Book Review: Launching Missional Communities

My real title for the review is: A roadmap for getting to the reason we all got into ministry.

Perhaps it’s hyperbole, maybe its exaggeration or overgeneralization, but the reason the majority of us go into ministry is to change the world.

Here’s my start in ministry 15 years ago: I full on expected the seas to part, the heavens to open and people to radically alter their lives in response to what I did. I wanted (and expected) nothing less. Our levels of ambition may vary, our stories may differ, but I would dare say that some version of this call narrative lies in the heart of every pastor and church leader.

Then reality hit me: Budgets, staffing, programs, different opinions, tradition, the past, the pace of the present, the press of what starts to seem like the impending doom of the future.  I found out I was weak, sinful, proud, arrogant and to boot wasn’t fully trained and/or/might not have what it takes (anyone else want a partial refund from seminary?). People started to not like my suggestions for change (and by extension me), the money didn’t come in or didn’t get approved, people left.  I did the annual pick me up at a conference, took my daily/weekly ministry vitamin through a blog or podcast, but not much changed.

I found myself stuck in the rut of ministry, not the glory of it. Cynical about not only ministry, but myself and God.

I’m not attempting to say at this point that “Wow-I-read-this-book-and-it-changed-everything-and-you-have-to-too.” I’m not giving an infomercial for the book, simply telling a bit of my story.

So at the risk of sounding like I’m gushing, am given to hyperbole,  and out of touch with how things actually work, Mike Breen and Alex Absalom have given us a roadmap for getting to where we all wanted to end up. Here’s how they say it on page 186:

As you develop increasing numbers of Missional Communities, and they begin to grow and eventually birth new groups out of themselves, you will begin to realize that you are no longer managing an organization, but you are instead facilitating a movement.

Boom. There it is.  What I signed up to do but didn’t know how to do.

Granted, this isn’t about me (it’s taken me 15 years of ministry to let that fully sink in), but there is that part of my heart that longs for the significance that comes from transcendence.  The Imago Dei means that, at bare minimum, yes?

Here’s why I find Breen and Absalom’s book compelling:

On the one hand it outlines the theory and recapitulates it in manageable way.  The Key Concepts section defines the vocabulary (Missional, Community, Sociological Spaces, Attractional & Missional, Leadership, Discipleship that Leads to Mission).  I found myself nodding my head like you do when words and strategies are given to your long held beliefs. It is theologically rich (just don’t expect Barth).

But it doesn’t stay there because this is the work of practitioners who have no interest in theory divorced from reality. I think they would say, the truth actually works.

Their years of trial and error (long before ‘Missional Community’ became the next evangelical buzzword) are laid out in the next sections detailing the steps (with latitude) needed to see Missional Communities become reality. And it’s the nitty-gritty stuff that usually trips up those of us who like to pioneer things. Like how to work with children, what to do about money, how to handle baptism, baby dedications and marriages. We’ve got the ‘why’ down pat, we lack the ‘how.’ And what we discover—and part of why ministry starts to feel like a burden–is that people start to leave us when they find out that we don’t know how. They don’t want to take a journey they know is never going to arrive at its destination.

For the blessing, empowerment and help they give to the Missional movement, this is their genius. They create a resource that allows the Pioneer and the Settler to meet—each on their own terms—and work toward the same goal rather than remaining distinct groups who internally despise each other.

I have 2 critiques (if you can call them that):

1 – The level of detail they offer.  We are in the midst of transitioning an existing church to Missional Communities and I’m a bit skeptical—at this point—to give this to the majority of my community simply because the level of detail really brings home what this shift will mean in the departure from traditional, client-based church as we know it.  Some of my leaders are ready for that, but not all.  Read it yourself first. And a good leader will measure how to lay out a path anyway.  This critique is more for me than about the book.

2 – This doesn’t give the full story. If you have no means for developing people—by that, I mean building their character, helping them define their calling and setting them free to lead—implementing this could mean trouble. It won’t be sustainable. You need a discipling culture.

Here’s what I mean: Anyone else read Dallas Willard and get to his section in The Divine Conspiracy on a ‘Curriculum for Christlikeness’ and say, “Yes! But how?”  Mike’s book (written with Steve Cockram)  Building a Discipling Culture, and the coaching they offer through 3DM are both indispensable for creating the supporting infrastructure that will allow what is written about in Launching Missional Communities to sustain itself and “stick.”

Read this book. 5 stars from me.

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