Thursday, September 25, 2008

Missional Communities 1

I have palm tree in my front garden, I look at it every morning when I sit on my porch and have a coffee. Below the palm tree there are loads of little seedlings that are starting to grow.

I was just staring at the tree and the small plants growing around it and it made me think about the birth of small missional communities and their relationship to larger churches. I am talking specifically about small communities growing out of larger church communities.

Firstly I couldn't help but think, that no matter how hard they try the little seeds will always bear some of the DNA of the tree from which they were birthed.

I noticed that for the little trees to get established they need the shade of the big tree, it protects them. The little tree also receives the same nutrients and same water that the big tree receives.

This week it started to rain and I noticed that the little trees were not getting any bigger. Leading me to think that there has to come a time when they move away from the big tree or they die.

At no point do the little trees ever attack or disrespect the big tree and if the big tree stays where it is it will continue to grow and be fruitful. The only time the little trees ever threaten the big tree is when they grow to big and you have two trees competing for the same resources. At this time neither tree grows properly.

So the best thing to do is to move the little trees away from the big tree. Now I did this last year I took some of the seedlings and replanted them in a better place, with lots of room and space. However they died!

The reason they died is because I didn't support them, I just left them to grow on their own and they died. The big tree can survive through dry times because it's roots are deep the little plant just dies because it's roots are shallow, the big tree can survive windy times because it's trunk is thick the little tree blows over because it is not tied to a support, the big tree can survive animals climbing on it and peeing on it the small tree just folds and withers from weight and the toxins the big tree will bear fruit every year but the little tree will take many years to bear fruit.

So for me as I watch on and see the birth of new missional communities I see that they need much more support than the big trees. They need the support of the guys who planted and cultivated the big trees.

Two things need to happen, small communities need to recognise they need help from big communities and big communities need to actively support and help new communities. Independence will kill small communities. Recognition by big churches that they need to support small communities will produce multiple growth in a whole range of different places.

With healthy interplay and relationships being sustained between both communities, both will grow and be healthy.


Rupert said...

Good post Brian. There is a real danger that big (that was once beautiful) is now despised. I think you are holding onto the tensions well here.

I wonder what moving away from the bigger tree but still supoorting means? Does it mean support is needed but also not controlling?
ie. we are here to help you make it, but not tell you how to do it?

PS. loving your posts about your presence in Ibiza ... inspiring stuff! would still love you to come and preach sometime!

Brian said...

Rupert I do think it's in the moving away stage that this gets really tricky. Where i have seen it work is when a small community has been sent, almost in the old school missionary way, to be a missionary congregation or plant. It also works best when relationships are good. Enevitably there will be a tension as the small tree starts to self sustain this is when I think greater autonomy or greater effort relationally will come into play.

You do hear words like accountability getting brought into play quite a lot, unfortunately this can sound like a control word.

I think it was Michael Frost who said in his book Exiles. That most heresies and error begin in large churches and denominations that it is almost a red herring to be asking the "what if they slip into heresy?" question about smaller groups.

One of my concerns is that small communities are born out of independence, criticism and cynicism this is not a great way to begin! If they are at the root of your community they will fester and not produce a good harvest.

You then find them moving away from the larger community they were birthed out of and searching for an alternative larger grouping to validate what they are doing, making them rather nomadic in existence and a little insecure in how they operate.

Possibly this happens because they weren't properly born or sent out in the first place?

Mark G said...

So right; I think separating between support and control is the point of tension.

Going further in your illustration: The big trees will eventually die (not sure what that time frame is for palm trees?) - therefore it should be in the interest of the big tree to support the growth of the small trees in order that palm trees will continue to fill the earth. Is there anything in that? Is that why we have the letters to the churches in the New Testament, that no longer physically exist but their seeds live on?

john heasley said...

Just having these conversations going on around me at the moment, it is great, I really like the way you have put this, I think there are going to be a lot of seedlings soon.

Tanya Heasley said...

Great post Brian.

Small missional communities borne out of bigger communities will thrive if nurtured, supported and loved by the bigger guys, just like a child brought up by caring parents who when it's time to leave home will be well equipped, confident and mature enough to live independantly.

Children who were not brought up in this way will leave home without the necessary tools, knowledge and self esteem to make it on their own.

And children who were brought up by controlling or strict parents feel stunted and either leave home too early (as a way of feelig mature) or run away from home and then when they find living alone too hard they feel too embarassed to go home for help.

If church don't bring up their members like a loving, caring, and supporting parent, then they could potentialy fail the growth of small missional communities.