When I think of missional expression in our context, unlikely is the first word that comes to mind. Maryville is a small, working class, college community. It’s a town smack in the middle of the “bible belt” in extreme northwest Missouri. I’m not saying missional expression is something that is unlikely to happen, I’m saying, where we’ve seen traction and headway, is from the unlikeliest of places.
I have the privilege as part of C3 Maryville, to guide groups of people through a Forge residency program, training people what it looks like to be a missionary in our local context and helping navigate the waters of Kingdom life. I would like to share some of our story, in hopes you’ll be encouraged.
Our first training residency was limited to church leaders and their immediate families. I believed that would be the best place to start in order to see missional expressions become a reality. If anyone would get this, it would be church staff, members of the church board, and small group leaders.
I was wrong. We were bogged down. We were muddled in details and discussions, questions and concerns, issues and disagreements. It was good, ideas were shared and many explored the ideas of missional expressions for the first time. The response to actually “doing” something, was where the hangup seemed to take place.
I often wondered why Jesus chose the most unlikely of people to be in his inner circle. He surrounded himself with a less than ideal group of people with which to hand over his mission and his Kingdom. They weren’t bad people, just unlikely to be chosen by anyone else. They weren’t leaders, they weren’t influencers, they weren’t people with titles or prestige, they were just people.
But they were people, who when Jesus said, “‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” - Matthew 4:19-22
The first disciples were a group of people who “didn’t know better” when Jesus said follow me. They were people who immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. I am beginning to wonder if the most important lesson we could ever possibly learn, is following Jesus into mission, starts with a heart of obedience. Not with excuses, discussions, questions, or concerns. Obedience.
Unlikeliest of Leaders
Our second training residency is with people who are not leaders in the traditional sense of the word. Delmond, Dylan, and Alisha all work “normal” blue collar jobs, and live similar lives to the average busy families in our community. But they are listening to, responding to, and being obedient to Jesus together.
The folks in this training residency have relationships with a group of people from the Autumn House. The Autumn House is an “income-restricted” apartment complex in our town. Alisha works in nursing, and knows many of the people there well. She has made relationships with several of the residents, and her husband Delmond, their friend Dylan, and their kids have connected with the people there too.
The Spirit led these three “unlikely leaders” to do something for the residents of the Autumn House. They were presented with an opportunity to host a meal in the common area of the apartment building, so they made preparations, they made food, they did a great deal of leg work to make this meal happen. They were ready to serve.
Delmond, Dylan, and Alisha believed they were just going to provide a meal for some residents of the Autumn House. Through conversation though, they noticed that many, if not most of the residents were adopting pets from the local rescue shelter. They asked specific and strategic questions and discerned that the reason these people were adopting pets, was because they were desperately lonely. The residents had nobody that would come and share life with them. They were experiencing the broken reality of loneliness.
A group of us went to the Autumn House believing there was a group of people there who needed a meal, but what they were desperate for, what God sent us there for, was to allow the Kingdom to break through in small ways. We were there to be someone to talk to, we were sent there to be someone for these residents to share their hearts with, we were sent there to someone to be with them. To be vulnerable and honest, we walked into the Autumn House full of pride, believing we knew what we were doing. God sent us to the Autumn House for a specific reason, and because of Delmond, Dylan and Alisha’s unlikely leadership, we all immediately dropped what we were doing and followed Jesus into mission, where he was already at work.
We as a community have taken seriously Brad Brisco’s “4 D’s of Missional Engagement”, especially after the obvious wake up call that was provided through this experience. We together aim to “Discover” what God is doing in our community, look for the “thin places” where the Kingdom is waiting to burst through. We then collectively “Discern” what part God wants us to play in joining Him on His mission. We seek to understand how we are to participate, we ask God to show us, we ask the Spirit to lead us deeper into mission. We have also made the commitment to “Do”. When we sense the Spirit nudging us, we go. We don’t make excuses, we don’t ask for signs, we don’t question each other’s motives, we just go. Finally, we gather back together and we “Debrief”. We want to be sure we are doing things in the most effective way, with the most productive results. We have learned to embrace our position in the Kingdom. We are fine with knowing that when God is glorified, it’s usually through the “unlikely”.