As leaders we have to ask ourselves, “What’s the best way to move and catalyze our people forward to be full participants in the great commission (being disciples and making disciples)?” The answer to this complicated question goes beyond the realm of missiology and into the realm of leadership and influence. We’re not just talking missiology. We’re talking about leading and shepherding God’s people…taking them from where they are now to where they need to be (Eph. 4:14-16).
I believe that there are two primary ways to organize people into mission. Affinity-based mission and proximity/geography-based mission. Affinity-based mission has to do with engaging pockets of people with the gospel through common interests and/or hobbies. Proximity-based mission has to do with engaging pockets of people with the gospel within a specified geographical area.
Now let me say right off of the bat, I applaud any and all mission. I think both are excellent and valid strategies. In fact, I don’t think it has to be an either or. I think affinity-based mission should happen within the context of proximity-based mission. But perhaps I’ll blog about that some other time.
The dilemma is choosing a strategy that will ultimately help the people that God has entrusted you with to fully embrace their missionary calling and identity. So what’s the best road to get our people from where they are now…to where they need to be? Affinity or proximity-based mission?
When it comes to collectively shifting your church from a traditional church model to a missional church movement I believe that proximity-based mission is the best way to get things started and here’s a few reasons why:
1. Affinity based mission tends to exclude the family. If I enjoy running, I can find a local group of runners in my community and reorient my life to reach them with the gospel…but it tends to restrict my family from joining in. Also, how many married men with kids have the time to join an affinity-based group and spend the necessary time away from work, family, kids, marriage, etc. in order to reach that affinity-based group? Proximity-based mission, on the other hand, is family-centric. Its very structure encourages whole family participation in mission. This creates an incredible environment for family discipleship that strengthens the family and the marriage relationship, which further strengthens our gospel witness (Ephesians 5:31-33). Instead of the moms ministering to other moms in the community and dads ministering to other men in the community (which they can still do), proximity-based mission allows for moms and dads to invest in the same mission field together.
2. Affinity based mission can be difficult to start, sustain and reproduce. It’s not impossible. But I believe proximity based mission is far easier to start, sustain and reproduce for those transitioning out of traditional church thinking. Too many churches operate under the misplaced assumption that our people know where to do mission and how to do mission. Proximity based mission presents us as leaders with an incredible opportunity to paint a big red target on a designated area so that we can say to our people…”right there…that’s your mission field…now go reorient your life to reach that area with the gospel of the Kingdom.” In other words, it makes mission tangible.
3. Team of missionaries or a missionary team? Affinity based groups fall into the first category = team of missionaries. These groups come together for the purpose of community and end up doing mission in isolation (I join a softball team, another person hangs out with a group of old friends, etc.) This is not bad per se, but what ultimately shapes and forms the group is community and not mission…and the tendency for these kind of groups is to default into a once a month event-driven strategy. This is not the most effective way to reproduce and multiply disciples of Christ (been there done that!). Proximity based groups fall into the second category = a missionary team. They come together for mission and build a sense of community based on their unifying mission. Community grows out of mission, not the other way around. AND, they end up having a group of people all collectively pursuing and investing in the same mission field…which actually tends to build and infuse a deeper sense and experience of biblical community….with some healthy accountability thrown in as well.
So what about you? What are you learning on your journey towards Christlikeness?