Missional Communities Aren't the Point (But They Help)

Missional communities are the training wheels that teach us how to ride the bike of "oikos," a group of people functioning together with a common purpose.

It’s almost noon, and the house is saturated with the rich scent of roasted turkey, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. Every family or friend invited prepared and brought food to share with everyone else. A few people came over early to help Mom and Dad make sure the house was ready for guests.

Some of the adults and older children are finishing up a game of touch football in the backyard while a few of the younger kids play tag. Your uncle brought a friend from work, a die-hard Detroit Lions fan who is glued to the TV with a couple of other people taking in the pregame show. Several others are talking in the kitchen as they put the finishing touches on the Thanksgiving feast they will all be eating in 20 minutes or so.

After sitting down at the table with one another for a laid-back, longer-than-usual lunch filled with laughter and connection, the day will continue—together. Some will begin putting away leftovers and washing the dishes. Some will immediately settle into chairs and couches for the football game (and probably a nap). Some will go back outside to play more touch football. Some will strike up conversations with cousins they haven’t seen in a while.

Eventually, those who are hungry will get the leftovers back out for an informal supper. Some will be reading a beloved book on the couch, while others will be talking. The gathering will last well into the evening. Some will need to go home; others will spend the night. Before adjourning, they’ll make plans to do things tomorrow.

It may sound strange to compare missional communities to an extended family gathering around the Thanksgiving table. But that’s where we have to begin. Why? Because, ultimately, we believe that missional communities, while enormously valuable, are only as valuable as their ability to get us to our true destination, a reality we call oikos.

Oikos is a Greek word used in the New Testament to refer to “households,” which were essentially extended families who functioned together with a common purpose. In the early church, discipleship and mission always centered around and flourished in the oikos. This vehicle facilitated the relational dynamic that allowed the church to thrive in the midst of persecution and hardship for hundreds of years. 

Oikos still helps the church thrive today, even in places where persecution is quite severe. We are absolutely convinced that oikos is what the church needs to reclaim if it is going to become the kind of movement the church was in its earliest days.

In fact, living as oikos has been the norm for almost every culture for most of human history. It’s just how family was—not 2.4 children in a single-family home, but a wider community sharing life and work and celebration and commerce together. Only in the last hundred years or so in the West have we lost this sense of being extended families on mission.

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Mike Breen
Mike Breen is former Senior Rector at St. Thomas Sheffield, one of the largest and most progressive churches in England. Today, he lead 3DM, the global home for an organic movement of biblical discipleship and missional church that is centered in the United States.