I’m trying to sketch a vision for Jesus-shaped community in response to Facebook Developers’ Social Design imperative to utilise community.
I’ve dubbed this vision ‘missional community with a twist’. And I hope what I mean by this is beginning to emerge as I distinguish it from some of what’s become associated with the missional community approach.
So, without further ado, here are two final reservations about ‘missional community’:
First, this approach often fails to enact the conviction that mission is a God-thing before it’s an us thing in the way they suggest we ‘do’ church.
While it helpfully pushes against a Church Is All About Making Us Feel Good (Or Safe Or Whatever) mindset — rightly opposing the sort of insular, separatist, fortress mentality that churches can slip into — it can simply instal a Church Is All About Making Others Feel Good (Or Safe Or Whatever) mentality in its place.
Either way, thing have gone haywire. Because church isn’t fundamentally about others any more than it’s about us (or, worse, me).
It sounds dumb to say it, but church is fundamentally about Jesus. It’s his body after all!
That means that our overriding aim and focus should be Jesus.
Everything we do should be done in loving response to his initiative and joyful recognition of his lordship. Everything we do, that is, should be worship.
Second, the missional community approach typically fails to engage with the bodiliness of the church.
I’ll have more to say about this as we continue. But for the moment I want to focus on one particular aspect of the church’s bodiliness — its integrity (a big part of what makes a body a body is its distinction from other bodies).
The missional community approach characteristically insists that churches should have ‘porous boundaries’ if they’re to be truly Jesus-shaped.
There’s certainly something to this. Jesus ate with notorious sinners. The apostles apparently assumed that ‘strangers’ would be present in our gatherings (see 1 Corinthians 14). And attempts to define the limits of fellowship risk undermining the gospel of grace by drawing the boundaries too tightly (or too idiosyncratically).
But none of this comes at the expense of the integrity of the church body — an explicit theme in the New Testament on more than one occasion (e.g., Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5).
Jesus’ shocking welcome of sinners didn’t endorse their lifestyles. Paul’s assumption that non-Christians would be present in Christian gatherings may have given him reason to favour (intelligible) prophecy over tongues, but it wasn’t meant to dilute the specifically Christian content of what went on.
For all the value talk of ‘porous boundaries’ can add, it’s a problem if it leads us to start diluting the ‘Christianness’ of our Christian gatherings. That is, if it detracts from our focus on the living Lord of the church who is present and active, ruling by his Word and Spirit.