MISSIONAL MADE SIMPLE
HELPING OTHERS LIVE MISSIONALLY AND MAKE DISCIPLES AS A FAMILY ON MISSION.
LIVING ON MISSION DOESN'T NEED TO BE HARD!
As adopted sons and daughters of God and disciples of his Son Jesus, we’ve been given an amazing identity as missionaries and are called to an incredible life of helping make more disciples that love and worship him. But, organizing and then leading people to live out their identity as a Family on Mission can be hard work. Much about what’s true of the world, church culture, and our human nature is set up against living life in step with Jesus and for his purposes. Despite the challenges, we are his missionaries that are called and sent to live missional lives.
The goal of this site is to be simple and practical – to help you and your church equip your people to live increasingly missional lives. I’ve worked with different forms of small groups and Missional Communities for over 20 years in more than 100 cities and 20 countries and have spent 1000's of hours training and coaching churches around these ideas. I’m more convinced than ever, that if we want to see busy and distracted people living increasingly faithful lives, then we must train and care for them in ways that are both motivating and sustainable. I believe this requires us to be simple and specific in our approach to help the average Christian live missionally in their everyday lives.
If your church or church plant is working with some form of group structure: Missional Communities, Gospel Communities, Community Groups, City Groups, Family Groups, Small Groups, Missional Families, Villages, Connect Groups, Discipleship Groups, or some other group dynamic, then this site should potentially help you in a number of ways.
I hope the details to follow will give you some simple but timeless principles to help answer the “why” behind our calling to live as God’s Family sent on God’s Mission. And, that it will also give you practical steps to help with “how” we can actually lead our people to increasing faithfulness. You'll find practical tools included in each category, which will help you train, coach, and lead your people to more fruitful missional living.
As disciples of Jesus, we ARE missionaries, ambassadors, sent ones. It's true of us every day, everywhere, all the time. What we DO missionally flows out of who we ARE.
At times, there will be individual and personal aspects to living missionally, but as we see with Jesus and his disciples, we are meant to live on mission every day together, as a community. We are meant to love and serve and influence others with the strength of a loving community.
IN STEP WITH THE SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit lives in every Christ-follower. The Spirit that lives in us is a missionary Spirit and He sends us every day to demonstrate and proclaim Jesus to the people in our lives.
Everywhere we go, we go as Jesus' missionaries. That means that every relationship we have with lost people is meant to be an opportunity for us to love and serve them in word and deed... an intentional life means serving people in tangible ways, while also speaking some form of Good News related to Jesus.
WE ARE IDENTITY DRIVEN. WE LIVE IN COMMUNITY.
WE WALK IN STEP WITH THE SPIRIT. WE LIVE INTENTIONALLY.
MOST CHURCHES ARE TRYING TO MAKE MATURE DISCIPLES.
Although a large number of the churches I work with have good intentions, they often don’t create the necessary environments and opportunities where a large part of discipleship needs to happen. Certain environments like Sunday services, Sunday school, small groups, and service projects all have their benefits, but they also have their limits and cannot accomplish everything needed to make mature, reproducing disciples.
I believe you need 3 complementary structures or environments working together regularly to help raise up a mature disciple. The 3 are...
Each of them has their strengths and accomplish things that the other 3 environments cannot. If any of the 3 are missing or lacking, there will be a significant loss in the growth and spiritual formation of our people (See 3 Essential Discipleship Structures in Toolbox).
Missional Communities are not just an optional method, strategy, or structure to consider but actually a faithful response to our Gospel Identity. In light of who God is, the work He’s done for us through His son Jesus, and who that has made us as His adopted sons and daughters, we have an Identity as Family and as Missionaries or "sent ones". Identity is what is true about a person at their core. Who they are. Their being. As disciples of Jesus, our doing, our obedience, and how we live our daily lives should therefore flow out of our Identity as Family and Missionaries. We are God’s Family sent on God’s mission together.
A MISSIONAL COMMUNITY IS A FAMILY OF DISCIPLES SENT ON MISSION TO MAKE MORE DISCIPLES.
That’s what it means to be faithful and obedient to the Gospel. Jesus formed his disciples into a type of Missional Community (See Luke 5 in Toolbox) and then lived life with them for the next 3 to 4 years. We then see those same relational patterns and priorities continue in the early church in the book of Acts and throughout the New Testament.
A MISSIONAL COMMUNITY IS A FAMILY OF DISCIPLES SENT ON JESUS' MISSION TO MAKE MORE DISCIPLES.
It doesn't matter what you choose to name them...an MC, a Gospel Community, a City Group, a Community Group on Mission, etc. What's important is the quality of life that is being lived together by that group of people.
A Missional Community is formed from a group of people that are usually living in the same geographic area or have a strong, built-in affinity and have committed themselves to living as a Family-like community with a focused, intentional mission. This looks like caring for and supporting each other, speaking the truth of the Gospel into each other's lives, sacrificing and helping each other as a family would, and helping each other love neighbors, co-workers, and friends better than anyone could do alone.
There is ideally a core of 4-8 people that are taking responsibility for leading this community, with other young, less mature Christians and non-Christians connected with the community. The core is working together to help everyone become more faithful at loving God and loving others. This means helping each individual see all of life as sacred and filled with God’s purposes and then stewarding each day appropriately.
In order to make mature or fully-formed disciples, we must be experiencing certain things in certain ways on a regular basis with those we are trying to disciple. There are some essential practices we must be regularly committed to, if we want to see people grow and mature. We see Jesus prioritize these principles below throughout his ministry.
There must be regular opportunities to learn what the Bible teaches about all areas of life. And, people need to learn to discuss it, apply it to their daily lives, and teach it to others, so that they're truly becoming "doers of the Word" and not just hearers.
Most of what people need to learn and grow in as disciples will come from seeing it modeled and lived out by others in daily life... things related to marriage, parenting, finances, sex, communication, hospitality, generosity, and on and on. I believe most of what the disciples learned from Jesus came from his modeling a daily life of obedience.
In addition to the importance of modeling, most people then need a deep and regular experience of the things being taught and modeled. Until people try things themselves and then repeat doing those things many times, those things won't become a natural and regular part of their lives.
As aspects of the Christian life are taught, modeled, and experienced, these things then need a regular context to be reflected upon. This works best in community, with input from more than one perspective. When this happens, deeper learning takes place and old habits are able to become new, healthy habits.
The work of discipleship is ultimately the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit is the one who changes hearts, changes minds, and transforms people. We must guard against just putting the right systems and structures and teaching in place and thinking that we will automatically produce mature disciples. We can't control the change and growth in people's lives. That's the Spirit's work. So, we must always be prayerful and dependent on the Spirit and working in partnership with him, as we live out the other essentials above.
GATHER A CORE
Gather a group of 4-8 people that are living in close proximity (no more than a 10-12 minute drive) or have a strong affinity that allows them to live a lot of life together on a regular basis. This group of people must feel a calling to each other and a calling to commit to live together as a Family on Mission. Assess the spiritual gifts and personalities of each person in the core, so that you have awareness about the strengths of everyone and how those can be used to serve the MC. Also, pay attention to the weaknesses, so that you know what you will need to give attention to. As you get started, spend the first couple of months getting to know the deeper version of everyone's story - at least a 30-minute version.
CREATE A PLAN FOR GOSPEL, COMMUNITY, AND MISSION
Commit to helping each other mature in the Gospel, live in community like a Family, and pursue the lost together as a Family on Mission. Create a flexible, big picture plan of what that could look like for 12 months and then create a specific, detailed 30-day plan and schedule that involves each of these priorities (See 30 Day Plan in Toolbox). This then can be adjusted as needed from month to month, as people's circumstances and schedules change. Be sure to plan how to help keep the core growing in their leadership, so that they are maturing and growing in health and capacity.
Together, prayerfully discern who are the 10-15 lost neighbors, coworkers, and friends that your MC will commit to loving and pursuing on a regular basis. These 10-15 are the “good soil” or the “people of peace” from the larger pool of 40-50 non-Christian contacts the group naturally has through work, school, hobbies, your kid’s activities, the neighborhood, etc. The MC will also want to be open to new opportunities and relationships that God might be opening up throughout the year.
ORGANIZE HEALTHY DNA GROUPS
Organize every committed person into DNA relationships with 3-5 women and 3-5 men in each. DNA stands for Discover, Nurture, Act. Some churches have used other names for these such as Gospel Triplets or Life Transformation Groups (LTG's). These DNA's, where regular, deep Gospel work is happening, are vital to the ongoing growth and health of every person in the Missional Community. DNA's should try to meet at least 2x a month to help foster deepening relationships and healthy accountability.
PRAY. PRAY. PRAY.
The life of a Missional Community needs to be supernatural at its foundation, with Jesus at the center and the Holy Spirit as its helper.
CARE FOR THE HEART
The fruit of our lives, both good and bad, comes from the heart. So, we need to be giving much attention, not just to the behavior we see in each other's lives, but to the heart motivations behind our behaviors. In all of the busyness of normal life and living on mission, make sure that time and attention is being given to shepherd people's hearts.
I believe a key way that we can care for each other’s hearts and speak Biblical truth into each other’s lives is through meeting in smaller, gender-specific groups called a DNA Group. These groups involve 3-5 women or 3-5 men meeting regularly (minimum 2x a month) to do deep Gospel work in each other's hearts and lives. Everyone in an MC needs this regular Gospel work and accountability.
COACHING AND ACCOUNTABILITY
I often find that churches have good intentions and try to put structures and expectations in place to help their people, but then fail to follow up with regular coaching and with an expectation for their people to actually follow through on the plans that they’ve made. This is essential to see good intentions actually become fruitful obedience. Coaching needs to involve the core of an MC, not just one leader. It needs to be regular (every 4-6 weeks). It needs to be encouraging, not just working on problems. It needs to be specific, getting to real action steps for growth. It needs to shepherd their hearts, to help sustain motivation and avoid discouragement. And, it needs follow-up, so that action steps that have been set are actually revisited and followed through on.
I’ve found that some consistency with formal training for core leaders and potential leaders, at least on a quarterly basis, will also help strengthen MC’s and help address needed areas of growth. It’s helpful to get leaders together face to face to encourage each other, hear how things are going in other MC's, and learn and pray together. Having leaders reading helpful books and watching video resources throughout the year is another way to supplement ongoing leadership development.
REGULAR ASSESSMENT AND EVALUATION
I believe the starting point here is in being aware and seeing the importance of regular assessment and evaluation with the core leaders of the Missional Community. Too many times I talk with churches that put plans and strategies in place but then do very little to track the ongoing health and progress of what is actually happening. It’s really important!
If this regular assessment isn’t happening, then groups can get stuck and stagnant for long periods of time, which then also leads to discouragement and burn out. As this type of assessment is happening, people will also feel cared for at a heart level, because their challenges are being heard and someone is entering into their circumstances to provide prayer, encouragement, and steps forward.
So, in addition to regularly evaluating the health and fruitfulness of what’s going on in each community, it’s important that the evaluation be specific in the details, which can then lead the community to clear action steps for change. In the toolbox below, you will find some helpful assessment tools, with specific questions and categories to help you with how to determine health and fruitfulness.
MULTIPLYING MISSIONAL COMMUNITIES
One quick note here. Even the idea of a Missional Community multiplying some day is an important value to build into the culture of the church and the fabric of each of your groups. You want every MC to see multiplication as a future goal, not as some forced measurement of “success”, but because it ultimately represents that more people are being loved well and influenced by the Gospel.
To multiply an MC is not overly complicated. It primarily involves the previous principles discussed with starting and leading an MC. For a healthy multiplication to happen though, there must be a strong enough core in the “mother” MC to be able to reorganize and create 2 new, smaller cores that will have the strength and capacity to function on their own. This is absolutely crucial! I've seen too many attempts at multiplying not go well because the new cores that formed weren't strong enough.
As the larger core is trying to determine how the 2 smaller cores are going to be formed, they should take into consideration the gifting, personality, capacity, maturity, and experience of those that will be in each new core. These things should be as complementary as possible. The larger core should also consider proximity and where they live in relation to each other, as well as some of the overlap of relationships they have with the non-Christians they’re on mission to. And, everyone needs to be praying and listening together to discern how God wants to lead in the details.
Once they’ve done this work, then they will begin again to identify their clear mission focus together, create a new 30 day plan, restart DNA’s with the new relational dynamic they have, clarify the training and coaching rhythm they need, and pray like crazy for the Spirit to lead them forward!
THE TRANSITION IS POSSIBLE!
People often ask me if it’s possible to transition a traditional group to become more missional. I say absolutely! I’ve seen many Christians, small groups, and whole churches make significant change around living missionally, rather than just meeting in small groups for some type of Bible study or discussion. I've found this to be true across cultures, generations, and different forms of churches.
One thing I tell church leaders in the beginning is that what they were doing previously was not “bad”, just limited. So, they need to be careful to talk about it that way. It wasn’t wrong if their small groups were studying the Bible, or functioning as fellowship/support groups, or as groups that do regular service projects together. Those things are good, just limited, if the goal is to make fully-formed disciples that live everyday as a Family of sent Missionaries.
THE NECESSARY REQUIREMENTS
From my experience, here's what I believe it’s going to take to transition a group. It’s going to require new language (i.e. making fully-formed disciples), new expectations for the group (higher level of commitment, involving more time), new measurements about the health of the group (deep community as family and regular, intentional mission), new experiences for the group (intentional meals, parties, game nights, movie nights), different planning than the group has done previously (multiple points of contact each week vs. a weekly meeting), and a different level of prioritizing (groups becoming the primary activity of the church, with an expectation for everyone to be involved, rather than an optional thing that some people do some of the time).
Other principles or steps to keep in mind. I see at least 5 things that need to work together to move individuals and a small group of people towards new habits and new ways of living. Teach, model, experience, coach, pray. Potent teaching, regular modeling, repeated experiences, ongoing coaching and accountability, prayer/supernatural help. All 5 of those things need to have an intentional focus working together to call and train people to move beyond a traditional small group approach to live in deep community as a Family on Mission.
People’s ideas and habits change over time and often not quickly. So, transitioning a more traditional group is going to take some time, patience, focused attention, and lots of grace! If old habits are going to become new, healthier habits, then the 5 things mentioned above need to be consistent…..teach (remind), model, experience (many repetitions), coach (detailed reflection), pray (supernatural help).
Other suggestions to keep in mind. Retraining and transitioning is an incremental process that takes many baby steps over a long period of time. Encourage your people when they make those small, baby steps of progress and then use it to challenge them to the next step of progress. You and your more mature people MUST be modeling fruitful disciple-making for others around you. Your actions will speak louder than your words! Help your people make specific commitments in their weekly schedule to living like Family and living on Mission, and then keep each other accountable to the plans you’ve made.
UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF THE SPIRIT
From my experience, most Christians have a great lack of understanding about who the Holy Spirit is, what he did in the life of Jesus and the early church, and how the Bible describes what our ongoing relationship with him and dependence on him should look like.
This is going to require you to begin teaching and discussing more regularly what is true about the Holy Spirit and helping your people discover these things for themselves. The document that I’ve included here I’ve used many times to help people and leaders in this way. Together, you can spend a couple of hours looking at some of the key passages about the Holy Spirit and making observations and application about how he wants to work in us and through us.
A CULTURE OF SPIRIT DEPENDENCY
As with every aspect of discipleship, there’s the ongoing need for teaching, modeling, experience, and reflection with these things. If you’re going to create a culture of Spirit dependence in your church, you and your leaders need to be modeling Spirit dependent prayer and listening and inviting those in your groups to be experiencing it with you.
The need for this ongoing training and encouragement in Spirit Dependence is absolutely essential to helping people live fruitful Christian lives of disciple-making. Without the help of the Spirit, people will live in the flesh and try to minister in the flesh. This will only result in fruitlessness, discouragement, and burn out. We need the help of the helper and the power of the Spirit to lead us in everything!
IDENTITY AND EXPECTATION
To train your people to live as everyday missionaries, it’s going to need to start with them understanding that this is part of their God given identity as his kids, and that it’s also the expectation of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. It’s who we are. We are missionaries and ambassadors of Jesus. We also have the Holy Spirit living in us, who is a missionary Spirit, and is sending us all the time, just as he sent Jesus. So, we not only have the identity, command, and expectation to be living on mission, but we have a supernatural influence living in us. The Holy Spirit desires for us to listen and obey, as He sends us to lost people, while we go about our daily lives.
In order to be fruitful in the everyday places we go though, we must be praying in a regular rhythm and asking the Spirit who he wants us to demonstrate and proclaim the Gospel to. I believe this is part of what Paul was getting at when he encouraged us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions” and to “pray continually”. Pray continually for what? For help, direction, discernment, insight into how to love and pursue and influence the people around us.
When we begin to think and pray and live in that way, it will change how we approach relationships. We will see opportunities over lunch at work, over coffee before work, over the fence in our neighborhood, when we’re watching our kid’s sports activities, or when we meet a neighbor or coworker for a meal. In all of these everyday places, we will see purpose and opportunity to love well, bless practically, and build trusting relationship with those God has placed in our paths. It’s most often in the context of trusted friendship that people will open the broken and vulnerable places of their lives to talk about and consider spiritual things.
We must also train our people and help them learn to schedule their lives in such a way that they have margin for planned mission - like meals, parties, movie nights, and game nights with non-Christians. And, we must also help them see how they can be intentional with the organic opportunities that are already built into their lives through work, hobbies, their neighborhood, school activities, kids activities, etc.
A big part of the training you will need to do here is helping them learn to have intentional conversations - to ask good questions, be good listeners, and know how to continue pursuing people’s stories in greater detail, whether they have 10 minutes before work, 30 minutes at lunch, or an hour watching their kid’s soccer practice (See Having Intentional Gospel Conversations in Toolbox).
Lastly, you will need to help your people learn to not only do some of this alone, as individual missionaries, but to overlap their non-Christians relationships with those in their Missional Community. This involves them being intentional about planning ahead and being thoughtful about who they are going to invite into what things in their lives. Sometimes it means inviting non-Christians to the meals, parties, play dates at the park, movie nights, or game nights that an MC is organizing. Other times it means inviting a few from the MC to go along to something the non-Christians are organizing or are going to be hanging out at.
There are numerous ways to approach this, but the most important thing to remember is that consistency is the key. Leaders need to be cared for, encouraged, and coached in the details of their communities regularly. If not, they are likely to grow weary, get discouraged, and stagnate for different reasons. Having a shepherd/coach that is regularly checking in, asking good, detailed questions, helping identify action steps, and then keeping the leader and community accountable is essential to the health and growth of the community.
The shepherding/coaching I’m encouraging cares both for the hearts and emotional well-being of the leaders in their personal lives, as well as the plans and details of how the Missional Community is being led as a Family and being led on Mission. If leaders aren’t healthy at a heart level, they will not have the motivation and capacity to lead their communities in a fruitful and sustainable way. It’s also important for the shepherd/coaches to make sure that leaders are living prayerful lives and not leading in the flesh, rather than in daily dependence on the Holy Spirit.
I’ve worked with many churches that have great intentions and their community leaders have great intentions. Without regular shepherding and coaching though, that helps keep leaders personally healthy and accountable, those good intentions usually do not lead to fruitfulness. Regular shepherding and coaching can help leaders stay focused and follow through on their plans and help their groups live as fruitful, disciple-making communities.
Most churches that I’ve worked with try to shepherd/coach their community leaders every 4 weeks, if possible. Frequent enough to be of great benefit, but not so often, that it’s filling up their schedules with meetings that are keeping them from leading their communities well. Sometimes that might become every 4-6 weeks, but if it doesn’t happen more frequently than that, then again, the benefit of it will diminish, and the health and growth of the communities will suffer.
The shepherding/coaching that I’m describing here is usually done by elders, deacons, and staff. Because these top leaders should be part of a core that is leading an MC themselves, it means that the shepherding/coaching they do will be flowing out of their own experience as practitioners themselves. Often the coaches are given 2-3 MC’s to coach, so that they’re not overwhelmed with coaching meetings, especially if they are not full time with the church. This means that some regular coach training will be needed, so that more coaches can be developed, as the number of communities grows.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Don’t just coach individual leaders. Because MC’s should be led by a shared leadership, it’s best to coach groups of leaders who are leading together. Sometimes coaching can also be done with clusters of MC’s, so that the cores of each of the MC’s involved are able to listen and learn from what the other MC’s are going through. It’s great to cross-pollinate learning in this way.
Include wives and women! Many churches fail miserably at including women in their coaching rhythm, when the wives and women are often some of the strongest and most influential leaders in their Missional Communities. To include Moms with small children will require some creativity and strategic planning. I encourage churches to build babysitting into the budget of the church, so that Moms know they can always pay for babysitting, if needed, so they don’t have to miss coaching.
I believe it’s great to get face to face in the same room for most coaching, because of the relational benefits and to enjoy being together. But, I think some coaching can also happen over Zoom, Facetime, Skype, especially if leader’s schedules, kid’s sleep times, and commuting times in large cities are a factor.