Developing a “Missional Moleskine” to Understand the Community Around Your Church

INCORPORATING “PLACES”

In my first place (my home), I have started a neighborhood through Next Door. Since doing this six weeks ago, I already know about a dozen of my neighbors’ names that I didn’t know the four years prior to living here. We are engaging online through our private/secure community and meeting in person through dinners, events, activities, etc.

In my second place (my work), I recommitted my intentionality with work at Panera Bread. No, I don’t work for Panera. I just work at Panera, about 20 hours a week. By spending this much time there, it becomes my “second place,” giving me the opportunity of getting to know almost all of their employees (I have twelve in my MM right now).  If you are a pastor and are not in your community, let me strongly encourage you to reconsider your work environment if at all possible, at least for a portion of your work week.

In my third places (community), I am mapping my rhythms of where I eat, get gas, buy groceries, go to the park, etc. For example, every Tuesday for lunch I usually eat at Chili’s with my fellow elders. I buy groceries at the same Publix weekly. I go to the same park every Thursday with my boys on my day off (sometimes more). I buy gas at the same 7-11 gas station. My son’s t-ball team plays every Tuesday and Thursday. I have mapped out 6-8 of my “third places” and try to massage that rhythm each week. I bet if you took the time to sit down and map out your life in the city, you could come up with at least five “third places” to be tapped for life on mission.

Since incorporating “places” in my missional moleskine, I am finding ways to befriend non-Christians in every arena of ordinary life. In the last six weeks, I have gone from knowing just a few non-Christians on a first-name basis to now more than 30 whom I encounter on a regular basis. As I anticipate opportunities and open doors to build on those relationships, there will be some that I can make progress.

CHARTING “PROGRESS”

Here’s the progress I’m trying to make to live as a missionary in my city:

  • Commit to being intentional, wide-eyed, and receptive to the Spirit’s sending and working.
  • Determine to dwell deep (incarnationally) in the city by redeeming ever “place” God puts you.
  • Take time to learn and write down the names of non-Christians in the missional moleskine.
  • Begin having short, friendly conversations with them, using their first name and making eye contact.
  • In those short conversations, express the desire to pray for people in your life, and since you “know” them, you want to include them in your prayers. Ask them to give you one (our a couple) specific things you can pray for them about.
  • When non-Christians know you have an interest in their lives to the extent that you are regularly conversing with them and praying for them, they will begin to share more about their lives, at which point you can begin to understand their life narrative/story. The progression moves from context (talk about external matters) to subtext (talk about internal matters).
  • Discover ways to build redemptive bridges in everyday conversation based on their narrative. In each story, there are people made in the image of God, living in a fallen world, experiencing brokenness, separation, rebellion, idolatry, and restlessness. You can prayerfully weave nuggets of the gospel in compelling, contextual, and disarming ways that open the door for longer gospel conversations.
  • If you have not already, make your life accessible to them, giving them permission to contact you (using appropriate measures). Make sure your posture is one of listening with compassion, openness with trust, and caring with sincerity.
  • Address their objections and understand their challenges to understanding and embracing the gospel. While we know that only the Spirit of God can awaken sinners to new life, we also understand that we are those “through whom they believe.” Rarely are people converted the first time they hear the gospel. As you repeatedly share the gospel with them, God does His work through the Word, creating faith and repentance in them. You need to be patient but continually press them into the call of the gospel to repent and believe.
  • Incorporate them in gospel community, inviting them to a life of learning and knowing Jesus.  This gives them an opportunity to see what gospel-centered lives look like–where love and forgiveness is experienced and where sin is repented regularly and Christ is treasured preeminently.

This progression is not necessarily linear, as if sharing the gospel or inviting them in gospel community could not come earlier. They are simply steps I try to take in building relationships with those who were at one time strangers and now friends and hopefully soon brothers and sisters in Christ. I did not include ways of blessing, serving, or practically helping others, which certainly could be added here. But one thing I want to stress is that, in the relationship of word and deed, we need boldness in gospel proclamation. Sinners are saved through the sharing of the gospel, not just showing the impact of the gospel in our lives.

WRAPPING IT UP

Like I said earlier, the missional moleskine is just a travelogue of life on mission in your city. If we understand Jesus’ words correctly as sent people in the world (John 20:21), then every one of us is on a mission trip called “life” in the city God placed us. Over time, my hope and prayer is that the missional moleskine will be filled with names of non-Christians in my city being challenged and changed by the good news of Jesus Christ. As they learn to become disciples of Jesus, the relationships established by life on mission become a great avenue for developing them as ambassadors for Christ.

With their own missional moleskine.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Timmy Brister

My name is Timmy Brister. Those who know me call me Tim. Those who know me only from the Internet call me Timmy. I am 33 years old, the husband of Dusti (for nine years) and the father of Nolan, Aiden, and one on the way. I am a pastor and elder of Grace Baptist Church, founder/director of the PLNTD Network, director of The Haiti Collective, organizer for Band of Bloggers, and creator of P2R (Partnering to Remember) and the Memory Moleskine.

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Recent Comments
I love Ed's writings and heart. I am frustrated by these articles, however. Much of the missiological basis of the Church Growth Movement are not mentioned, and the origination of the formulas are not substantiated. Also, the Movement via Wagner, started mentioning the importance of health over 3o years ago. I wish these articles were better researched and less sweeping in their generalizations. Things like E1, E2, E3 evangelism, group multiplication, relational networks, faith, health, and the care to measure the right things are largely missing here. Perhaps Ed has earned the right to generalize, but I still was disappointed. But keep researching Ed! Ed and Thom have continued on in the spirit of the movement by doing quality research, and for that I am deeply grateful.
 
— Gary Westra
 
This discussion will continue, for sure. I am tasked with the online worship ministry do our church at FBC Trussville and it is proving to be an important piece of the overall ministry. As in most things In life and technology, balance is in order. Many of our older adults prefer the "live" service online rather than a week or even day-later DVD or downloaded service. They tell me it is important for them to be a part while the service occurs. This is key because if a person simply wanted the message or music or to see the pastor because they "like" him, then it would not need to be live. There is a sense with our people that they need to experience the worship with their church family in real time. Theologically, folks will have issues. This is a disruptive technology for church. But I would hope that before we toss it all away we would approach it with wisdom and humility. Personally, I would like to see the Church grow through small, cost-effective ways like this and not just brick-and-mortar.
 
— Robby
 
It seems this was written awhile ago but I would like to respond. Mr. Surratt makes great points. Points that should be taken seriously by all churches. I just do not think these points are the main reason people are not coming back to churches. Who knows the exact reason why anyone does not come back unless they tell you, but I can say with certainty the reasons I do not return are usually the same. 1. Love, tolerance, and acceptance. (unbelievers, baby Christians) Church members seem to want their guests or potential members to behave a certain way. They want them to conform to the system that is already in place. In some ways this is understandable. In other ways, it is isolating to the guest. They want to feel loved and accepted the way they are. They want to be told everything is ok no matter their past. They want to be given time to work out their immediate more pressing issues without having to worry about what to wear and how to talk (church speak). 2. Love, tolerance, and acceptance (believers, unchurched) Many times, these people are looking for what fits their already preconceived ideas of what "good churches" are. These preconceived notions are difficult to overcome and some of them were addressed in Mr. Surratt's article. But I can tell you that a truly loving, a truly tolerant, and a truly accepting church can overcome most of these things. You may never be able to overcome a taste in music, or a theological difference, but most everything else can be healed with Love. 3. People can see the business aspect of the church. I see it almost immediately when I walk into certain churches for the first time. I think people understand that a church has many aspects of itself that are business oriented. I just believe they dont want to experience these aspects when they visit. How many churches are so focused on growth, in numbers of bodies, that they forget the growth of the heart? The American church is now fully Americanized. Its a show and a numbers game. People come to church, especially new comers, CRAVING to fill a void in their life. If you are offering the same thing they can get in the real world, how are you any different? There are plenty of other reasons people do not return and many may not be avoidable. However, the church as a whole needs to reevaluate the arena in which they are playing. The simplicity of the Gospel is good enough to fulfill the hearts of the unbelievers and restore the prodigal's to a relationship with Christ. Love thy neighbor as thyself and love thy God with all your heart.
 
— Shay Wallace
 

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