Andrew Roberts explores missional communities and whether the term is helpful.
The phrase missional community seems to be being used both more frequently and in more diverse ways in the mission-shaped/fresh expressions movement. In a moment I want to ask if the phrase is helpful but first here is a quick attempt at a typography.
I am aware of four ways in which the phrase is being used. You may well be aware of others so do please add to the list.
1. As an alternative description of a fresh expression
A pioneer minister in Birmingham said to me recently that his community were thinking of identifying themselves as a missional community rather than as a fresh expression. At the moment their website declares
we are a fresh expression of church and are currently exploring what it might mean for us to become a new monastic community for the city.
'Missional community' could be a very good descriptor of many a fresh expression. The bread-making church Somewhere Else for example is demonstrably both missional and a community. Interestingly their website declares them to be a
a Methodist church journeying with people of all faiths and none. Gathering as a community around the making and sharing of bread.
2. To describe intentionally-small fresh expressions or emerging churches
Especially those that might be described as new monastic. safespace in Telford might be described in this way. On the Fresh Expressions website, Mark Berry says
Perhaps the best way to describe who we are is as a new-monastic community, a community of followers who are seeking first and foremost to be equipped, resourced and supported in living a life that exudes mission.
3. To denote small- to medium-sized groups that are constituent parts of larger church
Groups that gather in community and who engage in mission together to a particular neighbourhood or network. Good examples would include those that are part of St George's, Deal and St Thomas', Sheffield. Confusingly they can also be called many other things including clusters, go communities, mid-sized communities, mission-shaped communities, and MSCs.
4. To describe an Order of Mission
A dispersed community of people who are united by a common rule or covenant and a shared commitment to mission. Examples would include The Order of Mission (TOM), the Methodist Diaconal Order and CMS.
Is the term 'missional community' helpful?
In the light of the above I want to ask:
- first, is the language understandable when it is being applied in so many ways? Or has it becomes so complex that it has become devalued? We may understand what we mean and developing a comprehensive typography could be the basis for a good MA dissertation, but what does someone with no Christian experience make of it all?
- second, is the term 'missional community' helpful, particularly when others (eg. the local Mosque, an AA group, the aficionados at the Apple Store) may legitimately argue they are a missional community too? Where is the Christian distinctiveness?
- thirdly, and ironically, could the term be a hindrance to mission? Is there a risk that it objectifies and therefore puts off the people the community is seeking to reach?
As for an alternative, if it is necessary to explain what a missional community is by using the word Christian, why not simply talk of Christian community in the first place?
What are your thoughts?