Turn Your Sunday School Class into a Missional Community

Turn Your Sunday School Class into a Missional Community

What if your church has the traditional Sunday School and you’d like to transition to Missional Communities?

What if you don’t have to scrap what you’re currently doing in order to begin something new? Is there a way to move people in a missional lifestyle direction without dismantling current activities and creating chaos among the members? Possibly. Let’s explore.

If you’ve been learning about MC’s and then thinking, That would never work here, maybe this post is for you. Especially if you have a Sunday School ministry in place.

First, let’s think about the rhythms of missional community living.

Family Meal
Having a weekly meal together is a common feature in the life of an MC. It could be potluck, grilling burgers, pitching in to order pizza, or the host preparing something. The act of eating together regularly builds the sense of family. And it’s not just the eating, but the cleanup as well!

Content Time
This is the serious discussion of God’s Word. Setting aside time to dig into the Bible as an MC is central to living gospel-centered lives on mission together.

MC’s regularly practice the rhythm of serving the people or community where they believe God has sent them. It could be occasional larger projects where the whole MC gets together, or smaller groups of MC members serving together on various aspects of the mission throughout the week.

Hang Time
It’s just what you think. Hanging out together. Getting together for fun, going out to eat, movie night, kids’ games, whatever. No agenda other than being together. Don’t think this is frivolous, because often great gospel conversations happen while just hanging out together. This is a natural entry point for your non-believing friends and neighbors.

Most church Sunday School classes have the content time thing down pretty well. They gather to study the Bible regularly. But when it comes to the other MC rhythms, not so much. There may be the occasional party or get-together, but nothing on a more frequent basis.

Next, let’s think about how to incorporate these rhythms into the traditional Sunday School.

Hey, you’ve already got the content time covered! The regular time you gather to study the Bible–usually Sundays–is already built in. One of the challenges of trying to have a serious content time during the week with an MC is figuring out what to do with the kids. Sunday School resolves that concern.

It’s the other rhythms that will now present the big challenge. How will you establish these new rhythms (family meals, serving, and hang time) with your group so that they become normalized? When will you schedule these rhythms for each week? Your group will need to learn a new way of living as most likely they are accustomed to just getting together once a week on Sundays.

They need to really grasp that what you are seeking to establish is a group of people who radically reorient their lives around the gospel and live as a family sent on mission together in the everyday.That will require some time to teach and train them in the MC lifestyle. I don’t have the space here to unpack the steps to beginning an MC, so listen to this podcast to learn the basics of beginning a missional community.

You can use the content time to build the foundation for how you will live as an MC. Take advantage of excellent training tools to teach the why and how of missional living. During your weekly study time you could as a group work through The Tangible Kingdom Primer, or the Gospel Primer, the Saturate Field Guide, or Missional Essentials. All of these are effective interactive training tools that can help transform a class into a family on mission together.

A couples class is ideal for launching into pursuit of becoming an MC. Even if it’s a singles class, or classes where husbands and wives meet separately, this can still work. You simply meet for the content time separately, but you do everything else together as family. You could even include a singles class with married couples to form your MC. The content time happens for each class, but the other rhythms are shared.

One caveat here is that each separate class really needs to be going through the same training at the same time so that everyone is on the same page. This requires that the leaders of those classes really coordinate intentionally and prayerfully together to take each class member on the same track toward MC living. The shared leadership component of MC formation could already exist in the leaders of these separate classes.

The great thing about the above mentioned resources is that you are living out the things you are discussing each week. So you don’t have to wait till you’re done with the book to start living out the other rhythms. You are beginning to build those rhythms over the course of going through the study together. The only way to really learn this lifestyle is to begin doing it.

I see some incredible potential in utilizing your Sunday School to transition into missional communities. You’re taking something that already exists and turning it in a missional direction. You avoid the trauma induced by stopping a current established (perhaps entrenched) ministry and introducing an entirely new one. There will likely be some pushback, but it won’t be to the extent that it would have been by an abrupt change across the board.

Don’t fret about those Sunday School classes that refuse to do anything differently than they always have. Just take the ones who are willing to go and forge ahead into missional territory. Others may see how awesome living that way can be and then ask how they can get in on it. Invest in those who want to reorient their lives around the gospel and experience following Jesus in the everyday.

Let me know your thoughts and share questions about this approach to transitioning to missional communities in a traditional Sunday School setting.

Note that the words in a different color are links to those recommended resources.


The Missional Approach to Personal Evangelism

The Missional Approach to Personal Evangelism

Did you ever have any personal evangelism training?

Programs like Evangelism Explosion were widely used in many churches back in the day. Christian Witness Training (CWT) was another.

What I got from much of this programmed training was a little inspiration, but even more frustration. Most of the training that was around gave you one methodology no matter how you were wired personally or how you were uniquely gifted. Many who went through such training felt a sense of guilt over not being able to effectively share their faith using the methods they were taught.

It felt as though there were only two options. Either you were gifted so that such personal evangelism was comfortable for you, or you were guilted into presenting the gospel in ways that were very unnatural for you. If that was the case, you believed the approach you were given in the training was the only way to do it, and you pretty much gave up trying to share the good news at all. Frustrating!

But what if you can bear witness to the good news of Jesus in everyday life in ways that are very normal for you and come very naturally? I've previously written about various ways that you can speak the gospel, so read that post as well. Here are some ideas and actions that I think will help you develop a missional approach to your personal evangelism.

The gospel is good news!
Let me rephrase that…the gospel is the greatest news ever in the history of eternity! And good news needs to be announced. That's what evangelism is, the announcing of good news. When something good happens to you, you can't help but share it. If Jesus giving you a new life, forgiving sin, and filling you with his Spirit for everyday life isn't good news, I don't know what is. Let the gospel captivate you every day in a fresh way. If you're overwhelmed with the grace of the gospel, you will more naturally share it with someone else.

Share the good news out of grace, not guilt.
Sure, we have an obligation to share the gospel with others, but obligation alone is not the proper motivation. You get to share this good news! If your reason for sharing is because you get to do so instead of because you ought to, or have to share, it makes all the difference. Speaking the gospel to someone else is a privilege, something you get to do because of God's grace.

Relationship is the context for effective sharing.
Evangelism approaches that emphasize witnessing to people you don't know or barely know are intimidating for most Christians. Some can do it with little problem, but it freaks the rest of us out. If you have built a trusting relationship with a person, you have earned the right to speak into their lives. I find it's far more effective and more likely to produce lasting results if I share the gospel within the context of relationship. There is built-in opportunity to continue the conversation later. In relationship, the other person can see the gospel at work in your own life. They have the chance to ask questions of you. I think it's better than the "hit and run" technique, or just tossing a gospel grenade into someone's lap.

Stay alert for "gospel pathways."
Gospel pathways are natural opportunities that arise in the course of everyday life where you can speak the gospel into someone's life. Sharing your faith does not require an appointment. You don't have to schedule a time for spiritual conversation with someone. It can happen while you're working on a project together, sitting at lunch, or riding together to a ballgame. The person mentions an issue of concern, a problem, or a question they have. That may be God's opening for you to say something about how the gospel is good news for them in that moment.

So, to sum it up…
1) Let the gospel captivate your heart,
2) Share the good news because you get to,
3) Build trusting relationships, and share the gospel within that context,
4) Watch and listen for natural opportunities to speak the gospel.

So take heart! You can share the good news just being who God designed you to be in the way that comes natural to you. Now you just need to be intentional about it.

What struggles have you faced in sharing your faith with someone? What has helped you to overcome fear or guilt in your witnessing attempts?

5 Missional Alternatives to VBS

5 Missional Alternatives to VBS

I dreaded Vacation Bible School.

There. I confessed it. So shoot me.

As a kid, VBS was just okay. It was nice to go for a week of Bible stories, snacks, and playtime. But my preference was to not interrupt my summer with a week of what we did already pretty much every Sunday.

VBS was an unquestioned fixture in the church calendar. It was a given that we were going to do Bible School. Because as a church, that’s what you do. Every year.

Even as a pastor, I dreaded VBS. All that planning, trying to recruit volunteers, and publicizing the week took its toll. When the week was over, there was a huge relief felt by all involved, especially me, that I had a whole year not to have to think about VBS.

Don’t get me wrong, we saw kids come to faith during VBS week. But most of them dropped off the radar shortly after the Closing Program. I found that was a major problem with VBS. No follow up or continuity of relationship.

We tried all sorts of VBS programs. We did daytime, evening, three-day VBS, once-a-week VBS for a month, and we changed up the format several times. We tweaked VBS every way it could be and squeezed every drop of effective juice we could out of it, but the result was the same year after year. No lasting fruit and exhausted volunteers secretly wishing we wouldn’t do VBS next year.

I know I’m not the only church leader that feels this way about VBS. I am, however, one of the few that will admit that I feel VBS in not the most effective means of summer outreach.

So, how about rather than curse the darkness, I light a candle and share some alternatives to VBS.

Sports Camp
Many kids play sports. Their parents are looking for camps to help their kids with skills. You likely have people in your church who could teach sport skills. So, lead a camp in soccer, baseball, basketball, cheerleading, or football. Provide snacks and water, and during breaks discuss how the gospel impacts character on and off the field. Plan for a scrimmage game at the end of the week where the parents are encouraged to come.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be team sports. You could do a chess camp, or a golf camp. How about this? Do a video game camp. Now go figure how to leverage that niche for the kingdom!

Life Skills Week
This is a great opportunity to partner with parents. Kids need to learn certain life skills. Skills such as making a meal, basic money management, how to get along with others, how to make decisions, developing healthy habits, doing laundry, wrapping a gift, treating a wound, house cleaning, mowing the yard, and taking care of pets are important for kids to learn. Parents appreciate when others come alongside them to help with these critical developmental phases in their kids’ lives. Set aside time in the summer to gather parents and kids to work on a few life skills.

Summer Mentoring
Rather than recruiting volunteers for VBS, send your people to volunteer with agencies that provide mentoring or tutoring services for kids during the summer. The Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters are all good places to start. Other communities have similar agencies and programs that provide such services for kids. Go into those places as sent people on mission, bringing the kingdom of God there.

Volunteering in this way can open up whole new areas of relationship that can be nurtured with the gospel. Go to where the kids are rather than expecting them to come to you. This alternative can continue past the summer and lead to long term missional effectiveness in a community.

MC Summer Rhythm
Your missional community has a weekly rhythm to it. Why not change that rhythm a bit for the summer? Use those warm/hot months to engage in events and activities focused on building relationships.

Our MC gathered on the front lawn of the home of a member each week for the summer. It was in a cul-de-sac, so the kids were out playing basketball, tossing frisbees, riding bikes and scooters, etc. We served ice cream treats and popsicles. It involved others in the neighborhood who came over to join in. Some of those neighbors got folded in when the MC started its regular rhythm in the fall.

You can mix it up in the summer, using your MC as the way to reach new people and build relationships. Have a monthly movie night for the kids. Do a monthly game night.

Summer of Mission
Another skill kids need to learn is how to serve others. Schedule opportunities to take kids on local “mission trips.” Clean the yard of an elderly neighbor. Grill hotdogs in the park and invite people to come over and share in the food. Do free car washes. Visit with residents of a senior living facility. Teach kids how to serve others using the things they love to do.

As you serve, you constantly remind the kids how Jesus served us in dying for us. Teach them to be generous with their time and resources, because God is so generous with us. Help them see their every act of service as a picture of God’s love for those they’re serving.

These suggestions are not fully fleshed out in how to do them. That’s for you to figure out in your own context. Be creative. Be intentional with the gospel. Living and speaking the gospel is supposed to be normal and natural in the missional lifestyle. So, just combine gospel-centered living with normal summer activities. You don’t have to feel locked in to doing VBS year after year. If you’ve uncovered the secret to doing VBS well, then keep at it. But, if you’re like so many others, don’t be afraid to try something else.

Starting a Gospel Conversation

Starting a Gospel Conversation

Talking about Jesus doesn’t have to be weird.

In fact, talking about Jesus should be as natural and normal as talking about your family or your favorite sport or hobby.

Gospel conversations don’t have to be awkward one-off encounters that much evangelism training is geared toward. And turning a normal conversation in a gospel direction does not have to stress you out.

Here are a couple things to help you begin a gospel conversation.

Be freshly overwhelmed by the gospel. Take some time to meditate on the beauty and mystery of what God has done for you through Jesus. You’re forgiven and made a new creation. You’re filled with Holy Spirit power to live this new life. You are a child of the King, part of a kingdom family, the object of God’s mercy…WOW!

When you worship around the truths of the gospel, you find you are freshly overwhelmed by it. It really is good news, and you have no trouble sharing good news with someone else you know who needs to hear it.

Ask for deeper love and compassion for people. People are always on the heart of God. Ask him to put those people around you on your heart. See them from God’s perspective. Even those who are difficult will look different to you because your heart is softened toward them because of God’s love. Your posture toward them will be more open. That helps them to be more open to you.

Ask for opportunities. Ha, here’s where we stumble. You may get your heart ready to speak the good news, but you never ask God for opportunities. Why? Because you know God will give you one. And when it comes, you freeze or fail to seize it.

But ask anyway. God has a way of surprising you with fresh opportunities to speak the gospel. It may not be the occasion you imagined. It may not even be the person you were thinking of. But once you’ve asked for the opportunity, watch for it.

Ask for awareness of God’s work. God is always working around you. Ask the Spirit to make you sensitive to his work. Much of the time, it’s the opportunity you were asking for. It may not be dramatic. In fact it may seem pretty mundane. Remember, God does some of his very best work in the ordinary and the mundane. So when you see God’s work going on, join him!

Ask Questions
Public space questions. Asking good questions is an excellent way to engage others in conversation. Public space questions would be asking things like what sort of work they do, where they live, and how long they’ve been in the area. This would be general information that you could likely discover from other sources, that’s why I refer to these as public space questions. Their answers can lead to the next level…

Personal space questions. You can ask about their family, their background, education, hometown, preferences in restaurants, movies, etc. This would be information of a more personal nature learned directly from the individual. People generally enjoy talking about themselves and things they love, so listen carefully to their answers.

Intimate space questions. This level of questions may take some time to get to. You would ask more intimate questions only after having developed a relationship with this person. They know things about you and a measure of trust and credibility has emerged. These questions may relate to personal beliefs, viewpoints and perspectives about heavier matters. An example might be, “So how did you come to believe that for yourself?”

What to listen for in their answers…

  • Overlap or common experiences: maybe you have a similar experience
  • Areas of pain: hurt, regrets, missed opportunities
  • Areas of pride: family, accomplishments, work, skills

Their answers can provide gospel pathways into their lives (means by which you can speak the gospel into their lives).

Gospel conversations can happen every day. Get your heart postured around the gospel and toward people, ask God to set up the opportunities, then take them by asking good questions. Start up a gospel conversation today!

Bible Study and the Missional Community

Bible Study and the Missional Community

A common question raised by people unfamiliar with missional community living is, So, when do you guys do Bible study?

An MC gathering may consist of a meal and conversation around the table, sharing life stories, praying for one another, a kids movie night, serving in the neighborhood, and yes, studying the Bible. 

A first-timer showing up to an MC gathering that doesn’t happen to include a Bible study may feel duped. I thought I was coming to a small group for Bible study. They assumed Bible study was going to be the focus of every gathering.

Make no mistake, the Word is central to MC life, and it permeates and guides everything the MC is does. However, an in-depth Bible study for Christians every time they gather is not what MC’s are about.

It would be helpful to define what a missional community, or MC, is for the benefit of readers not familiar with the term. An MC is a group of people who radically reorient their lives around the gospel and then live as a family sent on mission together in the everyday. It’s not your typical small group, it’s not a Bible study group, or support group. It’s gospel-centered family, in community, and on mission. And they do study the Bible.

The difference is, Bible study is not done simply for the sake of studying the Bible. It’s done with purpose. There are enough Bible studies going on to take up every evening of your week, not to mention those on Sundays. And I know people who will attend every one if possible. The result is some pretty smart Christians. That’s about it. They don’t have time to obey what they’ve been learning, because they’re attending all those Bible studies, or they see Bible study itself as the ultimate goal and measure of spiritual maturity.

The study of the Bible must always be connected to missional engagement. The Bible is a book to be lived out and obeyed. Bible study must either result in missional engagement, or it must be the result of missional engagement. Let’s unpack those ideas.

Bible study will result in missional engagement.
When we study the Bible with the intent of living out what we learn, our study will transform us. The Bible is not just for our information, it is for our transformation. Approach the study of scripture with the view that God is speaking to us and telling us what’s on his heart. Now, what are we going to do about it?

The Bible is not just for our information, it’s for our transformation

Our study should lead us to answering these questions: What is God saying, and what do we do about itIs there something we need to believe? Is there something we need to do? Is there something we need to know? Is there something we need to stop? 

Your study of the Bible should result in missional engagement.

Bible study will be the result of missional engagement
As your MC is living on mission together, sometimes questions are raised. Sometimes you’ll encounter challenges. What can we do to deal with this circumstance? How do we answer this question? Your life of missional engagement should drive you back to the Word of God to find answers, solutions, encouragement, and motivation. An MC on mission is going to run into situations and needs that require some time together in Bible study.

So, you see, the Bible is central to the life of an MC. Just because it’s not the prominent feature at every single gathering does not mean Bible study takes a backseat. If anything, it’s far more important in the MC setting than in the typical small group setting.

Adopting A Missional Posture

Adopting A Missional Posture

Posture can deal with how one holds their body when standing or sitting. Mind your posture and sit up straight!

It can also refer to the manner in which someone considers or approaches something. So, what should be our posture regarding this issue?

When it comes to applying it as an adjective to missional, it actually takes on nuances of both ideas. 

A missional posture involves physically positioning yourself and approaching life from the perspective of being on mission with God. Let me explain in the following principles of missional posturing.

Recognize and rest in the reality that God is already present and at work.
I thank Henry Blackaby for awakening me to this life-altering reality.  God is always at work around you. In the lives of people you encounter on a regular basis. In your neighborhood. In a people group you’ve been praying for. In your own home. The missional task of making disciples can at times seem daunting. No one is responding. It appears your actions of love go unnoticed.

But the truth is, God went there ahead of you and has been at work in the heart and life and experience of someone. It’s not up to you to get something started. God has already started. Your job is to keep your eyes open for what God is doing. When you see the work of God, you go join him in what he’s doing. That takes the pressure off you. Remember, God is not asking you to do something for him. He is inviting you to let him do something through you.

It’s not your mission to go barging in to make something happen for the kingdom. Go in, watch, and listen for God’s activity. Staying alert for God’s work is a missional posture.

Immerse yourself in the community where God has put you.
I believe it’s important that you connect deeply with the people in the place where you are. I’m always a bit troubled by the idea of living in one neighborhood, working in another city, worshiping in another community, and doing business and enjoying downtime in yet another one. I believe there’s something to be said for living, working, worshiping, shopping, and recreating in one community. 

If God has sent me to a location, then I believe that means he has sent me to the people who are there. It’s not always possible, but as much as possible I think it is a critical part of missional living to be fully immersed in the community where you reside. Become such a fixture in your community that you will be missed if you’re not there. Be a regular at local establishments and businesses. Mingle your life with the life of other community residents. Such immersion is necessary if we are to incarnate the gospel. People have to get to know us, and know us pretty well. And we must get to know them well. That’s where the real impact is. Immersion is a missional posture. 

Do something that keeps you in the path of people.
This principle has to do with your occupation or job. Our mission is to people, so we need to be around people. Your job may naturally keep you around people all the time, so that’s a great start. The issue then becomes doing your work with gospel intentionality. However, your job may be a night shift security guard, and you’re all alone for hours. You’ll have to get around people in other scenarios outside work.

I’m thinking of pastors in particular as I write about this principle. You seclude yourself in your study preparing sermons and Bible studies, maybe going out for some afternoon visits and the occasional meeting. But if you really took stock of how much face time you’re getting with people, especially nonbelievers, it’s pretty slim.

You can do something radical, like earn a living doing something other than vocational ministry (Bi-Vocational or Vocational Missional). Or you could do your sermon prep in public places where you are around other people. It can be the local coffee house or McDonald’s (they have free wifi). Spend more time in the community and not in the study. You are sent to people, so find ways to be among them. Staying in the path of people is posturing yourself missionally.

Where do you see God working around you? Go join him in what he’s doing. What do you need to do to more fully immerse yourself in your community? What changes can you make to get yourself in the path of people on a more regular basis? Begin to posture yourself missionally.

Missional: What It Is and What It Ain’t

Missional: What It Is and What It Ain’t

If you’ve read any of my blog, you’ve encountered the word missional.

I admit, I’ve been writing under the assumption that most of you are familiar with the term, so I’ve not invested many sentences in defining or describing it. However, this post begins with the assumption that you’ve never heard the word missional before and have no clue what it involves. 

In some circles, missional is code for unscriptural ecclesiology. Images of Rob Bell and emergent church theology flash into the minds of others. To others it’s just some new-fangled fad for hipsters who don’t like the way church is supposed to be done. But true missional is none of the above.

You can Google all sorts of definitions of missional, but the one that I’ve settled on is this: Missional is living as people who have been sent by Jesus to make disciples; it’s a reorientation of every area of life around the mission of making disciples.

You might be thinking, “Duh, I know as a believer I should be trying to make disciples. So what’s different about “being missional?”

The key distinctive in missional is in the idea of reorienting every area of your life around making disciples. That means that the mission of disciplemaking is not some add-on to everything else you’re doing. It’s not some optional extracurricular activity you schedule into your week. Missional means your life is centered around living as one who is sent by Jesus into everyday routines and rhythms to bring the good news of Jesus to bear on every relationship and circumstance. Check out this video of Paul Tripp talking about this view of mission. It can mean shifting some things around in your life so you can more intentionally be on mission, or it may just mean doing what you’re already doing, but with gospel intentionality.

Some Christians and churches think they’re being missional when they actually are not. You can’t just tack on the adjective missional to “church,” “small group,” “ministry,” or any other related word and presto!, you’re missional. If you’re doing what you’ve been doing with a tweak here and there and labeling it as missional, you’re still not missional.

A church sending a group to serve at a homeless shelter once a month is a great thing, but it’s not missional.

A small group leading a worship service in an assisted living once a quarter is lovely, but it’s not missional.

A church sending a team for a summer mission trip to Central America for ten days is awesome…but it’s still not missional.

Missional happens in the everyday, not in the every-once-in-awhile. 

Now, if that church group reorients their lives to serving the homeless as part of their normal weekly rhythms, even some of them daring to relocate closer to where the homeless are, some members providing skills training, others leading a regular worship gathering, making prayer and gospel conversations a regular occurrence with the homeless, then that would be a missional thing.

Maybe that small group could adopt some of the assisted living residents who have no local family as grandparents. They could participate in weekly activities at the facility and volunteer on a regular basis. They could build relationships with the staff, particularly the caregiving staff (aides) in the facility and bless them by praying for them and showing appreciation for their work. The small group could coordinate with the facility to plan special events through the year. All this plus do a regular worship service for the residents. This is missional.

The group that takes the occasional annual mission trip could find a local migrant population they can begin to love on. Some in the group could attempt to learn their language. Host some events like a dinner where people make their favorite dishes from their home country. Provide resources to help them find jobs, help in getting a place to live, or filling out paperwork. Those with kids could meet parents in a park and have conversation while their kids play. Sounds missional to me.

Are you getting the idea? Do you see the distinction between just doing a ministry activity and living missionally? Missional living requires a reorientation, sometimes a radical reorientation, to join God on his mission among a people to make disciples. At the very least, missional is doing what you normally do, but with gospel intentionality. It is seeing all of your life as mission. 

Another distinction that shows up in missional living is the frequency of contact and depth of relationship that occurs. It’s going from once a month, once a quarter, or once a year to practically everyday. It may not literally be every day, but it will work out to being more than once a week. Your lives and those you’re pouring into are rubbing together, being weaved together. Relationships become more like family. This happens not only with the people you’re loving and serving with the gospel, but with one another as you serve on mission together. And it’s a beautiful thing.

So, think about something you’re doing now as an act of ministry. How can you turn that from an occasional action into a missional lifestyle? What changes, if any, might you need to make in order to create margin (extra time/resources) so it can happen? How would you need to reorient your life in order to join God in his mission to that group of people, that neighborhood, that school, that population/segment of society? Now, the big question. Will you?