We define mission not so much as “doing stuff for God,” but more as “joining with God in what He’s already up to.” Jesus said “I only do what I see the Father doing,” and we’re trying to learn from Him how to live like that.
One of the ways our Missional Communities (MCs) begin discerning what God might be up to is simply by planning events and get-togethers that help facilitate greater relational connectivity among the people in the MC and those in the mission context, and it’s the reason we sweated through two intense games of kickball last month in 90-degree heat.
We had a neighborhood kickball game planned for a few weeks, and had spent a few evenings prayer-walking and handing out invitations to folks in the neighborhood. Remarkably, despite the heat, we had a solid 35 people show up for kickball on a Saturday in June. A few new relational connections were made, and others were strengthened. Everyone had a lot of fun and there was ice cream, which makes any event amazing.
It’s hard to pinpoint concrete fruit from an event like this, but it’s all part of the slow work of sowing kingdom seeds. Events like these are oftentimes a great first step for people who are skittish about “church” to experience informal Christian community, and perhaps learn that it’s not as weird as they thought. Events like these help the people in our MCs learn to listen to people and begin to discern what God might be up to in their lives.
Events like these tune us in to the frequencies of the relationships in our mission context and help us pray for people. If we are intentional about listening and noticing, events like these make us more aware of the movement of the Spirit in people’s lives so we can join in with what God is already doing.
It seems to me that there are two ways to “miss it” when it comes to these kinds of things:
- Assuming that if God wants to move, he’ll be obvious about it and send an angel to tell us what to do. This is the mistake of under-planning, not being intentional enough, waiting for lightning to strike, spending all our time discerning and none of it doing, lagging behind the Spirit.
- Assuming that we know what God wants to do and charging ahead without taking the time to listen. This is the mistake of under-listening, over-programming, not being patient enough, spending all our time doing and none of it discerning, moving ahead of the Spirit.
Events like these, when done well, help us to keep in step with the Spirit, so we can join Him in what He is seeking to do in our neighborhoods and relational networks. So, to that end, we’ll be playing kickball again on July 4! Hopefully the weather will be cooler.
I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on this!
Ben, thanks for this post. We have been trying to do this kind of relationship building activity – with some success but we are still learning (see for example http://theuntaming.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/lesso…
The insight from your post came in the phrase "events like these help the people in our MCs learn to listen to people and begin to discern what God might be up to in their lives." We still need to understand these kind of OUT activities as opportunities to LISTEN and DISCERN as you mention. I will be trying to remind the group of this now before every activity.
Thanks for the helpful reminder.
Ben Sternke says
That's great, Richard.In addition to reminding people of what these events are for, we've also found it helpful to take time to train people fairly thoroughly in relational evangelism so they can learn HOW to listen and discern when we do these kinds of things.
Yes… I am coming to very similar conclusions. What kind of training resources do you recommend?
Ben Sternke says
We use 3DM's stuff – Building a Discipling Culture has a great chapter on Relational Mission (the Octagon of the LifeShapes), and Launching Missional Communities is a treasure trove of useful information.You can order those from 3DM's site: weare3dm.com – there are also Kindle versions available on Amazon.com
Ha – I knew you would say that! I'm already a big 3DM junkie too, I appreciate the PoP teaching and the lifeshapes material has helped our group start to think and act like missionaries. However I think our people need some more help on actually articulating the gospel using different metaphors and being able to identify gospel hooks in conversations and culture. And probably some confidence in the use of apologetics to earn a right to be heard (we live in a culture – France – with many default assumptions against faith – unlike the USA).
Does that make sense? I guess I am wondering what aspects of relational mission you needed to train your people in?
Ben Sternke says
Those are great questions too! One of 3DM's resources is Covenant & Kingdom, which the theology, the way of reading the Bible, that their whole practice is founded on. That's helpful for people to articulate an understanding of the gospel as an invitation from God to covenant relationship and kingdom representation.Also we've found N.T. Wright helpful here – he has some good responses to some of the more “postmodern” assumptions that mitigate against faith. Tim Keller's book The Reason for God may also be helpful there.
We are doing a similar activity each week this summer. It has been a great time to make connections and welcome people. Several have asked me what follow up looks like for events like this. What does it look like for you? How do you continue to foster some of the relationship that are formed?
Ben Sternke says
That's a great question Kevin. For us, a follow-up event oftentimes looks like something with just a little more “spiritual content” than a simple kickball game. So, for example, maybe it would be a BBQ where everyone shares something they're thankful for, or a dinner where 2-3 people give a brief testimony of something God has been doing in their lives.Also, we've found it important to make sure people know exactly what they're being invited to. If people think it's another event with no “spiritual content,” they can feel tricked.