Why Groups Should be Meeting as Missionaries

What if the word missionary didn’t just mean people that leave everything behind to share the gospel with people in Africa, India, or somewhere else around the world? What if it also meant that you died to yourself and shared the gospel with people right where you are? What if we lived as missionaries in our neighborhoods, communities, and workplaces?

According to the New Testament, that’s exactly what we should be doing already.

Authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne point out that many of us put the emphasis on the wrong words in the Great Commission. They say the command (or the main verb) of the Commission is not “go,” but “make disciples”:

And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 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.” (Matthew 28:17-20 ESV)

Getting the command right makes a very important difference, as Marshall and Payne write in The Trellis and the Vine, because the misunderstanding,

“…can lead local churches to think that they are obeying the Great Commission if they send money (and missionaries) overseas. But the emphasis of the sentence is not on ‘going’. In fact, the participle is probably better translated ‘when you go’ or ‘as you go’. The commission is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple.”

They aren’t the first ones to suggest that “go” is better translated as “as you go.” The Christian Worldview Journal has written on the topic. And this is a more technical explanation of the Greek if you’re interested.

The command of the Great Commission, then, is to make disciples, and the context is everyday life (“as you go”).

As you go

As you go about your life, make disciples. As you go to work, make disciples. As you go to the park, make disciples.

The question isn’t what has God called us to do, but where has He called us to do it. He’s called all of His followers to make disciples as they go throughout their life. The question for you and your group is where does God want you to do that right where you are?

For followers of Jesus, this is the most important question to ask ourselves. Because if we aren’t making disciples, then we aren’t obeying His commands.

Charles Spurgeon’s famous statement on this rings truer than ever in this context:

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”

Every Christian is called to live as a missionary wherever they are. Which brings us to your group.

Meeting as missionaries with your group

Part of the normal rhythm of any community group should be to meet as missionaries in its community. That means each group should be spending strategic time at specific places in their community with the goal of sharing the gospel and making disciples.

For example, let’s say you’re in a group of young families. you probably go to the park with your kids at least a couple times a month. What if you started going to the same park at the same time with the goal of forming relationships with other families in your community?

My family has started doing this over the last year and we’ve seen a noticeable change in how we relate to our community and the people around us. We go to the same two parks usually, and while we’re there we try and talk to the other moms and dads there. Sure, some people don’t want to talk to you. But others are almost desperate for a connection and they’re tired of parenting on their own all week. We just talk to those people and get to know them. Since we started doing that, we’ve already had two other families reach out to us to get together for play dates. Our hope is that those connections turn into opportunities to share Jesus with them, and we’re ready to help them follow Jesus if that’s where it goes.

Think through what your group normally does and see if there are more strategic ways to do it. Or think about different ways to spend your time in order to live on mission. Here are 25 ways to do that (and here are 25 more).

Meeting as missionaries doesn’t mean you go someplace and just start street preaching. It means you go into a place and become part of the fabric of the community so that you can build relationships with people and show them the love of Christ in tangible ways, and then invite them into that love.

Finding the time

Meeting with your group like this is something you can do at least once a month, but doing so every other week is probably ideal because it keeps mission at the front of everyone’s mind.

Most people start groaning at the “level” of commitment at this point, but that’s because they misunderstand what it looks like to find time to live in community. They also misunderstand the importance of it. As we saw above, making disciples isn’t something that’s optional for followers of Christ. It’s the last thing the resurrected Jesus told us to do before going to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.

As always, the point is not to make things into a checklist, but to intentionally work mission into your life to make disciples and be obedient to Jesus’ call on your life. Remember, the question isn’t if we should make disciples, but where we should make them.

7 Foundations for Forming a Group

Starting a community group of any kind never follows a playbook. It’s always different, and usually doesn’t go how you thought it would. But there are some things you want to keep in mind as you go through the process of forming one. Below are 7 of those foundations for forming a community group.

1. Prayer

The first thing a group should be built on is prayer. That includes a couple specific things.

First, pray for God to send workers into your community (Matt. 9:38; Luke 10:2). It can be overwhelming to step back and think about all the lostness around you. Even if you live in a small town, the thought of it just being you or your family in the beginning is enough to take your breath away. This is why we’ve been told to pray for workers. Pray for God to send believers into your path that He wants you to lock arms with and start to build a community around. His Spirit will lead you as you go, so don’t worry if you have no idea who that will be. In fact, if things happen as He intends, there will be people that join your group that you never would have pursued aside from His leading.

Second, pray for God to send unbelievers into your group’s path. Many of us have not spent our time in church praying for opportunities to share our faith because we’re scared to death to do it. That’s okay. The first Christians, even the Apostles, gathered continually to pray for boldness in sharing Jesus to those around them. Your group should do the same. God will put people in your path for you to share your faith with, but unless we’ve prayed often about those times then there’s a tendency for us to miss them because we’re not paying attention.

2. Shared leadership

The New Testament gives us a model of what’s referred to as a “plurality of leadership.” This means no one person is charged with every facet of leadership in a local church, and the same should be true of any group. That may not be the case in the beginning since there may not always be enough mature believers to be in leadership roles, but plurality should always be the goal. That means no one person should be charged with teaching, evangelism, coordinating serving opportunities, and so on. As many people that are ready to lead, at least in some capacity, should be leading. This increases ownership of everyone in the group, and adheres to the New Testament model.

A good way to start is for leaders to identify their gifts and then look for the greatest areas of weakness. Odds are someone in the group will have complementary gifts that can strengthen the group and contribute to building up the group toward maturity in love (Eph. 4:16).

3. Get the Gospel

The temptation in any group is want to jump forward into belonging or mission, but to do so without forming a Gospel foundation will lead to a group with misguided efforts. If you don’t get the Gospel, you don’t get why you’re even forming a community. The Gospel tells us how and why to be in community. It shows us our need for Jesus and helps us understand what he’s done for us personally and corporately.

Before a group goes anywhere, it’s needs to get the Gospel. Without a Gospel foundation, a community group is no different from a club or volunteer organization. The Gospel changes everything, and it’s not worth being on mission in community without understanding that first.

4. Tell your story

The Gospel is a story about what God has done through Jesus and is doing through His Spirit. It’s a grand narrative that extends way back into history and way forward into the future. But it’s also a story that we’re invited into.

Each of us has a Gospel story to tell. If you’ve been saved by Jesus then you have a story arc that mirrors the one found in the Bible: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. We’ve all been created to be unique people with particular backgrounds (creation). Along the way though, life happens and we start to realize that everything isn’t as it should be; that might even happen through major issues or crises in our lives (fall). But then we met Jesus and he saved us from all that mess (redemption). Now we’re doing our best to figure out our place in this greater story and see how we can push back the darkness in our sphere of influence (restoration).

It’s important to take time at the formative stages of a group to hear each person’s story, with all its messiness and gloriousness. But have each person tell their story along that biblical arc of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, so that the group is focused on who the Hero of the story really is — Jesus.

5. Define the mission

This is a chicken or the egg situation, but as early as you can see if you can identify where God is sending your group on mission. He is sending you somewhere, but it might not (and probably won’t be) where you think. No group should be without a mission field though.

Think through things like who is God already placing in our paths? Where is there a need and a great opportunity to share the love of Christ in a way that opens up doors for sharing Christ? Are you called to young families who don’t know Jesus? The elementary school down the street? The women’s shelter? An orphanage?

6. Rearrange your lives

Once you’ve identified your mission field, your group needs to think through how you’ll rearrange your lives in order to serve the people you’re on mission to. That means thinking through your everyday life to identify opportunities for different people in the group to serve families or people. And don’t think in terms of a particular day or event; think broader than that. You’re wanting to think through how you can weave your lives around this mission field in order to share the love of Christ that knows no bounds with them.

It might mean you give up some nights during the week, are more open with your home, or start spending time and money in different places. Be creative. This is the work of a missionary in the context of your everyday life. And its exactly the kind of work God is calling you to.

7. Plan for multiplication

From the beginning, you should explain that your group won’t be together forever, at least not in the form it is now. That’s because Jesus saves us, then sends us. Each and every Christ follower is called out of darkness and into the light, then sent right back into the darkness so they can do the same for others. When God saved you, He had other people in mind. He loves you and wanted to save you, of course, but His plans are much bigger than simply getting you into heaven.

In order to live out those plans in your community group, it means that at some point your group needs to multiply. That simply means you need to send out a person or couple from your group to lead another community group. And that’s hard. For the next leaders, it involves dying to themselves and stepping out of their comfort zone. And for those in the group it means they experience grief and loss when their brothers and sisters go off on their own.

That language of death is appropriate. Jesus tells us in John 12:24 that, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” If we want to see the fruit of the Gospel multiplying across our town, city, and world, we have to let the seeds die. We have to die to our own interests, plans, and desires. But out of that death God brings forth a beautiful and glorious community.

Finding Time to Live in Community

As soon as you start thinking through meeting regularly with other people or families to share life with one another, meeting with a DNA group, and living on mission, all while caring for your own family, you start to get overwhelmed.

How am I going to find the time to do all of this? I can’t get everything in now! you tell yourself.

There are ways to do it all, but it means changing how you think about your schedule as it relates to church.

How to live in community with a busy schedule

When we talk about living in community or doing life with your community group, here’s what we’re talking about:

  • Meeting regularly for meals
  • Meeting for Bible study and accountability
  • Meeting as missionaries
  • Serving in your neighborhood

The problem many people make is assuming you should be pulling all this off every week, or even that there’s a set schedule in which all of this should be taking place. We can get so caught up in making events the center of our spiritual life that we miss how Jesus wants to transform all of our lives.

The goal is to stop seeing your relationship to the church based on events, and instead to start seeing it as part of your everyday life. To stop compartmentalizing your spiritual life and looking at church as just another thing on your schedule.

In order to get there, it’s helpful to think through about your schedule in terms of a monthly rhythm.

A monthly rhythm

At a minimum, here’s what I would suggest for a typical community group:

  • Meeting weekly to worship on the weekends
  • Meeting weekly for men’s and women’s Bible study and accountability (these are usually referred to as DNA, discipleship, or growth groups)
  • Meeting every other week or monthly for sharing a meal (groups with children will most likely want to do this less often, while younger people may want to meet more often)
  • Meeting as missionaries every other week somewhere in your mission field, community, or neighborhood
  • Meeting monthly to serve in your mission field, community, or neighborhood

Every group will have its own rhythms and seasons, and that’s okay. Feel free to have your group reflect that.

The real question isn’t, “What things does my group need to be doing?” but, “How can we best live out the Great Commission and the Great Commandments (love God, love each other, love the world)?”

If your group’s rhythms aren’t fostering obedience to Jesus’ commands and aren’t making room for loving one another and your neighbors, then it’s time to rethink things.