Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Developing a Communal Rhythm of Life for Missional Communities (Mid-sized Groups) – Part 2

How do we move from a meeting oriented approach to groups to a more dynamic life engaging rhythmic approach?  In part 1, I started to answer this question by defining mid-sized groups, communal rhythm of life and missional spaces.  Today I want to make the case for why missional communities (mid-sized groups) ought to have five concrete rhythms.

While one can make the case for missional communities to have a simple rhythm of up, in and out, I would propose that we develop a communal rhythm of life around the focal concerns of the five equippers.  I propose this for a number of reasons.  First, the focal concerns of the five equippers is a more well-rounded approach, in that takes into consideration the five primary roles of Jesus as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.  Since the Christian life is about becoming more like Christ, and Paul in Ephesians 4 ties these five people-gifts to unity and maturity, this seems like a good move.

Second, often times the “in” element in up, in and out groups is focused on the Christian community instead of what is happening inside ourselves.  In other words, the “up” is great, it is toward God, the “in” is often looked at as what we do with our fellow Christians, and the “out” is what is happening in our movement toward those who consider themselves outside of the faith.  These are great movements, but don’t in a focused way address what is happening inside of us. Henri Nouwen talks about a spirituality that is inward, outward and upward journey.  For Nouwen, the inward journey (integration of psychology and spirituality) involves the path to increasing wholeness through brokenness and woundedness.  The outward journey (integration of ministry and spirituality) is unlocked and fruitful through the powerlessness and weakness.  And the upward journey (theology and spirituality) toward progressive holiness and union with God is paved with struggle and suffering.  The point being, for Nouwen, the inward dimension deals more with what is happening within us, while the outward is both ministry to the body and to those outside the body.

Third, if churches desire to move toward a five-fold approach to leadership, it is important for “budding” apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to have a space where they can develop.  When mid-sized communities have five core practices that focus on the five focal concerns of the five different equippers, it allows the missional community to be a concrete training ground for potential future equippers, as well as a place to start identifying future equippers. This allows the five-fold to be in the DNA of the core ministry we are seeking to multiply.

Fourth, if one understands the five-fold typology in three dimensions, that of calling, ministry and equipper (leader); when the missional community (mid-sized group) has five concrete practices in their communal rhythm of life, it becomes a great place for all to find their sense of calling as well as how their other ministry gifts (I Cor. 12, Rom. 12, I Pet. 4) may help them live out their calling identified in the five-fold typology.

Finally, my fifth point is that five practices is still easy for most to remember.  The reason that most telephone numbers have  7 digits and why there are 7 habits of highly effective people, and why we shouldn’t have more than 7 roles in life is because 7 is typically considered the ideal capacity of what we can remember easily.  Five fits well within this range, and there may be a reason we have five fingers on each hand and five toes on each of our feet.  Five can be remembered easily.

In my next post, we will review the five focal concerns of the five equippers, then move into a suggested start list of five core practices for missional communities (mid-sized) groups.  Until then, what are your thoughts about this?

10 Responses to Developing a Communal Rhythm of Life for Missional Communities (Mid-sized Groups) – Part 2

  1. Ty Grigg says:

    Hey JR,
    I agree that the UP-IN-OUT approach can be a little confusing and misleading. The danger is that in our classification, we miss how interrelated each dimension is to the others. So much of our engagement in the neighborhood comes in the public witness of our unity with one another and out of the outflow of our communion with God. I have found that you can’t just isolate one, without the other two coming along (kinda like the Trinity, eh?). I find that the inward journey as Nouwen describes it has its place in all three: the up, in, and out – Up movement (that is, in the context of God drawing near, silence, solitude, eucharist), the In movement (healing in the context of community, friendships, hearing the gospel proclaimed over us), and the out movement (in humility, service, vulnerability, the discovery of Lk. 10: “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”) are all places where we find healing, wholeness, and holiness.

    Look forward to your upcoming posts about core practices!

  2. JR Woodward says:


    Great point on how each interrelate in a trinitarian kind of way. Thanks for your response bro.

  3. Here are some reasons why, as a friend and as someone who thinks that there is a lot that is very helpful in what you write, I disagree:

    Firstly, Up-In-Out is shorthand for the Shema, for what Jesus says sums up the Law and the Prophets. Yes, it can be done badly, but it sums up all that we are called to attend to. The different APEST types can help us attend to Up, In and Out in a more rounded way; but that is different from attending to five different things.

    Secondly, Ephesians 4 isn’t talking about leaders: it is talking about everybody (“to each one…”). It is as everybody plays their part that the body as a whole is equipped. I think this differs from your “equippers” dimension. In fact, I think you run into trouble when you try to make Ephesians 4 about leaders…Yes, we need environments for people to discover and grow into their calling, but I’m not convinced by your model, or by why Up, In, Out is an inadequate framework.

    Thirdly, the outworking of what you suggest is to build leadership teams that reflect the five types, with responsibility for each of the five activities. My problem with that as a model is that I don’t see it anywhere in Scripture. I don’t see it in the make up of any teams in Scripture. I don’t see it in the structure of the oikos or the ekklesia. I see, e.g. the head of an oikos, who may be A, P, E, S, or T. I also see examples of only one type, e.g. the schools of prophets. I see relational models, not an APEST model. And my concern is that in seeking to remind people of something very important that has been overlooked for a long time, that we are in danger of placing our own models onto Ephesians 4, models that don’t fit and for which those verses cannot take the weight (were never intended to). I say this as someone who is a friend, and I hope that this will be taken as the wounds of a friend. There is so much in what you write that I appreciate – in particular, what you write about how we are called to shape the wider culture to which we have been sent – but I don’t think you (or any of us) have “arrived” yet and I’d urge you not to get too concrete or too dogmatic…lest we fall into the very same trap we are wanting to point out.

    Keep exploring. Don’t settle. In fact, let others ‘settle’ what you open up…


  4. JR Woodward says:


    Hey bro. So good to hear from you. I’m thankful for you dropping by and sharing some thoughts with me and the readers of this blog, because you are a man with much wisdom.

    In response to your thoughts here, let me first say that I always like to distinguish between commands, convictions and preferences. When we talk about how to structure a missional community, I don’t think that we are in the commands territory, but rather in the preference category which ought to be shaped by our convictions. So if that is not clear by what I have written, I would like to make that clear now.

    Second, I am extremely glad that Jesus summed up the law and the prophets in the Shema, and believe that Jesus was answering a question in his day whether our lives should just be about loving the one true God or just be about loving people as we love ourselves. He obviously spoke into the debate of his day to say that these commandments ought to be held together. And has John tells us, if we don’t love those whom we see, how can we say we love the one we don’t see. Jesus was helping them to have a wider focus, seeing how these two commandments are important to hold together. I would encourage that we keep this central. What I am suggesting in many ways is that the five focal concerns of the equippers, and practices we can engage in related to these focal concerns, help us flesh that out the Shema even more concretely.

    When I think of missional communities, the core community that we are seeking to multiply, I think there is quite a bit of freedom in how we can approach developing a communal rhythm of life. One of my friends, David Fitch has seven practices that he encourages, through his study of the gospels. Other friends of mine have developed different core practices than Fitch, which are also drawn from the gospels. Yet others look to Acts 2 to find their primary practices. One of Frosty’s groups uses the acronym BELLS as their core practices. All this to say, I think we have great freedom here in discerning what our core practices in the missional communities could be.

    I’ve stated a number of reasons why I prefer five core practices, but I would add that these five practices flowing from the focal concern of each of the equippers do not soley rest on the Ephesians 4 passage, but rather in the broader understanding of the life of Jesus himself, as the archtypical apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. Having five core practices which can shape the whole community to better follow Jesus as apostle, prophet … in my opinion is a rich way to concretely love God and others.

    It is also a great way to help “everybody” discern their sense of calling. While my book has an equipper (leader) focus, because the focus on the book was on culture and the kinds of leaders we need to create a wholistic culture (and how even our approach to leadership is vital). I believe in importance of reading Eph. 4 in a three dimensional way, as calling, ministry and equipper (leader), in the way of Hirsch and Catchim, which is why I mention that in my book as well as in this blog post.

    I agree with Hirsch and Catchim that “Everyone is gifted and called to operate out of his or her vocational energies, but not all are leaders.” I think this actually strengthens my argument, because having these five core practices will enable people to discern their calling, whether or not God gives them “a calling within a calling” to be an equipper (leader). In addition to helping “everyone” discover their calling, if missional communities have five core practices, the missional community, it also becomes a place to discern those who may have a calling to be a prophet or evangelist or…, as I have already mentioned.

    Then as we see the Spirit at work in people, and some start to surface as “budding evangelist, pastors, apostles, teachers and prophets” we can find a way to get them in a school of prophets or school of evangelists, as a way to disciple them further. Another suggestion I make in the book.

    To bring it all together, I’m actually making a case to have a bit more freedom in our approach to missional communities, and I don’t think that my preferences which are shaped by my convictions are “the answer”, I actually like the core practices that my friend Fitch has developed, and that others have developed, and I think each of their unique approaches help us to love God and others more.

    I look forward to hearing your response. Peace.

  5. Thanks, JR. That’s a helpful response, and clarifies your post.

    I know that you have been journeying with this for a long time now, that you don’t speak lightly. I am also very aware that APEST is an ‘idea’ whose time, in God’s economy, has come – that is, that this is the time to rediscover this particular thing that had been lost. And I’m grateful for your part in that.

    One of the things I see in US culture is the coming-together of a society that has within it a lot of early-adopters – who have a tendency to run before they can walk – and the addiction the American church has with programatizing things (e.g. 30 days for, 40 days for…).

    My concern is that as the things you and I are passionate about gather pace and focus, that this simplification and programatic approach are resisted. I know that you have a more nuanced approach, but my observation is that things (in this wider conversation) are coming across as more prescriptive. Something to be aware of.


  6. I agree with Andrew, not for all the same reasons — but I think a rhythm should grow out of the nature of the body and an ontological rooting so my concern is partly Trinitarian. I also think in, out, up is a dynamic action perspective that feels very organic. I’ll give this some more thought – its a provocative propossal if nothing else!

  7. JR Woodward says:


    Thanks for your thoughts here. I would agree that having a rhythm of life that “grows out of the nature of the body and an ontological rooting” is important. Thus, if a three dimensional reading of Eph. 4 is true as Andrew has stated, and Hirsch and Catchim have written, (as well as me); then “everybody” fits into the five-fold typology, thus having core practices that flow from the focal concern of each typology is very organic. Not only that, but while some will be apostles and prophets etc., we are all called to live apostolic lives, evangelistic lives, pastoral lives, teach one another and so forth. Thus as you will see when I continue the series, having five core practices around the five help the whole body live out their calling well. I will show the relationship between practices and identity as well, as I continue the series. Peace bro.

  8. JR, I look forward to the next one. In this area of practice and heuristic devices, we need more experiments.

  9. richard says:

    An interesting post; thank you. I will need to ponder a ‘five-fold rhythm’ as a ‘threefold rhythm’ is still pretty hard to pull off! I’m just concluding a short series on the learnings from our MC around rhythms that work (and don’t), which you can find here if you are interested. http://theuntaming.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/missional-community-rhythms-ouch/

  10. JR Woodward says:


    I think that it can be done, but how people are led into this matters. I think you start with one practice until it becomes a habit. If it takes a year to get one practice down, then so be it. After the one practice becomes a habit, then the next could be put into motion. They could also be done seasonally through the Christian calendar, they don’t all have to be operating at once. You find a rule, then the “rhythm” in which you live out that rule.

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