Missional Communities and Their Role in Church Planting

Desiring God 2011 National Conference

Finish the Mission: For the Joy of All Peoples

In youth ministry, I had a very short window to equip and train people in. Now, if you’ve ever done youth ministry, you get these few years, and I always felt like my job, according to the Scriptures, was to equip the saints for works of ministry according to Ephesians 4:12. I believe that young people who have the Spirit of God are saints. They are regenerate holy ones, set apart by God for the work of ministry that he has called them to do.

So I took it very seriously. I committed myself to equipping them. I believed that it was my job, along with the parents in partnership with their primary role, to equip and train them so that when students graduated out of high school they would be effectively equipped to be missionaries on their campus. That meant I felt like they needed to know the gospel, be able to communicate the gospel, make disciples who could make disciples, and get in a community with other believers to be effectively on mission to reach their campus.

So for many, many years I kept thinking, “It’s my job to create a movement of missionaries that will be sent out of the church for the sake of gospel ministry, wherever God would put them.” So that was just how I always did youth ministry.

Every Christian on Mission

Then I reflected on that and the way I grew up. My parents — wonderful godly people who I love dearly — sat under wonderful teaching for many, many years. It was great expository preaching, some of the best preaching, just wonderful preaching, and yet I went home and I talked to them about how they were being effective in making disciples and sharing the gospel and equipping others to do the same, and after sitting in the church for 40 years or so, it was like I was getting blank stares. It had been as if they had been given doctrinal equipping all their life, so they knew how to tell you what they believed, but they didn’t know how to form anybody in that. They didn’t know how to equip anybody else to do it.

So their ministry was really going to be limited to just them and their effectiveness in their own personal ministry, instead of what they would leave behind them, or the wake that they would create as they would share their life with others, and be able to equip and send and develop. It just grieves my heart. I remember thinking, “This can’t be the case. It’s not possible that people can sit under good, godly preaching of the Word for that many years, and the best they can do is be an usher or a deacon or a Sunday school teacher.”

It seems like by then we should have movements of gospel people sent out for the sake of gospel mission, so that the whole country is saturated with the work of Jesus by his people. There should be no reason why there’s anybody in our country who hasn’t heard the gospel by now. We have plenty of people, we have plenty of teaching, and we have plenty of opportunities. And yet, a majority of the people are still sitting in the pew listening to somebody else tell them what God says, and watching someone else do ministry for them.

Well, it really gripped my heart, and I realized at that point, though I still believe I’m called to equip students, that I want to be a part of seeing the church changed. I want to see in my day, if possible, the church recapture the heart of God’s desire, that every member of the body of Christ would be presented complete in Christ, as Paul says in Colossians 1:28. That there wouldn’t ever again be any allowance for perpetual infancy in the church, that it just would not be okay for someone to be in the church that long and not know how to be about the mission of making disciples who make disciples and glorify God in all of life.

A Mission-Focused Church

And that led to how we started to plant Soma, and there were several questions I kept asking myself. If we’re going to start a church, I want to make sure that however we would build this church, with God’s help, that everybody would be on the front line, that everybody would be in the game, that there would be no option for anybody to just sit around and watch everybody else do it for them. I just didn’t want that to happen. So one of the things we said was, “How do we get everybody in the game?”

When I read Acts 2 and how the Spirit falls on the church, we have 120 people all filled with the Spirit, men and women, proclaiming the mighty deeds of God in languages people can understand, and then Peter gets up and preaches into that context. Now everybody makes Peter the big deal. As a pastor, I would love it if every member of the body of Christ was sharing the truth of the gospel all day long with all their friends, and they all showed up and said, “What is up with you people? How come they’re talking like this and living like this and sharing like this? This makes no sense. Nobody’s willing to do this. These people are either drunk or crazy or idiots or you’re a cult. What’s going on?”

And then you step up as a pastor and go, “This could only happen because of Jesus Christ and what he has done through his life, death, resurrection, and sending of his Spirit. And what you’re witnessing is the Spirit. The one who raised Christ from the dead is now making his body alive to proclaim Jesus, with power and boldness and effectiveness. That’s what you’re seeing, and you should repent because you’ve rejected him and he’s the maker of all things. Now, repent and turn from your sin and you too can receive the power of the Spirit, so you also can be used by God in the way these people are being used.”

What would it be like if every pastor, that’s what they did every Sunday? Now everyone wants that, but we don’t call the people to live the life that you see the early church living. So I just said, “Okay, I want everybody on the front lines. I want everybody to be full of the Spirit. I want everybody able to proclaim the gospel. I want everybody equipped for disciple-making. I want everybody participating, not just for two hours on Sunday but every hour of every day, of every week of every year. I want them to give their whole life to the lordship of Christ and his fame on this earth, and I’m not going to give myself to something lesser than that.”

And God gripped my heart and I just kept saying, “God, how is that going to work? What is it going to look like?” And He just took me right back to the Scriptures and I started reading, and I got to be recaptured with the vision of what it means to be God’s people on mission in the everyday. And it led us to just say, “Okay, well let’s take a few people and do it.”

More Than Sundays and Wednesday Nights

So many people that I know that plant churches, the first thing they think about doing is how they can pull off a Sunday event, and get the music team and the children’s team and I’ll preach well. I think that’s all great stuff, please don’t misunderstand me. But I think that’s the easiest thing we do, because it’s the most controllable time of the whole week. We get to tell everybody what to do — sit down, be quiet, get in these rows, listen to me talk. Most of the church doesn’t get that privilege to go tell their friends to go sit down, shut up, and listen, and so they’re getting equipped by us pastors, who get to tell everybody what to do and sit down and be quiet, and we’re going, “Now you go out and you be good missionaries. Have fun. We’ll study for the whole week while you go out and fight the battle.”

We can’t have that. Somehow I want to equip and I want to train. I’m going to preach. I do preach the Word. We do gather on Sunday. But I said, “I’ve got to figure out how to show them how to do it in everyday life.” So I just took a very small group of people and said, “The first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to train you in how to do this.” It took about a year. We lived life together, we spoke the truth of the gospel to one another, we confronted each other’s sin, we did prayer walks through our city, we went and served the needs of the broken and the homeless, and we asked God to give us an opportunity to proclaim the gospel regularly. They watched me do that. They learned how to do it. They learned with me. They saw people come to faith in Jesus, we saw people get healed because of that. We prayed over people by anointing them with oil, calling them to confess their sins and submit to Christ, and people were healed.

Taking Time to Build People

I wanted them to experience everything that the church is supposed to do in that first year if God would give us the ability to do that, and by his grace we got to experience much of that. And I did it with a real small group. We ate meals together. We loved one another, we cared for another. And to be honest, I got a lot of ridicule for it, because people were like, “You have more gifts, don’t waste them.” I said, “I’m not wasting them. I’m pouring into a few that I hope will become many someday, and I’m willing to take a slower approach.”

I just kept going back to Jesus. If Jesus took three years to build his missionary team, I think it’s okay for us to take some time to develop leaders for the mission, and at the end of that year, we commissioned four missional communities to start, and for us, a missional community is a family of missionary servants, sent to make disciples who make disciples.

I’m going to show you where we take that from in 1 Peter 2. So if you want to turn there you can. But we commissioned four groups that were living out that identity as God’s gospel people on mission, and by God’s grace, we’ve been able to see those continue to multiply year after year after year after year. I don’t even know the count right now. There have been 80 to 100 missional communities that have been able to be started in the last seven years, and eight churches as a result of that.

Church Planting is Not a Solo Mission

Here’s the question I’d ask you: how else are you going to plant churches if you don’t do what I’m going to talk about? Maybe that’s the question I’d ask. My observation of most of our church planting efforts is that we identify one person who we think is extraordinarily gifted, and we ask them to go out and do it.

But when you look at the Acts account, you never see that happening. You see Paul being brought into Antioch with Barnabas, working in a church, and then they are set apart to go out. Then they get a team, and they plant a church with a team. And the worst day for Paul, if you remember, is Acts 17. He’s all alone in Athens. He has no team around him. It’s his least fruitful ministry year, or time.

So what you see in the pattern of Scripture is, not a one man approach to church planting, but a team approach to church planting. God does call unique people to be proclaimers of the word, who probably have a vision and a particular gifting, but I looked at it and said, “Man, I don’t think God’s intent is for me to go do this alone.” Jesus didn’t even go do it alone, so I don’t think I’m supposed to. The only time he was alone was at the cross, and we’re thankful that he was alone for us, because we couldn’t do it. We couldn’t have gone and paid for sins for others. So he didn’t even do it alone.

So get some people, train them, and equip them. Keep asking yourself, what if these people were going to be sent somewhere else in the world, and they all had to be ready to go anywhere that God would call them? Prepare them with that in mind. And I just want to stop and ask you the question. In light of who you are, the church you’re a part of — maybe if you’re a leader of a church — if God right now were to scatter your church to the ends of the earth, would all the people in your church be ready to start gospel work wherever he put them? That is the call.

Now I know people are all in different stages and phases of development, but if they’ve been with you for a while, they should be ready, because that’s your job.

Owning the Relationships God Gives Us

That really grabbed a hold of me. What would it look like if persecution came and the church scattered? Would we be ready? What would it look like if God said, “I want you to send your church to the ends of the earth, lose the doors, and go reach other nations now”? Would you be ready? That’s a good question to have in front of us.

I remember meeting with one young man who is a part of our church, and he came to learn how to plant churches with Soma. This was probably year one. He was leading a missional community, and he was fairly frustrated with the group that he had, and he sat down and was complaining for probably about an hour about how difficult it was, and how hard they were, and all that.

And I just stopped and I said, “Let me ask you a question. You came out to learn how to plant a church with us?” And he said, “Yeah.” I said, “If this was your core group of the church you were going to plant, what would you do with them?” And he said, “Well, that would change everything.” I said, “What do you mean?” He goes, “Well, then I’d start confronting their sin. I would start training them, because they’re going to have to learn how to share the gospel.” He started laying out a missionary plan for how he was going to plant a church with this group of people. But he was like, “But I don’t want to do it with these people.”

I said, “Do you ever think Jesus didn’t want to do it with the people who God called to join him? Do you think he ever had a day where he was like, ‘How long have I been with you?’” That’s Jesus’s heart. He’s just going, “I got the worst group. I want a better group. Can’t I try over, God? Can we do this prayer thing again? Can you identify who these 12 are supposed to be one more time? Because these can’t be the guys.”

And yet Jesus devoted himself to help them become the beginning of a church planting movement that changed the world, and it wasn’t because he was trusting in their ability. He was trusting in the power of the Spirit and the reality of the gospel that changes hearts and makes people able to do what they couldn’t do apart from him. And I sat down with this young man and I said, “You’re going to have to pray that God changes them. You have to call them to repent of their unbelief in the gospel. You’re going to have to do the work of the church. That’s what you have to do. See what he wanted was that he wanted to plant a church without having to do the work of a church. He wanted the glory of the church without the suffering, and that’s what many of us want.

Not Glamorous, but Glorious

I have people come to join Soma all the time. They say, “Oh, I want to be a part of a missional community.” My wife now sits down with them and she says, “Okay, I know that when Jeff talks it sounds great, but I just got to let you know, in about six months you’re going to hate it and you’re going to want to leave. This is the hardest thing you will ever do in your life, and it’s the best thing at the same time.”

And that’s what you see in the early church. These people were dying for Christ, and yet they were full of joy, and they were experiencing the glory of God and the power of God breaking into their midst. Well, that doesn’t happen unless the people of God are on the mission of God, because the Spirit of God has not been given for our sake. The Spirit of God has been given to us to glorify Jesus and to accomplish his mission, and we think it’s just about us. We’re going to become narcissistic, self-focused, apathetic, bored, sorry people. That’s what happens.

A Chosen Race

So we opened up the Word and we studied Ephesians, we studied the Gospels, and we studied so many things as a group. And remember getting to 1 Peter, and you guys know that 1 Peter is written to the scattered exiles, the elect exiles in the Asia minor, and Peter reminds them of their hope in Christ and who they are as his people. And in 1 Peter 2:9, he says:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

When we sat down and said, “What is it going to mean to be this core group of a church plant?” I remember thinking, “Okay, I want to figure out how to do this in such a way that what everybody learns, they’ll be able to transfer to another group, and then they’ll become another core group of a church plant, and then they’ll do it again with another group, so by the time we’ve done enough times we’ve just got hundreds of people who know how to start churches.” That was my goal. I wanted them to have gone through the process of saying, “What does it mean to proclaim the gospel, to believe the gospel, to live as gospel people? What does it mean to live this in everyday life? How do we bring this to the lost? How do we build each other up in Christ?”

I want them to have to do that over and over and over again, so by the time we’d send them to another part of the world, they would know how to take the transferrable truths of God’s word and contextualize them in a place where they would not lose the gospel and the essence of it, but they’d be effective missionaries wherever God would send them. That was our goal.

And I think 1 Peter is very helpful in this, because what he does is that he grounds who they are in the work of Christ. He says, “Because of what God has done, this is who you are.” Before he calls them to do what they’re supposed to do, he settles them in their identity, and their identity is transcendent. I’m a child of God, no matter where I go.

Learning to Love One Another

One of the first things we did as we formed missional communities is that we said, “We have to learn how to love one another like a family.” The very first thing Peter says is, “You are chosen people,” and we know that hearkens back to God calling Abraham to be his people, and that Israel’s job was to show the world what God is like in the way they would love one another, the way they would care for one another, the way they would welcome the stranger amongst them, care for the widow, and love the orphan. It’s so that the world would know the father-heart of God. You would know what he’s like.

And so we just said, “What would it look like if we really believed we were the children of God?” Paul says, “Be imitators of God as dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1). What if we lived that way? Like Peter said earlier in 1 Peter 1:22–23, “Love one another. You’ve been born not a perishable seed, but imperishable seed.” In other words, he’s saying, “You have a whole new way of life. You belong to God, you’re his children.” And so he said, “We have to establish people as children of God.”

One of the first things that we say as a missional community is, “Learn how to love one another as a family so that when people look in, they know what the Father is like.” Jesus says in John 13:35, “This is how all men will know that you’re my disciples, by your love for one another.” I don’t know how most of the world is going to see love for one another from the church if they don’t see the church loving one another in everyday life.

So we have to get people who are believers, followers of Jesus, to live love for one another in everyday life, because the unbelievers are not going to see it unless they’re with us. Most of them, at least where I’m at, are not going to hang out with us every Sunday and every Bible study and everything else that we do, to see us love one another. They’re going to have to see it in my home and on the soccer field, and when I go out to dinner and all of this. They’re going to have to see it somewhere else. And that’s what missionaries do. They say, “How do we live in the rhythms of our culture in such a way that we show what God is like?”

Every Christian a Worship Leader

Now, before I go any further, how many of you believe you are worship leaders in the room? How many worship leaders are here? Okay, so either that means I’ve got a room full of unregenerate people, or you don’t know your calling. Peter says, “Live such good lives amongst those who don’t believe, that they might see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

I remember one of the first things I sat down with our church and did. I said, “Guys, your job is to be worship leaders constantly. Everything you do is so that it might point back to God and bring him glory. And whether they believe or not, one day they’re going to give him glory for the life you lived.” Your job is to say, “How can we show what the Father is like by the way we love one another in the midst of unbelievers, so that they will give God glory for the life we lived amongst them?” It’s by God’s grace with his help.

An Illustration of Life on Mission

I remember one day when I was coming home, my wife was pretty frustrated. We have a widow lady next door to us named Nikki. Her husband died now 19 years ago, but when we first moved in it was about 13 years before. Her house was just falling apart. She had become a widow and a recluse hoarder. If you guys ever watched that show Hoarders, she was that. She had blackberry bushes growing up about 30 feet in her backyard, covering the whole backyard. There were two cars buried in the middle of the blackberry bushes with raccoons living in them. There were windows broken that needed to be boarded up. Her life was falling apart. She would sit in her van out in front of her house most of the day because it was better than her house.

And then her van broke down, I remember one day, and she just sat out there and couldn’t go anywhere. We just tried to love on her and care for her, and she just did not want anything to do with us because she heard we are Christians, and I live in a place where it’s sometimes hostile towards Christians. So all her friends told her to stay away from us. And so she would literally drive her van when it was working into our garbage cans and knock them over, and bang on the back of her house with her cane when we were outside talking, and she’d be like, “Shut up.”

So we had this scary picture of this woman. I remember I came home one day and my wife goes, “That’s it. I wash my hands with this woman,” and I’m like, “What’s up?” She said, “There’s no hope. She’s never going to change.” She just started going on this rant. And in that moment the Spirit said, “Now we’re getting somewhere,” because we finally gave up. We’re not going to change her.

So I said, “God is going to have to change her.” We talked about that, but then the Spirit of God really impressed on my heart, “What if Nikki was your mom? What would you do? What if you were related to this woman?” And it wasn’t just the thought of, how do I love brothers and sisters in Christ as brothers and sisters, but what if the family of God is called to love the lost children of God, in such a way that they would know the Father is opening his arms saying, “Come home, I’ve paid the debt. Come join the feast.”

Being a Neighbor

What if that’s how we saw our neighbors? What if we thought, “There are lost children all around us that the Father is drawing to himself through his church, and it’s our job to show them the love of the Father, not only by loving one another, but by loving them as though they might belong to the family.” Man, that changed everything for us. And that became a way we started to teach our missional communities. Don’t only love one another as a family, but ask God who it is that you’re supposed to love who doesn’t know Jesus. Start to treat them like you would your brother or sister. Now if you don’t love your brother and sister well, don’t do that, okay? But if you understand what love looks like in light of the Father, then love them like the Father has loved you.

That changed everything for us. I’ll tell you what, that will mess you up too, because if you take that seriously, you’re going to begin to disenfranchise yourself, and probably give up quite a bit, sacrificing for the sake of others in ways that you never have before.

I remember we finally convinced her to let us pay for fixing her van. I remember, every time I’d meet with Nikki, it would be one of these things where I’d say, “Okay,” because we let her use our van for a long time. We had this brand new van that we had just bought, so we just started giving her the van anytime she needed it. And one day I said, “You don’t get the keys until I get the keys.” She said, “What do you mean?” I said, “We’re fixing the van.”

And so she handed me the keys, and our missional community paid for that whole van to get completely redone. We paid the bills and we drove it up all ready to go. We eventually stripped her whole backyard, and we built a new community garden back there so people would be around her life, and the neighborhood would start to see what it looks like for people to be loved like the Father has loved us. And eventually Nikki came to faith in Jesus Christ, and now I know she was a lost child of God, and she’s not anymore.

A Royal Priesthood

Well, one of the other things that I think we need to grab ahold of here is not only that we are a chosen race, but we’re a royal priesthood. Most of us know that that’s hearkening back to when Israel is called to be the people who would proclaim God to the people, and they’d make means for people to come back to God through the sacrificial system that the priest would bring about, by offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. So there’s this idea. Israel was a place in which you could come to be restored to Israel’s God, and the church now (including everyone in this room) — by the Spirit, by God’s grace in Christ Jesus and him being the high priest — is made to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, by which you become a reconciling agent of God, through which you proclaim the message of reconciliation.

So all of you are walking around like little temples going, “You can come here and find out how you can get reconciled with God. I know the one, I know the high priest. He offered a sacrifice for you. I can bring you to him right now and introduce you to him, and the sacrifice is once for all your sin. You can come and be made right with God now.”

I remember when we sat down with our missional community, I said, “I want all of you to imagine you’re walking around with a collar everywhere you go.” Some of you guys are from the Midwest, and you know what I mean by that. You’re a priest. Imagine that you’re walking around your neighbor going, “I’m the priest in this neighborhood. It’s my job to make sure everyone in this neighborhood knows there’s a way to be reconciled to God. That’s my job.”

That’s what the scriptures are very clear about. We’re all called to that ministry. We’re all priests. This is what we recaptured in the Reformation. And yet, I think, if we’re not careful, we still have little popes, because most of us think we have to bring people to our pastor to get reconciled to God. Instead of that, we bring them to Jesus to be reconciled with God. And what you see in the Acts account, is that in Acts 8, when the church was scattered because of persecution, the apostles stayed in Jerusalem. But everybody else was scattered everywhere. And what does it say? It says, “They all preached the gospel everywhere they went” (Acts 8:4). So they understood they were the priests of God.

So when we are with our missional community, one of the things we help them do is we say, “We want to encourage you to, first of all, embrace the idea that you are the gospel-witness people that are sent to a place so that these people might be reconciled.” I tell all of our leaders to encourage all of their people that the people they live by, or the people that they’ve been connected to, are not a mistake. It’s that God wanted a priesthood there, to proclaim Jesus to them. He’s not wasting His resources. God knows what he’s doing. It’s not a mistake. He is in control.

So wherever you’re at, he wants you to be the priest there, bringing them to the high priests, so that they might have hope in Christ. And so we sit around and we, in our missional community, and we say, “Who are the people that we believe God’s calling us to reach together?” As a family who loves one another, what if God would call us to radically reorient our lives to be the priesthood to a group of people in this city, for the sake of seeing them come to salvation in Christ Jesus? What if that’s why we’re here? And we’ll encourage people for a year, to just reorient their lives like any missionary would, towards reaching those people.

Intentional Ambassadors of Christ

We say, “Okay, who are those people? How are you going to live intentionally in the path of life with those people, so they might hear the gospel? How are you going to love one another, so they’ll see the father heart of God in you? How are you going to extend yourselves for their sake? How are you going to equip people so that they’re better at sharing the gospel? What kinds of patterns of life are you going to do on a weekly basis? Where do those people eat and where do they play and where do they hang out?”

Basically all we’re doing is teaching missionary strategies to our church, saying, “We want to teach everyone to think like a missionary,” because anybody who goes to any other part of the world, that’s what they do. But for some reason in North America, we’ve forgotten who we are. We forgot that we’re still missionaries here.

Peter says, “You guys are all exiles in a foreign land. You guys are strangers and aliens where you live.” That’s true for us too. We don’t belong to the city that we live in. We belong to the city where Jesus is king. We belong to another nation. This is not our nation. This is not our home. That’s our home. So we’re all aliens and strangers. So if you are here, it’s because you’re a missionary here, otherwise you should go home. But he hasn’t taken you home yet, so he has you here for a reason. So we tell our people, “Figure out what that reason is, who those people are, and then radically reorient your life for the sake of seeing them come to faith in Jesus Christ this year.”

We take all those people and help them build a missionary strategy for a whole year. We help them put together a weekly, monthly, and yearly plan of what it’d be like to be missionaries to those people, just like you do, if you do a short term missionary trip for a week and you help them think about reaching Mexico for a week. We do that for a year. And then when they put that all together, they all commit to that and say, “We believe the gospel. We believe this is our identity in Christ. We believe we’re supposed to live this way,” and then we bring them before the whole church and they share who they believe God’s called them to reach this year. And then we lay hands on them and commission them for a year of missionary work in our city, and we do that to every single group in our whole church.

That takes all of our services one weekend in January, and at the end of that, if you’ve been a part of our church on that day, you realize these people are so devoted to mission. Every single member of the body of Christ is on the mission of Jesus Christ. You can’t be a member of our church unless you’re doing that. That’s how you become a member of our church. It’s not only do you believe the gospel, but you’re devoted to the mission of Jesus, to make disciples who make disciples. We believe you’re a member of the universal church, but in terms of being committed to the cause of our church, you’ve got to be able to do that with other believers.

The Mission Exposes Us

That’s the second thing, we call them to missionary work. Now, here’s the deal that I’ve learned. If you want to form people up in the gospel so they’re ready to be able to not only proclaim the gospel, but to be a display of the gospel’s implications coming to bear on someone’s life, you have to call them to mission, because mission is the very thing that reveals most of our unbelief.

Who’s ever been on a mission trip? You go on a mission trip for a week and everyone’s dreamy eyed about going on their mission trip. They say, “Oh, I can’t wait to go to Costa Rica. It’s going to be amazing.” And day one, they’re like, “It’s great. We don’t understand the language. It’s a little uncomfortable.” Day two, they say, “This person is driving me nuts.” Day three, they say, “I wish I was in my own bed.” Day four, they say, “I don’t like the bugs.” And just pretty soon, it’s complaining and bickering, and people are frustrated, and it’s not easy, and there’s some spiritual warfare coming at you because it’s real. You start really feeling it, maybe for the first time in your entire life, that there’s an enemy out there against you.

Do you remember that? And then all of a sudden people start praying with a different urgency, and they start living out grace-filled lives, because they have to forgive or they’re going to kill each other. And people are going, “No, I’m going to appeal to you, brother. You got to go back and talk to him,” and you start doing reconciliation with the group in the middle of the mission trip, and the mission trip’s almost never about what’s happening where they went. It’s always what’s happening to the people who went. That’s what mission trips are mostly about, okay?

Now church, what if we did that every single day? What if we just said, “The mission trip doesn’t end. We got back from Costa Rica. That was training for the mission trip that starts when we get home. Back home is the mission trip. Let’s get back on the mission field.”

I have found that if you get people on the mission of actually calling them to reorient their life and their schedule and their priorities and their budgets and their time for the sake of mission, I promise you, you’ll reveal all of the junk. They’ll say, “I’m too busy. I don’t want people in my life. I don’t want to open up my home. It’s unsafe,” and on and on. If you are a gospel shepherd, you’ll go, “Thank God that they’re waving all the gospel-need flags right now, and I get to proclaim Jesus into every single one of them.”

Beyond the Facade

Who are you trusting for protection? Who are you looking to for satisfaction? Who’s going to be the one who lays out your budget? Is it going to be him or you? Who’s going to set your time management? Is it going to be him or is it going to be you?" And all of a sudden you start directing them to the lordship of Christ, and you bring them to the gospel and say, “Only the gospel will help you get through all this stuff.”

But what I’ve found is that most of us live with the veneer in church all our life as though we’ve got it all together, until something really bad happens, and then we freak out. And what I’m trying to do in our church is say, “I want a freak out moment to start at the moment of conversion.” Literally, I want them to go, “Whoa, I need help. I’d better pray. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’d better read my Bible. Man, I’m angry at people. I’d better learn forgiveness. I’m going to the cross.”

That’s what I want. I want them to grow in the gospel, not just know the gospel. See, that’s what I want. And you grow in the gospel by doing the mission of Jesus Christ. Jesus is brilliant. The mission he calls you to, you can’t do without his power. So what is he doing? He’s saying, “I’m giving you a mission where you will need me.” Remember, he says, “Wait for power from on high to come, and then go do it” (Luke 24:49). He’s brilliant. He’s saying, “I’m going to give you a mission that’s absolutely impossible for you, so that you’ll need me for the mission,” and that’s how you grow people up in Christ.

You don’t grow people up in Christ by teaching just the doctrines of Christ. You grow people up in Christ, by not only teaching the doctrines of Christ, but leading them to a life that requires belief in the doctrines of Christ, and that’s what we’re called to do. So this missionary identity is huge.

The Love of a Family

We had a couple who joined our group last year, and we were talking through our mission for the year. The wife was there but the husband wasn’t there, and she said, “We’re really busy. My husband is full-time in school. I’m working a job, while he’s working another job. We have a little infant. There’s just no way we can do this. We want in. We want to be a part of this mission. We want to help people come to know Jesus. We’re so eager to do that.”

And I loved it, because our group just said, “Well, okay, what would it take?” And she said, “What do you mean, what would it take?” They said, “Well, how could you not be busy anymore? What things in your life might need to change? What things might need to be rearranged.” She said, “There’s nothing that can be rearranged.” So we said, “Well, why don’t we pray and ask God for help?” So we prayed a little bit and someone said, “Would you like to be a stay-at-home mom, so you can be freed up to be able to serve more people, and be a part of the community garden? We know you love to garden. How about if you start taking over the community garden, and let that be one of the ways in which you can get to know more people that don’t know Jesus, and hopefully share the gospel with them.”

She said, “I’d love to do that.” So then everybody said, “Well, how much money do you need so that you won’t have to work anymore? We’re a family, right? You’d do that if that was your family.” And so she was like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait. What are you guys doing?” It was kind of one of those things where she thought, “This is weird. People don’t do this.” And we stopped and we said, “Well, we’re the family of God. This is how we live. If you were my sister, and your husband was my brother, we would have this conversation right now. And God says that you’re our brother and sister.”

So she said, “Okay, well here’s how much I would need,” so all of a sudden the group said, “I’ll take this much. I can take this much. Okay, we have it covered.” They said, “How about you quit your job. If you feel God’s leading you to do that, make sure you do it in a way that honors your boss.” And she just was like, “What are you doing? People don’t do this.” And we just said, “No, we do do this. This is what the family of God does,” and she said, “Well, I can’t receive that,” and so we just said, “Well, wait a minute. Did you already receive Christ Jesus, his death on the cross for you, his life given for you, the inheritance of Jesus Christ given to you? Have you received that?” She said, “Yeah.” We said, “Then this is nothing. If you can receive that, you can receive this. But if you can’t receive this, the question is, do you understand what you’ve received in his work?”

At that moment she said, “Then I have to receive it.” I said, “That’s right.” So she received it. Last year, she was freed up. She’s working in the community garden. She went home that night, got on Facebook, and said, “I can’t believe it. I get to be a stay-at-home mom.” We were like, “Oh no, her boss is going to kill her. You’re supposed to do this slower.” She was on Facebook and she said, “I just found out I’m pregnant.” We didn’t know that another baby was coming along. She was so anxious. She thought, “I’m not even going to be available for my kids.” And she started typing away, and she had all these unbelieving friends saying, “What’s going on? What’s up?” She just started telling them about the gospel.

Living in a Way Only the Gospel Explains

Peter is saying, “Live a life amongst them that they would worship God.” Peter then describes what that life looks like in 1 Peter 3:15. He says:

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you . . .

One of the things that we teach our missional communities is, live a life that demands a gospel explanation. Live a life that could not be explained in any other way than the gospel. See, she has to tell people about Jesus now, because she can’t just get on there and say, “Well, there’s a bunch of nice people, and they really are nice and good, and they do good works.”

She’s not giving us credit. She’s giving Jesus credit for our lives, because she can’t explain what we’re doing unless she talks about Jesus. And that’s what you have to lead your people to do — to live a life that you can’t explain away, apart from the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus and his Spirit coming into your life. So we encourage people to live on mission like that.

A Holy Nation

The last thing as I come to a close, is that we encourage people to take seriously this idea of being a holy nation. First Peter 2:9 says, “You’re a holy nation.” And we see that because Jesus is our Lord. He’s our king. So we basically tell our churches and our missional communities, “Why don’t we live our lives fully submitted to the rule and reign of Christ, so that the world will see that our king is better than every other god that they’ve been worshiping.” That’s what we’re called to do.

See, Israel was supposed to live life under the kingship of their God so that the nations would get jealous. They’d go, “You guys throw parties better than anybody. We want in. Your God actually makes you give a tithe so that the party will be good. That’s a good king. Your God actually takes care of the orphans and the widows, and he makes sure you give away your money for the people who don’t have it. That’s a good kingdom. Your God releases people’s debts every seven years. That’s a good king.” And the whole point of Israel is to be a kingdom with a king who’s perfect.

Then they were going to say, “That’s our king. Worship him. He’s the best king.” And when Jesus comes, he ushers in his kingdom, he kicks it into gear and he says, “Look at what it’s like around me. Worship me. I bring life. I don’t bring death. I help the broken. I mend them up. I take the weeping, and I help those who mourn and I comfort them.” And he just lays out what his kingdom is all about. And people are like, “I want in.” And the broken and the destitute and the discarded are going, “That’s my king. I want that king. He’s like no other king. All the other kings want the powerful, the mighty, the proud, and the people who can get stuff done for him. That king is the one who gets people who can’t get anything done, and he does it for them. That’s my king. That’s the king I want.”

We say to our communities, “What if we could live in such a way that we’d magnify our king, and we’d live all of life to show the rule and reign of Christ, the way we serve, the way we reconcile, the way we pay debts off, the way we mend the broken, and the way we open our homes and bring them in. Let’s give them a taste of the kingdom.” See, we’re supposed to live in such a way that they’re going to want to go be a part of the kingdom. Most of the people that look at our lives think, “If heaven is anything like what you guys live like, I don’t want to go there. Hell sounds better.” We’re supposed to live in such a way that we’re a foretaste of the future reality of Christ’s rule and reign over all things.

Tasting a Greater Reality

So we encourage our church and say, “Hey guys, sit down and think about the people God has called you to reach.” And then say, “What would it look like if the kingdom of God was breaking into that place, so that they would taste and see that the Lord is good?” We’re like a movie trailer, except we’re the opposite. Because most movies you go to watch the movie trailer, and you’re like, “That’s going to be an amazing movie.” And then you see the movie and you’re like, “I should have stuck with the trailer.”

We’re just the opposite. We’re a foretaste of a far better reality. People should go and say, “Man, I can’t wait for the real deal. When it’s all said and done, when everything is right, it’s going to be amazing.” See, when you teach people to live as a people who love one another like a family, living on mission as his missionary people, bringing the kingdom of God to bear in everyday life, people will ask, “What’s up with you?”

It’s everyday stuff like how you love your neighbors, how you take care of each other’s broken fences and broken windows, and how you fix each other’s cars, pay for bills, pay off credit cards, and help people who are in trouble. When you start doing that in everyday life with a little group of people who will love one another like that, the world is going to go, “What is up with you?” And you’re going to get to tell them about Jesus. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to live in such a way that they will worship our God one day, and before then, we hope they’ll ask us about him, so they’ll get to worship him with thanksgiving, instead of bowing their knee in regret.