To make disciples is to call and equip men and women to be signs and agents of God’s justice in all human affairs. - Lesslie Newbigin

Everyone wants to be on mission and few want to do it in isolation. This article will unpack several fundamental concepts about the mission we are called to share before shifting to best practices to lead your community into God’s mission in your context.

Why Divide Mission into Two Parts?

First I ought to note that I have divided a community’s mission together into two activities: caring for the poor and inviting others to follow Jesus. Another way to think about this separation is proactive and collective mission as part 1, and reactive and scattered mission as part 2. Both are fulfilling our purpose as disciples to make disciples of Jesus; however, the distinction and separation is helpful because this is how most communities in Western culture experience and share mission. We are sent to love our neighbors and seek justice and reconciliation for the marginalized, and for most people, the marginalized are not found in our everyday interaction with neighbors, at school, at work, or at the coffee shop down the street.

Our culture has established boundaries and methods to keep those who are in the fringes of our society on the fringes. Immigrants, elderly, mentally ill, prostitutes, orphans, and the poor are kept at a distance and on the outside of full participation in our cities. Meaning, the poor are kept away from us. To the extent that, if you were to engage in a life of mission to the marginalized, you would have to plan it, prepare for it, and strategically change your life to create avenues of engagement. You would have to break through social, economic, and physical geographic barriers to share life with the marginalized. On the other hand, you probably have co-workers, next-door-neighbors, and friends who are part of your life and you have the opportunity to speak the gospel to them without changing anything about your life. That is not typically the case with the marginalized. Tim Chester describes this reality well in his book Unreached:

Friendship evangelism is great, but it does not enable the gospel to travel beyond our social networks, unless there are intentional attempts to build friendships with people who are not like us. John Mark Hobbins of London City Mission says, ‘Many people live in networks which take precedence over their address, and many churches have grown because of this. But the reality for many people living in social housing or in cheaper housing is that their address is very likely to define their daily life.

Mission to the poor requires a concerted and collective effort towards unlikely friendships and distant neighbors. We need others to break out of our typical patterns that keep us from the marginalized. We need community to step into the needs, relationships, and to muster the courage to step into environments foreign to us. Working together to listen, engage, bless, serve, and share the gospel to a group of people teaches us how to listen, engage, bless, serve, and share the gospel with our neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers. Furthermore, as we serve and engage in relationship with the poor, we get to invite our neighbors as they explore what it means to follow Jesus.

This article, “Part 1″, focuses on caring for the poor and proclaiming the gospel to specific group of people as your community’s shared and proactive mission. Part 2 focuses on how your community can welcome and invite others into gospel community. What is that mission like? What is required?

Mission Requires Justice & Relationship

There will be many needs among the people you are called to love and disciple. There will be service projects, collections, and donations. Emptying your pocket book will likely be part of following Jesus into his mission. Blessings and gifts will be prevalent. However, the often forgotten gift and the hardest one to give is the gift of relationship. True care for the marginalized requires relationship with the vulnerable. It is through relationship that someone actually travels from being marginalized to being known. When someone becomes a friend and a member of a community, they are no longer being pushed to the outside of society, but are being welcomed into the center of it. Imagine the people you are on mission with  sitting at your dinner table, sharing a meal with you, and sharing stories with you. Imagine receiving new relationships from those you are sent to. The mission is not a project. The mission is people.

Mission is Hard

The most natural element of community are the things we know. We know how to do a Bible study, we know how to sing songs, we know how to pray, but stepping into mission is awkward, unknown, and hard. It is hard to die to ourselves, to come to the place where we relinquish the idea that stuff, activities, jobs, or anything else is as valuable as Jesus and his kingdom. It is also hard to love people. You will be taken advantage of, you will probably show up to serve on a Saturday morning and your liaison will have forgotten. Logistically, socially, emotionally, and physically it is just hard. Except the Spirit gives us power to do it. Power to receive grace from God. Strength to grow in love. Greater understanding of the goodness of the gospel.

Mission is Worth It 

The mission is worth it because you will find Jesus in it. Your idols and selfishness will get exposed like never before. That is a good thing! The gospel grows deeper and wider as we engage the mission. We see our need for Jesus and his sufficiency as we press on to follow him. In short, when you follow Jesus you get to be with Jesus. Nothing is better. He is there when we feed the hungry, welcome the hurting, visit the outcast, relate to the forgotten. We understand Jesus when we are on mission. In fact, it is hard to understand him any other way.

Mission is a Process

You won’t be able to give a rousing speech at your next community meeting and the next day be on shared mission. Once you decide you want to make disciples, a process begins. You might start by building a garden at the school, which leads to tutoring after school, which leads to coaching sports teams, or aiding in some other way, which may lead to sharing a meal with a family from the school, which will lead to deeper relationship. Just like any relationship is a process, so is disciple making. It takes time, it takes small, yet faithful, steps of obedience. You must ask yourself and those you are leading: “Are you committed to the process?”

How does a community start sharing mission?

Begin with Who: 

You will focus on a group of people you will all be able to serve and share life with. People you can care for, love, and share the truth about Jesus with as a community. When you have a specific group the rest of the questions around mission practically answer themselves. The biggest question is: what people are you going to intentionally make disciples of?

Who are the vulnerable in our neighborhood, city, or town? Definition of marginalized: Someone who doesn’t get to experience the full-life of the city. They are overlooked, unheard, isolated, or pushed to the fringes of your city’s culture.

Most pockets of the world have these vulnerable people:

  • Neglected children, orphans, DHS systems and schools are a mess almost everywhere. Filled with teachers and case-workers who are underpaid and overworked.
  • Elderly, widows, shut-ins, Alzheimer patients, and retirement homes where few visit.
  • Immigrants or Refugee
  • Single Parents
  • Mentally ill
  • Prostitutes, Sexually enslaved.
  • Teenage Runaways
  • House-less
  • Drug addicts
  • The question to bring focus to your community’s mission is: who. Who are the people we have connection with already? Who are we burdened for? Who are the people in your life that are hurting?

Grow in Love for The People—Become Ready for Mission.

  • This is perhaps the most forgotten element of the process of engaging people on mission. You have to grow in genuine love for them as people. They are not a project or a target, they are people. How can you foster a heart for the people you are sent to? Pray, be around them, and learn their story by listening to them.
  • Once your community has focused on a group of people you feel responsible to love:
  • What does good news look like to them? In other words, what do they hope for? What is the ‘problem’ in their eyes? What is the solution?
  • What are the barriers to the gospel? Why do they object to Jesus?
  • What are their stories?
  • What are their names?
  • What are the avenues to engage and build relationship?
  • What can your group do today to grow in relationship and help? (trust God for the next step).

Understand What You Have To Offer

What are the gifts, resources, and passions of the community? Who is in your group? What has God given you as a people—not simply possessions, but talents, abilities, hobbies, etc? What is it that you have to offer these people as a community? Likewise, how will your community begin to rely on and expect relationship from those you are sent to?

As you create this list, you will quickly realize you do not have enough. Your community doesn’t have what it takes, you don’t have the resources to solve homelessness in your city. This is the right place to be. It will push you to prayer and push you to faithfulness in taking steps with humility. Don’t be proud of what you have to give, come to mission dependent. Also, don’t come defeated, come with the confidence that Jesus is enough.

Lead Into the What

  • Commit to a new pattern of life. You are going to have to change the way you live to engage in relational ministry with the marginalized. Things will change.
  • Commit to a plan of patiently speaking and demonstrating the gospel. Planning requires putting things on the calendar, and in the budget. Make a plan together that allows you to do be on mission together. If you don’t plan it, it probably won’t happen.
  • Once you’ve planned it, show up. Which takes resolve. The planning part of our brain is rational and taps into the deep longings of our souls. The in the moment decision making part of our brain taps into our primal desires for comfort and pleasure. Making a plan is huge, but overcoming the urge to call it off or call in sick is also huge.
  • Once you show up, evaluate how it went as a community. Ask questions like, how did it feel? What fears did doing this bring up? Who wanted to show up? What was it that got exposed in your own heart as you served. Also evaluate the mission: what do we need to grow in to be better missionaries? How do our hearts need to change? What did we learn about their true needs? What was encouraging? Do we need to change our plan and do we need to change our prayers? Finally, what did we learn about Jesus?
Brad A. Watson serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities in Portland, Oregon where he develops, coaches, and trains leaders to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is passionate about helping people live lives that reflect their belief and hope in Jesus. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their three kids.