Last Sunday I preached the following at imagine/Northampton. I'm indebted to Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost for their seminal work in explaining how communitas and Kingdom mission are closely linked. Since reading their work, I've come to a clearer understanding of the critical need for both in the life and work of the church in the world.
What is Kingdom Mission?
I began by offering and explaining the following three texts which are helpful in seeing what should be our heart's desire (the Matthew text), what is our core identity as Jesus followers (the 1Peter text) and what has Jesus summoned us to do as his disciples.
3 Key Texts:
Matthew 6:9-10: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
1Pe.2:9-12: “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.”
Matthew 28:18-20: "And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
II. What is Communitas?
“…communitas describe(s) the dynamics of the Christian community inspired to overcome their instincts to huddle…and instead to form themselves around a common mission that calls them into a dangerous journey to unknown places—a mission that calls the church to shake off its collective securities and to plunge into the world of action where its members will experience disorientation and marginalization, but also where they encounter God and one another in a new way. (Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways)
“Communitas…is a community infused with a grand sense of purpose, one that lies outside of its internal reality and constitution. It’s the kind of community that “happens” to people in actual pursuit of a common vision of what could be. It involves movement and it describes the experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group of people actually engaging in a mission outside itself.” (Frost, Exiles)
Frost and Hirsch help us see that if our community reflects a spirit of communitas because we've found a depth of love and unity around something (SomeOne) worth giving our very lives for, we are getting at the heart of how we're supposed to be as his beloved sojourners and exiles. Communitas reflects a depth of camaraderie most of us long (and were made) for, but rarely experience until we're thrown into a life-threatening ordeal requiring we stick together, and share the struggle in order to make it out alive. I'm convinced communitas is God's desired way of Christian life together. Any church that has had to go "underground" to even exist has learned this reality.
III. How Does Kingdom Mission focus Communitas?
If we are followers of Christ we’ve been, by definition, summoned to carry forward the Kingdom mission he had, but not merely as individuals. God’s mission defines us. It is our common identity. So our community becomes more than our interconnected culture of “fellowship;” we’re galvanized by a common cause and purpose which defines our communal identity. God’s love for us and our love for one another becomes a gift to the world. We want others in on it. We want to give it away. Our mission shapes and centers us in what God is already doing around us. He's at work and we follow him by connecting and serving. He only changes a heart, but we focus on making the human/humane connections with our neighbors, breaking down barriers, creating trust and being true friends.
IV. How does Communitas animate Kingdom Mission?
By jointly embracing the call to proclaim and show forth the excellencies of God, we grow a church culture that animates Kingdom mission. We live it individually, as families and as a church community in Northampton, or wherever else he calls us. We’re doing it together and telling each other stories about it. Our shared stories of the joys and challenges of doing so, shape, inspire and encourage us. As we slowly see God change hearts and free captives, we rejoice in his greatness, motivating us to continue, perhaps even go further into his Kingdom. As we build a culture where telling stories of what God has done is normative, we are bolstered by his mysterious, freeing work, and through such stories find the courage to press on toward the sometimes frightening and perhaps costly unfamiliar, but together.
Communitas generates stories and the continual telling of the stories of God intermingling with the continual telling of our stories of how we've tried to serve and follow him - the victories and the failures - animate a compelling sense that God is alive and faithful, and his Kingdom mission is a reality worth investing our entire lives in.
I want such stories told. I want to tell and hear them. I want to finish my days in a cohort of convinced Christ-following men and women, sold out to the Kingdom, sold out to the mission it awakens, and sold out to communitas which provides a fraternity and camaraderie strong enough to weather all we'll encounter including the temptation to rest on our laurels if God grants blessing beyond what we could have imagined.