Why Care Groups? Missional Living
This post brings us to the last on God’s new family and care groups. We began by looking at the sole basis of our fellowship, unity in Christ, and then turned to taking advantage of every means of grace afforded us to foster gospel-centered community that makes Christ supreme in every area of life. In particular, we looked at how small groups—what we call “care groups”—contribute to such biblical community, especially when we, as individual Christians, devote ourselves to biblical truth, motivate each other with gospel-centered counsel, and live together in authentic community.
But lest our care group structure become an end in itself, and thereby become a heretical structure, we need to turn our attention to one further component of gospel-centered community, namely, missional living.
“Missional?” you may ask, “What do you mean by missional?” Some may ask because they’ve never heard of the term. Others may ask because they’ve seen the term associated before with more liberal movements that blunt the sharp edges of the gospel and soften the antithesis the church should bring to the world. However, when I make the word “mission” an adjective and call us to “missional living,” all I mean to stress is that the church is a community of people characterized by God’s mission to save the world. Whether we give ourselves over to local ministries or frontier missions, our lives as Jesus’ disciples should demonstrate on all fronts a thoroughgoing commitment to the onward march of the gospel (Matt 28:18-20; Luke 24:47-48; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2:47; 28:28; Rom 1:14; 10:14-15; 15:8-21; 1 Cor 9:19-23; 10:31-11:1; Eph 6:15; Col 1:23).
Being Missional Together
Care group provides a great context for both partnership and accountability in the advance of the gospel wherever we live, work, and play.
Partnership in the Gospel’s Advance
Partnership in mission plays out in numerous ways in the New Testament. Saints encourage one another in the work of the gospel (Acts 14:22; 1 Cor 15:58; 1 Thess 5:14). Some equip others just entering the work, that they, in turn, might make disciple-making disciples (Rom 15:14; 2 Tim 2:2; Tit 2:2-5; cf. Matt 28:19; Heb 2:3). We see them sharing the faith together with great frequency and boldness (Acts 5:29; 13:2, 46; 15:39-40; Phil 1:14). We always see them praying for one another, knowing they can do nothing in their own power and that no doors will open for the word to advance apart from God’s initiative (Acts 2:42; Eph 6:19; Col 4:3; cf. Luke 10:2). Along the way, everybody plays their own unique role as the Lord distributes various gifts to build up the church, not merely for the sake of maintaining the institution but for the sake of the obedience of faith among all nations (Rom 1:5; 12:3-21; 16:26; 1 Cor 12:1-13:12). Then, as a result, we see the people reporting and rejoicing together over all the Lord graciously achieves through them (Acts 14:27; 15:3-4; 21:19).
It’s not hard to see how such partnership might play out in care group. Group members can be intentional about encouraging one another in the Lord’s work (cf. Acts 14:22). Those who have experience making disciples can train others in evangelism and discipleship (cf. Rom 15:14; 2 Tim 2:2). Group members can make efforts to engage their community together, such as meeting together at local parks and inviting neighbors to front-yard grillouts. A care group may even strategically target a neighborhood for outreach. Prayer for lost coworkers and friends could become part of weekly meetings, and further requests made known through available tools like email, text, or the City (cf. Rom 10:1). Care groups can also listen for specific needs of any neighbors living in closest proximity to them, and then seek to do them good (cf. Gal 6:10; 1 Thess 5:15).
The goal is to enter people’s lives, bear witness to the love of Jesus, give them a tangible expression of his love in the church, while asking God to make disciples.
Accountability in the Gospel’s Advance
Accountability to the mission is also present in the early church. The apostles recall the teachings of Jesus on the matter, as he gives them new eyes to see the Father’s work and commissions them to bear fruit (Matt 28:18-20; John 4:34-36; 15:16; 20:21). And we also see the apostle Paul exhorting the saints to imitate his own life in the gospel’s advance (Rom 1:14; 1 Cor 4:16; 10:31-11:1; Phil 3:17; 4:9; cf. Heb 13:7). In fact, the language becomes so strong in one of Paul’s letters that for one to stop living in the way I’ve called “missional” was for one to forfeit their share in the gospel and all its blessings (1 Cor 9:16, 23; cf. Mark 8:35; John 15:1-16; Rom 1:14-15). That is to say, not to make the necessary sacrifices for the gospel’s advance is to prove that our ultimate treasure isn’t bound up with the gospel at all but with ourselves and our own worldly pursuits.
Again, care group becomes a great context for such accountability. As part of building strong relationships, we welcome admonishments that will keep us fervent in his mission. We also receive correction when our choices might stifle mission or when our attitudes, prejudices, or preferences might hinder the gospel’s advance. We press each other into lifestyles that will sacrifice whatever is necessary to build on-ramps to Jesus in our community. We challenge each other when the holiness of God or the horror of sin or the offense of the cross goes missing in our witness to others. We help the timid introvert overcome fears in speaking to coworkers about Christ, and we exhort the fearless extrovert to actually listen and love his friends instead of making them projects.
We could go on about our need for accountability. The point is clear: because of our tendency to remain indifferent rather than being intentional, because of our bent toward mere maintenance over mobilization, because of the tug of this world’s riches over those of Christ’s kingdom, because of our own blindness to seeing the fields white for harvest, we need each others’ constructive and regular accountability. Care groups should provide a context for this to happen with patience and love.
To clarify, that doesn’t mean missional living is limited to care group meetings. It’s also not restricted to something that happens only in the presence of other care group members or only at special events. Rather, missional living has more to do with who we are wherever we go. We are missional at all times just as Jesus was. As Jesus entered our world to identify with us, share the truth, and serve our eternal well-being even unto death, so we learn to identify with others, share the truth, and give our lives for their eternal good (John 17:18; 20:21; 1 Cor 9:19-23; 11:1; 1 Pet 2:20-22).
We enter people’s lives. Our depravity didn’t stop Jesus from coming to us (John 3:16). Jesus entered a broken world, in order to save and transform (John 3:17). Our mission as a church must be the same (John 20:21). We are to be characterized by entry into people’s lives. We enter the lives of our family members, friends, coworkers, fellow students, acquaintances, etc., hoping to lead them to Christ (Rom 1:14). With all measures of wisdom in place, we sit down with the poor and the prostitute and point them to living water (John 4:1-14); we reach out to the addict next door and to the homosexual cousin in hopes to see them in heaven with us (1 Cor 6:9-11); we cross the socially acceptable barriers to raise high the gospel banner that Jesus’ death forgives and unites people from all ethnicities, classes, age groups, etc. (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11).
We also build relationships with those whose lives we enter. Yes, this takes initiative and planning on our part. We will need to live more simply, plan more strategically, and sacrifice preferences, in order to invest genuinely in lost people (1 Cor 9:19-23; 10:31-11:1). I recently learned of one family who befriended a lost woman who was vegan. Each time they invited her for dinner, they prepared vegan meals for the whole family. Not only did they make time to have her over, they made the efforts not to place any unnecessary stumbling blocks in the way of bringing her to Jesus. That’s not to say we must also participate in the sinful preferences or unwise contexts of the lost people we meet (1 Cor 10:1-30). Doing so would remove the offense of the cross (Rom 9:33; Gal 5:11). But it does mean we will work to understand them.
And to understand them will mean we actually know them. Knowing them isn’t merely a matter of knowing their names, occupations, and hobbies. Knowing them also involves grasping their motivations for doing what they do, understanding their reasons for living as they do, observing the various idols they may serve, and learning some of their greatest fears. Often we try to speak into people’s lives before we’ve actually taken the time to know them. The result is that we’re not slow to speak (Jas 1:19), we apply truth without love (Eph 4:15), we don’t season our speech with salt (Col 4:6), our words fail to befit the occasion (Eph 4:29), and we dismiss walking in wisdom toward outsiders (Col 4:5). But as Jonathan Dodson puts it,
Love is inefficient. It slows down long enough to understand people and their objections to the gospel. Love recognizes people are complex, and meets them in their need: suffering, despair, indifference, cynicism, confusion. We should look to surface these objections in people’s lives.
The more we grasp not just what a person does but why they do it, the more we’ll be able to connect their broken lives to the multifaceted storyline of redemption in Scripture. And that leads us to share Christ in ways that are meaningful, to apply the gospel with specificity and compassion to the areas people are hurting or to the objections people raise or to the idols people love. Sharing will not look the same in every instance. Jesus used a different starting place with the rich young ruler than he did with the Samaritan woman. The gospel cannot be reduced to a pre-packaged plan. Rather, the gospel message intersects with our complex lives in numerous ways. It offers living water to the desperately thirsty adulterer, it provides true bread to those hungering after temporary satisfaction, it challenges the confidence of the self-righteous, it points the hopeless spouse to the faithful Husband, it leads those caught in sexual sins to God’s original created order, it points those afraid of death to the power of resurrection, it helps those sitting in darkness to Christ’s victory over Satan, it extends cleansing from guilt and offers glory-clothes to the man/woman sitting in their shame, and on and on we could go.
Finally, at all points, we look for opportunities to serve. The gospel message shouldn’t be divorced from good deeds toward the people we engage and befriend. Because we have an advocate in heaven, we should be willing advocates for those around us. Because our King owns heaven and earth and meets all our daily needs, we should show generosity to our neighbors. Because we have learned the dignity of all created in God’s image, we should seek their total well-being. So, as you learn of people’s physical needs or financial struggles or irresponsible decisions, seek ways that you might invest in them, teach them, train them, and/or connect them to others who can help in ways you are unable. And remember that your church body, and more immediately your own care group, can join you in your efforts.[i]
So what about you? Here are some discussion questions to help you think through missional living more carefully for your own life. Whatever these questions will mean for you, Jesus’ words should continue ringing in our ears and shaping our heart’s desires: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).
- Will being missional mean you open your house more regularly to serve others? Will it mean you move for the purpose of more intentional mission? Will you leverage your own hobbies and vocation—or even find it necessary to give up particular hobbies—to serve others in word and deed for the sake of the gospel?
- How will interacting with lost people be included in your monthly calendar, in your grocery store visits, in your coffee shop stops, in your interaction with the waiters and waitresses, etc.? Could you give up a couple of Friday evenings to reach others with the truth, to have them in your home, to bring them cookies with the kids?
- How will you pray for God to save others, and do so using you?
- What will it take for you and your Care Group members to strategize on reaching a particular street of a neighborhood in which you meet?
- Perhaps there are things you should give up so that you, as a friend, might reach out more regularly to those in need. How might your own vocation better serve your neighbor and bear witness to Christ’s supremacy in your life?
- If you’re a seminary student, might you consider taking fewer hours each semester in order to disciple others regularly? Or maybe you need to learn to work heartily on the school work you do have instead of procrastinating.
Resources on Missional Living
- Deyoung, Kevin and Greg Gilbert. What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.
- Keller, Timothy. Center Church: Doing Balanced Gospel-centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.
- Chester, Tim. Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.
- Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd. Ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.
- Wright, Christopher. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
[i]The aforementioned outline of enter, build, know, share, serve captures much of what missional living is about. And I give thanks to God for sending us Dusty Deevers, our former Minister of Discipleship and Outreach, to teach these things to us and model it so well for us. It continues to serve me, my family, and Redeemer Church to this day.