Thoughts on Verge
During the Verge conference in Austin , TX last school year, we were blessed to have a pre-meeting to the conference. During this time, many of the nation’s leaders in missional community thinking came together with local leaders that were also either highly interested in, or especially invested in the recently popular church concept.
During the meeting, each ministry was asked to draw and explain their ministry structure, as well as define their understanding of missional communities. Campus Renewal, who I work for, has undergone a number of structural incarnations while working at the University of Texas. Our definition of missional communities however, has in the last couple of years become much more precise.
1 Key Element to UT Missional Communities
As I began to share the form that most Missional Communities we work with take, I knew it was important to hammer home one unique element that they all share: Embedding. By this I mean that every Christian student that is involved in a Missional Community also must be highly committed to spending time within the *“secular” community that they are spending time in.
Students who are committed to praying for and sharing the Gospel in the university basketball team, are expected to be somehow involved with the intricacies of team. They are not simply fans or bystanders, but must train with, be in meetings with, or otherwise spend significant time within the team community. The same goes for Christian students that are reaching out to fraternities or academic societies through our missional communities…they are not outsiders to these groups, they are heavily embedded within their culture and relationships.
Missional Shifts and Failures
Often, I watch churches begin to embrace the concepts surrounding the current national missional community movement. They excitedly try to shift the entirety of their small-group programs by changing their names and telling these pre-existing groups to suddenly adopt a city or campus community to be “on mission” with.
Unfortunately these sudden shifts do nothing to bridge the gap between Christian small group members and society. A Christian student deciding to pray for and share the Gospel with the artistic community of a university by baking cookies once a week for art students, is not the same as a Christian student spending significant time with those artists, engaging in creative works with them, then spending time with them before and after they have shown their work at a local gallery. In order to do the latter, the Christian student must have some understanding of art, some artistic skills, and be able to navigate the social world of an up-and-coming artist.
The vulnerability that comes with time spent in a community in this way of immersion, leads to the prayer and evangelism that has lasting impact…much more so than a batch of cookies, no matter how lovely the tract or blessing is that comes with them.
*When I use the word “secular”, I simply mean to say “non-church affiliated”. Don’t get all upset out there.