The 5-Dysfunctions of Missional Community

This weekend I was thinking about why missional community life often feels broken. More specifically, why do people resist or fight against the call to be missional in community? As I’ve thought about my own experience and gathering from some of what I’ve learned as part of the GCM Collective, I thought of the idea of The 5-Dysfunctions of Missional Community. Agree? Disagree? I would love to hear your take on what I’m saying are the 5-Dysfunctions of Missional Community.

Working theory: Calling people to be missional or in a ‘missional community’, is the absolute wrong place to start. The very name puts the emphasis on the ‘results’ or fruit of the Christian life rather than who they are in Christ. (Aside: If I were to start over, I don’t think I’d call them Missional Communities.) Because, for many, the way of life of the missonal community is so foreign from their Christian/Church experience it ends up being a new law, or way of living they try to perform in their desire to please God. The issue becomes one of needing foundational discipleship for people in order for them to move to a place where living life on mission is a joyful result of a transformed life.

What common dysfunctions cause the mission to be derailed? Here’s what I’ve been toying with called the 5-Dysfunctions of Missional Community. The pyramid on the left represents the corresponding areas of discipleship that would need focus on. The right upside down pyramid represents the ‘right-side’ errors that that need to addressed. (Another set of errors around licentiousness exist).

the 5-Dysfunctions of Missional Community

So what should we do to address these potential dysfunctions? Go after the 5 truths needed that lead to a life of fruitful mission. I’ll unpack these from the bottom, up.

Identity: At the foundation, people’s identity needs to change. First and foremost this begins at conversion, but continues where people see the idea of ‘adoption’ into the family of God as Sons is critical. Often believers struggle with one foot in the world (eg. consumers) versus finding their identity as the Kingdom of Priests. Without this identity changing, it is difficult to move upward. (Part of the reason that I wrote Going Deeper: Preaching the Gospel & Your Identity)
Gospel: After the identity change, people’s motivations come into play. If they are not adopted sons, the legalism/licentiousness errors creep in as people find motivation for acceptance on what they do (orphan mentality) rather than who they are and the grace that changes everything. If the gospel isn’t the motivation, mission will be short-lived.
Glory: Next, people have to see and behold God’s glory and fear him. This will be the beginning of wisdom and cause them to live as God commands.
Worship: Next as these come together an attitude of joyful “I get to” takes place. Rather than duty, mission becomes an act of worship because we are loved by God and love Him.
Spirit: Lastly, we see we cannot do this by our own power. It is only through prayer and seeking the Holy Spirit’s lead can we embark on mission. It is in our resting in God and His Spirit that spiritual fruit is produced.

So, right now my working theory is that we start at the bottom and work up as follows:

What foundational discipleship do you see necessary as you lead your people on mission?

  • Kyllum

    November 20, 2012, 11:37 pm

    Hey Drew great post mate and I’m going to forward on to our team as we’re on a journey of moving from consumers to missionaries. I agree about Missional Communities as a title and we’ve decided to keep ours as Life Groups, just felt like explaining what Life Groups are to a pre-Christian is a little easier than MC’s.
    The only thing I would adjust, but it’s probably semantics, is that I’d have Gospel first before Identity, just because I think the Gospel is where we get our Identity from, not just our new motivations. But I would love to see where you end up with this as I think it could be a great tool and I’m definitely going to pass this on to our guys to just get them thinking through it anyway.



    • jeff salasin

      November 21, 2012, 5:35 pm

      thanks kyllum, your point makes sense. however, i see drew’s focus as motivational – i obey, not to be loved, but because i am loved…
      seems that drew sees the gospel as the motivator rather than the law for radical obedience/loving
      gospel says “i am forgiven, non-condemnable, because my sin and consequence have fallen on jesus, and, i am fully acceptable, approved, loved, delighted in because of jesus’s righteousness and consequence have been gifted on me… maybe we can have it both ways… gospel, identity, gospel

  • admin

    November 21, 2012, 12:46 am

    Good point Kyllum. I agree that the gospel is the starting point that shapes our identity. I (poorly) meant that when I say our identity “first and foremost begins at conversion”. So, yes your clarification is helpful! My intention with gospel has more to do with the ongoing motivation we have as we walk out our new identity.


    November 21, 2012, 5:04 pm

    nice drew…. fully agree and thanks for affirmation… i was mentored by jack miller, founder of world harvest mission and pastor of new life pca in jenkintown pa… took leadership training at new life, which had sonship as the foundational component… joined world harvest 1990 to develop a sonship by phone and correspondence, mentoring in sonship and grace centered discipleship until 2000… you comments almost mirror jack’s teaching… wonderful…left whm in 2000 when i took on pastoring my boyhood liberal-light church…after five years beating back the balrogs, landed with a biblical mandate in the church…during that time the only message i know was grace and many got bitten with their new identity as sons… then stumbled upon missional discussion… still working on… the unfamiliarity and uncertainties creating an awesome pain in the butt learning time (isn’t that what a disciple is, a learner?) i have married daughter in san diego… on a visit there 2011 googled “missional”… went to kaleo on linda vista and the speaker mentions dick kaufmann and later tells me jack miller and sonship are big impacts on him… world harvest’s mantra was “sonship leading to mission”… sounds like you are expanding on that nicely… thanks

  • admin

    November 21, 2012, 6:26 pm

    Jeff, appreciate the comments. Yes, Jack and Sonship both have had a significant impact on me. I’d highly recommend WHM Sonship as part of the foundational discipleship people need to form a new identity/gospel motivation.

    One of our curiosities has been a bit of absence of missional-ness (other than implied) in the WHM space since it was initially inspired to encourage missionaries!

  • James Paul

    November 21, 2012, 7:32 pm

    Drew – Great post. Love the working theory & supporting thoughts!

    In my experience, “Covenant Relationship” (identity, adoption etc.) and “Kingdom Representation” (mission, ministry etc.) both seem to bleed into and reinforce one another. While I fully concur that identity and gospel cannot be assumed and need to be addressed up front and periodically throughout the life of a church, I’ve also been discovering that joining God as a sent representative reinforces my faith and identity in ways only obedience can.

  • admin

    November 21, 2012, 8:17 pm

    James – true. As we are sent on mission we are confronted with identity/motivation issues. It’s a continuous reinforcing circle.

    This is a if I were to start today where would I start. Or if people were resistant what needs to be discipled?

    Identity – I am a sent/missionary
    Gospel – I’m able to do this in grace.
    Glory – God’s name is worth being made famous and leads me to obey.
    Worship – His commands are not a burden, I get to for my joy.
    Spirit – the Spirit is the power that leads me.

  • Joshua Jones

    November 27, 2012, 6:05 am

    Drew, thanks so much for this post. Language to describe spiritual growth is difficult to develop. This definitely helps to do that. Also, can you clarify Religious Acceptance and clarify the difference between Identity and Gospel for me? I’ve always associated Identity and Gospel very closely. My understanding is that having identity in Christ without an understanding of the Gospel is impossible. Thanks!

  • admin

    November 27, 2012, 8:19 pm

    Joshua – I see people typically use Religious Acceptance = what you do to be accepted. Earning your way toward God. (Did I use that term?)

    Our Identity is who we are. The Gospel clarifies that, meaning many have a wrong/false identity or are by nature children of wrath (to use that term). We cannot understand our Identity as children of God unless we believe the gospel proper (which centers around the work of Jesus on the cross) but the whole gospel of God’s redemptive work from the Fall to Restoration and the grace we walk in which Jeff hits on in his comments above.

  • Bryan Axtman

    September 19, 2013, 2:27 pm

    I agree that the focus goes back onto the results which is exactly what we do when we focus on behavior modification. Mission, as fruit, should come from gospel transformation. As churches we should disciple and grow people’s knowledge of the scripture, their knowledge of self in light of scripture this should have a natural outflow into mission but should also be done so within community. Thank you for this post!