I’d like to flesh out this dream we’re pursuing in Storyline to become a “red hot center of mission.”
The inspiration for the metaphor comes from a series of posts written by Mike Breen on missional communities, where he explores the red hot center of the early church, the three elements of a red hot center, and what happens when “torches” of red hot centers gather together and make a “bonfire”.
This is a powerful metaphor and a great vision for the church in North America, especially in a time when the fire of mission sometimes seems to have burned down to embers.
The three elements of a red hot center come straight from the defining relationships in Jesus’ life – 1) God (UP), 2) the community of disciples (IN), and 3) the disconnected and downtrodden (OUT).
UP: When relationship with God is vibrant and growing in a community of people, it results in passionate spirituality. Prayer is frequent and dynamic. The presence of God is palpable in times of worship. Deep listening and hearing from God happens regularly.
IN: When disciples are being made and function as an extended family on mission, the result is radical community. The community eats together frequently. They share resources with each other. They join each other in the mundane things of life – sporting events, grocery shopping, cooking, yard work.
OUT: When extended family on mission center their lives around serving the downtrodden and loving the disconnected, what emerges is missional zeal. The family of disciples shows gracious hospitality to those who are searching for God and makes outsiders feel like part of the family. The community responds to needs that crop up from their friends and neighbors and serve them in self-giving love. The hungry are fed. The needy find provision. Searchers find the Lord.
When God is at work in these three rhythms of life, the Holy Spirit blows his wind across the embers and a fire begins to blaze! Spiritual power and strength emerge. A red hot center is created. The warmth is so great that it creates a vortex of sorts for those who are “out in the cold” and need to find warmth themselves by the fire.
Practically, missional communities (= extended families on mission in a particular neighborhood or relational network) are where red hot centers emerge and thrive. Part of red hot center is the relational smallness that allows everyone to get near to the warmth (in a group of 20-40 people).
Yet missional communities are like torches. They can burn bright for a time, but sometimes they need to be connected to a stronger source of fire. If they burn too long on their own, they can grow too dim and even burn out. Practically this means that a missional community, on it’s own, is not sustainable. I would venture a guess that this is the reason the “organic / simple” churches can often reproduce quickly but also dissolve more quickly; and why on the whole it is hard to sustain a movement of organic/simple churches unless they are networked together somehow as a larger, stabilizing community.
So missional communities, as torches, need to come together to connect to a larger source of fire. Together, a group of torches can make a bonfire that grows bright and blazes strong.
The bonfire is the role that a worship gathering plays – an opportunity for different families on mission to gather together and worship. To encourage each other and be encouraged, especially when their torch seems like it’s burning low. Worship gatherings are not primarily for attracting new people but rather for worshiping. If we’ve come together and worshiped God, then we’ve succeeded. As a byproduct (rather than as a primary outcome), searchers can find their way into our midst and sense the presence of God (cf. 1 Cor. 14). This is the “come and see” nature of worship gatherings – though “come and see” is a secondary impulse of the gathering behind the primary impulse of just worshiping God together.
Our vision is that God would continue to work through us to nurture and equip disciples of Jesus, some of whom will receive their own vision from God about serving and loving a particular group of people in a particular place, and inviting them into extended family relationships (= missional community). As those missional communities grow by seeing new people decide to follow Jesus themselves and then be equipped to join in the mission, these missional communities will naturally send new family groups out to new neighborhoods or relational networks to replicate the same dynamic.
Two missional communities will become three, and then four, and then six, and then eleven, and then who knows how many. Some of those missional communities will naturally group up in closer geographical proximity, forming clusters or hubs for missional communities (e.g., in Dallas, Richardson, and then perhaps in other geographical pockets of DFW).
Imagine the energy when these missional communities come together for worship and storytelling about what God is doing.
Imagine the diversity of a community coming together from so many different ‘nooks and crannies’ in the city – young and old; rich and poor; Christian and Muslim and Buddhist and Skeptic; Anglo, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, and African American.
Imagine the resources that could be generated by the generosity of disciples who are experiencing the red hot center themselves and desperately want others to enjoy it as well.
Imagine the opportunities for young church planters to come into our community, to spend time watching and following a missional community leader, and then to branch out and to start a new missional community themselves as preparation for church planting somewhere else on the globe.
Imagine the city transformation and renewal as these missional communities channel their energy into systemic development projects in their geographical locales that address challenges their own neighbors are facing.
Imagine those young church planters being sent out to various parts of the world, taking with them the torch of missional community (including some of their Storyline family!) and seeing the Holy Spirit’s wind create bonfires in cities all over the world.
This is what we mean by “red hot center of mission”.
God has given us the grace to see a few torches lighted so far. Are we willing to follow God to the bonfire?