Why my first missional community was such a disaster

Two years ago I felt compelled to transform the small group Sandi and I had been leading into a missional community.  I conducted interviews with experienced missional community leaders, read the books, did my research, and was ready to shift into high gear!  We had about 15 adults in our home every Sunday night, and it was time to kick some missional butt.

The plan was to begin serving at St. Vincent Children’s Home in Lansing, Michigan.  I had already become an approved mentor and had taken our group through the initial orientation process.  It was a 30 minute drive each way, but so what?  Like Jesus, we were sent to seek and save those far from God and in need – nothing could stop us now!

Fast forward three months.  I am the only one serving at St. Vincent.  Several families have left our small group.  The leadership huddle we started was dead in the water.  And once again, Sandi had that “I told you so” look in her eyes (although she was kind enough to not actually speak the words).

I so was frustrated.  I was so disappointed in the other members of our small group who were suppose to care about orphans and widows!  And, as a leader, I felt like a complete failure.

What went wrong?  Simply put, I ignored the wisdom of dream big, start small, and go first.

In my zeal for mission I dreamed big, started big, and tried recruiting our group to all dive into the deep end of the pool on the count of three.  And, predictably, I was the only one who got wet.

Fast forward two years.  Our family is now living in Pawleys Island, South Carolina and we are moving into a new neighborhood called Hagley.  Sandi and I had been practicing the following rhythms with our family for the past ten months:

  • Tuesday dinner is our UP night.  After the meal we read a chapter of the Bible, each person has a chance to discuss the section they found most interesting, and then we pray for one another.
  • Thursday dinner is IN night.  We invite another family (or our kids invite a friend or two) into our home for a meal.  Usually these are fellow Christians who we want to get to know better and encourage.  After the meal we share our highs and lows from the past week and sometimes pray for special needs.
  • Once a month we hold a Saturday brunch, and we invite several families from the neighborhood.  This is our monthly OUT.  We simply tell people that we are the new family and we are trying to meet our neighbors.  Sandi and I invite people as we take our evening walk and say hello to everyone we pass.  We stop and talk with those who smile and say hello back – and we usually mention the date of our next brunch.

And, that’s it.  Not very sexy is it?  Pretty simple.

In just a few months we’ve had about 20 neighbors in our home.  We have prayed for people sick with cancer, grieving the death of a parent, and preparing for major surgery.  We’ve had others back into our home for a Thursday meal and shared stories about our faith journeys.  But the very first door God opened was with an older couple living behind us.  Sid had been recently diagnosed with cancer.  His faith was strong, but the chemo was taking its tool on his body.  We prayed with Sid and Mary Sue the very first time we met them, and they were in our home for brunch the following day.  Later that week as Sandi and I walked past their house we noticed something.  Their grass needed to be cut.

“Who cuts their grass?” we wondered.  So, we asked them and found out one of their children drove in from the next town over and took care of their lawn.  I immediately knew what small step God wanted us to take.  I told Sid not to worry about his lawn, and not to ask their daughter to drive over to mow it any longer.  Our family would be cutting the lawn from now on.

Our son and I have followed through on that simple promise over the past two months.  It is a very small step toward a very big dream of uniting the Christ followers in Hagley to love and support one another and become the hands and feet of Jesus to the entire community as God brings people our way.  Sid and Mary Sue are now the first ones we call when we learn of a need.  They are starting to feel like family to us, and together we are starting to feel like missionaries.

Our focus now is to live out the daily rhythms of UP-IN-OUT and to invite others to join us.  No more counting to three and hoping everyone is ready to dive in.

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