Next, we clarify our mission. We remind one another that we are commanded by Jesus to make disciples of all people groups. So we ask: “What people and place do we believe God is collectively sending us to this year? Who do we hope to see become followers of Jesus Christ?”
Our missional community has identified the faculty and families of Grant Elementary School, as well as the neighborhoods around it. Some groups focus on a neighborhood or region. Some focus on a particular group of people with common interests, experiences, or needs. The missional community in which Greg and Mary participate has identified families transitioning out of homelessness. Some of our artists are on mission to the artistic community, which is much more nomadic in nature. We have missional communities reaching out to college campuses, others that partner with Young Life to reach high school students, and some that see the local military base as their missional focus.
Recently, some of our leaders began a group that they call Dope Church. No, they are not smoking pot together during worship gatherings! One of the leaders has worked in the prison system for some time, and he recognized that upon their release, inmates often go back to using or dealing drugs or engaging in other illegal activity—even those who have come to faith in Jesus while behind bars. So some people got together and asked God how they could be on mission to and for these men and their families. This focus led them to a particular motel, where a lot of illegal drug dealing and sex trafficking took place. They determined that God was leading them to get on mission in that place, so they asked God to open a door for the gospel. Sure enough, the manager of this motel had been hoping someone would come to help, so he opened the door wide for the group members to love, serve, and share Jesus with the people engaging in illicit activities at the motel. They eventually called this outreach Dope Church.
Whom do you believe God is sending you to? Who around you needs to know Jesus? Is there a neighborhood or network of relationships where people need to be loved like family, served as Jesus served you, and told about the good news of salvation found in Jesus’s name?
The possibilities for a missional focus are endless.
Some ask: “Why is having a missional focus so important? Isn’t all of life mission? Isn’t every one of us a missionary?”
Yes, all of life is mission and everyone is a missionary. Life is the mission trip. However, we’ve found it’s important to also identify a collective mission—a missional focus. Too often, groups primarily talk about being on mission, but then the members leave the group meeting and find themselves alone on mission. As a result, many don’t engage in mission, or if they do, they are lonely missionaries.
This was my dominant experience prior to starting Soma. Often I found myself in a weekly group meeting where each of us would share about friends who didn’t yet know or believe in Jesus. Then we’d pray for one another and our individual missions to reach our friends. The rest of the week, we were alone, trying to share Jesus with our friends.
Very few people will lead others toward faith in Jesus all by themselves. It does happen, and each of us should always be ready to share the gospel. However, the biblical narrative provides very few examples of mission done in isolation. Jesus assembled his disciples on mission in groups of two or more. Paul traveled with a team. The early church was together daily on mission.
We need one another, and we need to be together in order for saturation to be accomplished most effectively.
A missional focus also provides common experiences through which people can more effectively be trained. For instance, if we are all focusing on loving the faculty and families of Grant Elementary, our group will likely spend more time together at the school, engaging in common events and building overlapping relationships, and therefore experiencing more opportunities to be together for equipping in the everyday stuff of life.
Another strength of a common missional focus is that the people we are sent to can see what Jesus saves us into—the family of God. We are not just saved from hell. We are saved for God’s purposes now into life together on his mission. So much of our missionary work fails because people hear a message but never see its implications (reconciliation into a loving family). We say the gospel has power to change our lives and relationships, but those with whom we share have no way of knowing this if they are never brought into a community that is experiencing it. Being on mission together consistently with a common focus provides a context in which to make disciples, as well as an experience of what life with Jesus is like.
Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).