It seems like everyone is talking about Missional Communities these days. We are one of the voices advocating them, of course! However, one of the things we often say to the leaders and teams going through our Learning Communities is that Missional Communities aren’t really the point. They’re great and important, but only insofar as they lead us to our real destination as the people of God; the dynamic and powerful reality of becoming an extended family on mission all the time.
To help you imagine what we’re talking about, think about the texture and relational fabric of a Thanksgiving feast…
It’s almost noon, and the house is saturated with the rich scent of roasted turkey, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Every family or friend invited prepared and brought food to share with everyone else. A few people came over early to help Mom and Dad make sure the house was ready for guests.
Some of the adults and older children are finishing up a game of touch football in the backyard while a few of the younger kids play tag. Your uncle brought a friend from work, a die-hard Detroit Lions fan who is glued to the TV with a couple of other people taking in the pregame show. Several others are talking in the kitchen as they put the finishing touches on the Thanksgiving feast they will all be eating in 20 minutes or so.
After sitting down at the table with one another for a laid-back, longer-than-usual lunch filled with laughter and connection, the day will continue—together. Some will begin putting away leftovers and washing the dishes. Some will immediately settle into chairs and couches for the football game (and probably a nap). Some will go back outside to play more touch football. Some will strike up conversations with cousins they haven’t seen in a while.
Eventually, those who are hungry will get the leftovers back out for an informal supper. Some will be reading a beloved book on the couch, while others will be talking. The gathering will last well into the evening. Some will need to go home; others will spend the night. Before adjourning, they’ll make plans to do things tomorrow.
It may sound strange to compare Missional Communities to an extended family gathering around the Thanksgiving table. But that’s where we have to begin. Why? Because ultimately we believe that Missional Communities, while enormously valuable, are only as valuable as their ability to get us to our true destination, a reality we call oikos.
Oikos is a Greek word used in the New Testament to refer to “households,” which were essentially extended families who functioned together with a common purpose. In the early church, discipleship and mission always centered around and flourished in the oikos. This vehicle facilitated the relational dynamic that allowed the church to thrive in the midst of persecution and hardship for hundreds of years. Oikos still helps the church thrive today, even in places where persecution is quite severe. We are absolutely convinced that oikos is what the church needs to reclaim if it is going to become the kind of movement the church was in its earliest days.
In fact, living as oikos has been the norm for almost every culture for most of human history. It’s just how family was—not 2.4 children in a single-family home but a wider community sharing life and work and celebration and commerce together. Only in the last hundred years or so in the West have we lost this sense of being extended families on mission. For a whole host of reasons, we have unwittingly embraced the fragmentation of the extended family and tried to live primarily as individuals and nuclear families. The results of this experiment have been utterly disastrous, and you probably see the aftermath all around you. Loneliness and depression are rampant, we are more stressed and busier than ever, and many people feel they are barely keeping their heads above water as they try to advance in their careers, raise their children, and seek some semblance of meaning in life.
In the midst of this sea of chaos and confusion, however, those of us who follow Christ have the remarkable opportunity to literally rebuild society by re-forming “extended family” oikos communities centered not on blood or ancestry, but on Jesus. Our commission is to compassionately reach out to those around us, invite them to join us in community, share the story of the gospel, make disciples, and gather them into families to follow Jesus together.
That’s really what being a Missional Community is all about. This is not a fad or the latest church growth technique or a new name for cell groups. It is rediscovering the church as oikos, an extended family on mission where everyone contributes and everyone is supported. So, it isn’t that Missional Communities aren’t important. They are, and that’s why we wrote a new book about them. But they are simply the initial vehicle we learn to drive that gets us to the real destination: learning to live as oikos, extended families functioning together on mission with God.
Missional Communities are the training wheels that teach us how to ride the bike of oikos. They are the scaffolding that allows us to rebuild the household of oikos. They are the cocoon that allows the butterfly of oikos to emerge. They are the vehicle that takes us to the destination of oikos. You get the picture. In fact, as I’ve said before, I think that in 50 years, people will look back and say, “It’s hilarious—they used to make people join these things called Missional Communities because they didn’t know how to do this family on mission thing! Isn’t that amazing?”
We believe oikos is something the Spirit of God is doing in this time to restore the church’s ability to function fruitfully in discipleship and mission the way the early church did, publicly living out our faith in the various neighborhoods and relational networks of our cities. We firmly believe this is the make-or-break issue for the Western church. We simply will not see God’s dream for the world come true unless we learn how to function as extended families on mission. Missional Communities help us re-learn how to do this.
So of course we think Missional Communities are important, but only because they are a vehicle that takes us to the true destination; the dynamic reality of oikos.