Leading Missional Communities:Rediscovering the Power of Living on Mission Together by Mike Breen and the 3DM Team; report by Paul Worster:
If you’re looking for book from a battle tested missional practitioner –someone who knows how to make the shift from perpetuating a culture of membership to catalyzing a disciple-making movement -then this is the book for you. I’ve been reading Breen’s stuff for quite some time now and eagerly cracked the binding on Leading Missional Communities. It is a wonderfully accessible book. At times it seems too simple. I believe this is by design. He wants anyone and everyone to be able to live the life described within. Missing is the ivory tower rhetoric or abstract theory. This is street talk for the church of disciples who desperately want to reach the people no church is reaching.
There is much to commend in this book. I’ll simply mention what I believe are four highlights.
Reclaiming the Biblical Concept of Oikos
Breen makes it clear from the start that Missional Communities (MC’s) are not the goal. Oikos (Greek for household) is the goal. In saying this he and his team cast a vision for understanding the church as “essentially extended families who function together with a common purpose”. He adds, “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 day (p. 4).” As such the church is going to have to accept what is risky, live by improvisation, embrace chaos and learn to negotiate the emotional shrapnel that is sure to ensue. This will ultimately lead to powerfully redemptive community rather than merely polite and/or respectable community.
Missional Communities Defined
Breen goes on to define MC’s as a “group or approximately 20-40 people who are seeking to reach a particular neighborhood or network of relationships with the good news of Jesus. The group functions as a flexible, local expression of the church and has an expressed intention of seeing those they are in relationship with become followers of Jesus with them (p. 7).” In saying this he makes it clear that MC’s are not at all like traditional small groups. Jesus is the center and circumference of their lives and discipleship unto mission is the ordering principle for most everything they do. They are lightweight, low maintenance and need to be “small enough to care but also big enough to dare”.
Establishing Natural Rhythms
In the latter part of the book Breen describes the life of a healthy MC. If MC’s are going to have discipleship at their core they need to cultivate “a commitment to the organized and the organic elements of the communities life together”. The life of MC’s is not primarily centered around events or programs. To do so will suffocate the vision. This is sometimes difficult for those who are entrenched within institutional paradigms to grasp. Still, there is an organized aspect to MC’s. “Being part of a family involves a commitment to the structured and spontaneous elements of family life together (38).” Breen and his team are vigorous advocates for establishing “predictable patterns that instill a sense of stability in the community” which feed “common rhythms of discipleship” but if they fail to take seriously the organic side of life (living all of life together –eating, sharing and playing) then MC’s will simply feel like an add-on to an already over-scheduled life.
The average modern western church, on its best day, majors in addition. The focus is on adding members and growing internal ministries. Sadly, at times, the church has also become adept at division and subtraction. Church splits are many and nearly one million believers leave the church each year. Breen and 3DM are set on training the church to major in multiplication. As such, “growth” is defined as multiplication –not addition. Discipleship is all about growing people in the character and competencies of Jesus Christ. “Part of building a discipling culture is having multiplication in the DNA from the very beginning…So during the entire process of launching and leading an MC you’re doing two things at once 1. Doing it…and 2. Training others to do it. This is the pattern of Jesus (74).” If we are going to make the transition away from church as endless meetings, programs and events and launch vigorous disciple making movements we need to lay hold of methodologies and strategies that have multiplication at the center.
What I love most about this book is that it is not simply intent of deepening conviction. It is wholeheartedly devoted to equipping. There is advice, tips and details on most every page on how to launch and lead MC’s. Breen and his team know the landscape (and potential landmines) well. For the details you’re going to have to buy the book. I most certainly hope you do.
Interspersed throughout the book are nuggets about prayerfully determining direction, casting vision, training leaders, seasons of reaping and sowing, etc. There is a lot crammed into this book still, it is such an easy read. If you only read the bold highlights you will still profit.
A Question and Conclusion
The only question I walked away with after reading the book is Breen’s assertion that MC’s be accountable to and supported by the leadership of the wider church. I am in no way an advocate of cowboy leaders. I value and appreciate accountability. However, my experience has been that the American church is still firmly entrenched in the attractional model of doing church. As such it emphasizes bolstering membership statistics over accepting the chaos and risk that comes with launching incarnational, missional, organic, disciple making movements. I’m not aware of many churches that would know how to support such a community let alone train and equip it.
A few years ago our family embarked on such an adventure. We had a vision for launching and leading a simple network of simple reproducible churches –i.e. making and multiplying disciple making communities. We were accountable to and supported by the leadership of a local church. Well…it failed. We succeeded in adding, but we failed to multiply. Part of the reason we failed, I believe, is that there were no resources such as the Breen-3DM books around to show us how to do it. Most of the books being written at that time were theoretical –not practical. We were trying to figure so much out on our own. Reading Breen’s book was a healing experience for me. He has seen many courageous efforts fail. There is no silver bullet or magic formula to this work. I agree with Breen when he writes that we need to give people permission to fail. The Word, Spirit and prayer most certainly are our essential inspiration. They are, afterall, the only technologies we see active in Luke-Acts. Still, it truly helps to have access to the sage advice of those who have gone before –those who know well the landscape of this kingdom work.
Please…if you are passionate about Jesus…if you are passionate about kingdom community, discipleship and mission…READ THIS BOOK. I am confident you will be glad you did.