Book Review of Dodson and Watson’s “Called Together: A Guide To Forming Missional Communities”
Outgrowing The Ingrown Church
Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig
One of the most difficult things for churches to do is to stay missional when they are established or become missional when they are plateaud or declining. For years theologians and pastors have asked the question: “How can we outgrow the ingrown church?” Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson have planted thriving churches that are missional and constantly reaching out in the context of community in their respective cities: Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon. There are many ways to be missional as a church, but perhaps one of the most simple, flexible, and successful ways is via small “missional” groups. This book is written as a guide or handbook on a proven and effective way to reach out in your community without compromising the Gospel, edification, or fellowship.
The error that most churches fall into is establishing small groups that are ingrown – what I like to call “holy huddles.” These are groups that are inward (people already in the church) focused. There is nothing wrong with care groups or specialized groups for individuals that are focused on certain needs. However, churches also need to have groups that are outward focused and missional if they are going to keep the gospel alive and thriving in their communities. In this guide the author’s model and teach how this can be done in your own church context and community.
The goal of this guide is to establish and equip missional communities so that the church can be outreach oriented, focused, and intentional. The author’s define a missional community as “a group of people who are learning to follow Jesus together in a way that renews their city, town, village, hamlet, or other space. They aren’t fancy. In fact, they can be a messy community of everyday citizens who are devoted to Jesus, to one another, to their neighbors and their city.” In writing this guide the authors will help you “imagine and form a missional community that is true to your calling” of being salt and light in your community. Crucial to the success of a missional community is in its intentional application of the following: (1) sharing life together; (2) a focus on the gospel and its daily application of faith and repentance; (3) care for your city; (4) caring for your neighbors/hood; and (5) making and multiplying disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The guide is divided into three parts designed to be studied and applied by a small “missional” community group. Each week the session consists of a biblical theme with handouts composed of key themes, verses, and applications and ideas for next steps for missional endeavors in your community. The appendix contains weekly handouts; leadership role distinctions (each group is composed of a host, discussion facilitator, prayer coordinator, meal coordinator, and missional leader – the qualifications and roles for these individuals are described in detail at various points in the guide). Missional communities invite people into a community that “isn’t centered on their needs, hobbies, or passions but the gospel of Jesus and His mission (essentially the opposite of most small groups).
Part One consists of four sessions/weeks on the Gospel: (1) What is the Gospel? (2) The Gospel is Personal. (3) The Gospel is Missional. (4) Living the Gospel. Crucial to the success of a missional community is its understanding of, implementation of, and application of the gospel which they define as: “the good news that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through His own death and resurrection and is making all things new, even us.” The gospel is essentially composed of three aspects: (1) The gospel is doctrinal: it changes what we believe about ourselves and Jesus. (2) The gospel is personal: it changes who we are by transforming us into the image and likeness of Jesus; (3) The gospel is missional: it changes where and how we live for the sake of Jesus and His glorious Kingdom. The focus of these four sessions is that the gospel ceases to be something you agree with or can recite and rather becomes something you live in community with your missional community. This bucks against the individualism of western culture and is actually a return to the model that Jesus set for His own disciples – “missional community.”
In Part Two the focus of weeks five and six are on how the gospel of Jesus is at the center of community by reminding one another of the gospel. Community is based on the early church model from Acts 2:42-27. Both what makes for biblical community and what does not make for biblical community are studied and discussed with great ideas for the application and implementation of true biblical community centered in the gospel. The focus is very much on meeting needs in your neighborhood and with your neighbors as you live out the gospel in community together.
Part Three is composed of what it means to be a “missional” community and how to be missional “together” in your community. The last session (9th week) talks about the commitments that the missional community will make with one another. These commitments are based on what the missional community will do “by God’s grace.” The authors give multiple ideas for the application of what it means “specifically” and “intentionally” to live out the gospel in community. There are many examples of ways that missional communities can attempt to be outreach oriented in their respective cities.
I can’t recommend the concept of “missional communities” highly enough, and this book is a wonderful place to start to launch your own missional communities wherever you are. I hope and pray that this book will be the first of many guides in helping outgrowing the ingrown churches of America and beyond. I personally want to thank Jonathan and Brad for writing this book and hope it’s the first of many to be written as a very practical guide to help churches make and multiply disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.