—an ancient Benedictine prayer format using the Bible. Calls for the group to reflect and meditate on the passage, respond in prayer, then rest in silence.
Tips for Praying in Community
- Have everyone pray short prayers (the sermon-prayer is no fun).
- Have everyone pray in their own voice (no spiritual whispers, please).
- Allow for silence (It’s okay if no one is talking. God is present).
- When people bring up their struggles and concerns about life, regardless of the degree, ask if you can pray for that as a group and do it together. Offer the details of life to God. Pray for God’s grace, love, and mercy to be known in the trial.
Growing in Our Love for God Through Confession
Confession is the act of “saying the same thing as God” or naming reality. We grow in our love for God by being honest about who we are and how we live. We lower the facade and tell the truth: “We are not a peaceful community,” “I don’t like serving the poor,” or “I don’t believe God is concerned or cares for me.”
This is how we bring our true selves before God. In fact, Jesus was not too welcoming to the self-righteous and the hiding. Jesus says that he came for the sick in need of a doctor. The only pre-requisite for joining Jesus’ entourage was to be honest with who you were: a human tainted by sin. Jesus ate with sinners. Jesus forgave sinners.
Ironically, Christian communities have become hiding places for sinners to pretend they don’t need Christ. But we cannot grow in our love for God (with all our hearts, minds, strength), until we tell the truth about our hearts, minds, and strength. This is the beginning of transformation.
Confession is not just about speaking about how bad we or our circumstances are, but about speaking to God about how good God is in our circumstances. Confession is also about saying the truth about God—who he is and what he has done.
King David was the confession expert. He offered God his true feelings of fear, anger, resentment, disappointment, and doubt to God while simultaneously speaking of God’s great works, kindness, and power. Our language of God as a “Rock” and “Refuge” comes directly from David’s confessions and songs. God was his Rock because David confessed his life was on shaking soil and in need saving and God was the only one who could save him. God was David’s refuge because David confessed he couldn’t find rest anywhere else in the world—despite his trying. The Psalms show us how to worship God in “spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24).
Ways to Practice Confession as a Missional Community
Read a Psalm of confession together (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 130) and guide your community through each stanza or verse. For example, in Psalm 6.
- Part 1 (vs. 1-3): What causes restlessness in you? What troubles you?
- Part 2 (vs 4-5): What deliverance/salvation do you need from God?
- Part 3 (vs. 6-7): What grieves you? What makes your soul tired?
- Part 4 (vs.8-10): Repeat these verses out loud. God has heard, God hears. God hears our request. God accepts our prayers; he longs to hear them. How has God conquered the enemy and put them to shame? How has God defeated sin? How have you experienced his steadfast love?
Growing in Our Love Through Repentance and Faith
When you consider who God is and who you really are, you will be confronted by your sin and God’s forgiveness. As you press into his glorious grace and taste his kindness, you will hear the call of Jesus in Mark 1:14-15. When Jesus preached the gospel he demanded a response—repent and believe:
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”
When Jesus said “repent” he was saying to turn away not only from sin, but to turn from the lies that sin deceives us with, and to turn towards something truer and better, to turn to Jesus and his true promises. You cannot separate repentance from faith. To repent is reorient your faith. To have faith in Jesus requires a drastic change of direction.
You trust Jesus’ incarnation, his kingdom, and his purposes. As a disciple, you exchange your agenda for his. You let go of your imaginary kingdom for his tangible reign. N.T. Wright describes repentance and belief this way in The Challenge of Jesus, “[Jesus] was telling his hearers to give up their agendas and to trust him for his way of being Israel, his way of bringing the kingdom, his kingdom-agenda.”
Take the deceptive promise of pride, for example. Pride says: “Find and cherish compliments and then you will be confident.” But the gospel says, “Instead of trusting in compliments for confidence, believe that your sufficiency comes from God in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 3:4-6:
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent.”
The gospel says: “Your confidence comes, not from your sufficiency, but from God who has made you sufficient in Jesus.” Faith in the person of Jesus, who he is and what he has accomplished for us, is true saving, changing faith.
Ways to Grow in Repentance and Faith Together
- As a community, have regular times to reflect together. Ask: Where have we we, as a group, put our trust in things that are not Jesus? Where are we experiencing God’s kindness? Do you think we are drawing nearer to God or running away from God?
- Another way to have this communal discussion is to ask questions along the lines of motive for obedience: Are we doing it as a performance (religion)? Are we doing it to follow the rules or model (legalism)? Are we becoming obedience because we see God’ love more clearly (sanctification)?
The Mission Is to Be Reconciled to God
You might associate missional community with local involvement, justice, and neighborhood evangelism. You’re likely attracted to books like this because you want to live out the cause of Christ in a tangible way. However, you are God’s mission. Christ came to save you, and for you to be reconciled to God. This is the substance of living the gospel.
Many leaders and missional communities forget they are supposed to enjoy God, know his love, and grow in loving him. We forget that we are God’s mission and on God’s mission. You and your community were created to live the gospel in unity with God. To taste the grace of God through repentance and faith. To worship God through confession. To know the depth of God’s love by listening to God.
“Mission is an acted out doxology. That is its deepest secret. Its purpose is that God may be glorified.” — Lesslie Newbigin
Never forget that one of the primary goals of your missional community is to increasingly grow towards Christ.
Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised?, Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities, and Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com.