One of the most important current grouplife trends is the move in the direction of missional community. The Austin Stone Community Church is one of several prominent churches moving in this direction. Todd Engstrom is the Pastor of Missional Communities at Austin Stone and this is part one of a three part interview.
What is your role at Austin Stone? How long have you been on the staff? How has your role changed?
I am the pastor of missional communities (leadership development) at the Austin Stone, which means that I lead out in equipping and caring for our missional communities. I have served on our staff for 4 years now. I actually started off by launching our college ministry with a missional community driven approach, and also developed our connections ministries. I also teach in a variety of settings, including our Systematic Theology equipping class, our Nearly/Newlywed equipping class, and in our Austin Stone Institute.
My role is to shepherd the people of our church as we pursue the vision and mission of the Austin Stone. We desire to see our city (Austin, TX) and the nations changed by the gospel, and we believe missional communities to be one of the best expressions of this desire.
Specifically, I help develop strategy and implementation of missional communities, including:
- Training new leaders of missional communities in the field and the classroom
- Leading a staff team that leads and develops our missional communities
- Leading our connections team and process for assimilation into communities
- Identifying strategic areas for missional community in our city
- Collaboration with other missional thinkers, pastors, and practitioners
Austin Stone seemed to have a pretty vibrant small group ministry very early in your history. Was it always an essential part of the philosophy of ministry?
Gathering together in smaller groups has always been a part of our vision to be a new testament church existing for the supremacy of the name and purposes of Jesus Christ. A cornerstone to the new testament church for us was the priesthood and ministry of every believer, and we have always wanted to be a church that loves one another AND impacts the world around us. As we have grown up over time, our practices have started to catch up with our values and we’ve gotten a lot more clarity on what it looks like for us to live out this vision well.
What were the primary ministry goals of small group ministry in the early days? Were you meeting those goals?
At the end of the day, the goal of our community groups functionally were accurate knowledge of the bible and community by itself. Over time we realized that neither we truly happening because accurate knowledge wasn’t producing obedience and community wasn’t impacting the city. We definitely had people that loved and served one another, but the city of Austin wasn’t changing because of our groups.
What prompted you to begin moving toward missional communities?
Several different things over time led us to consider missional communities. From the outset, we had a desire to be a church that led people to Jesus and changed our city, and we began to analyze some of our strategy and structure in light of that desire.
In 2006, our lead team was reading through Transformation by Bob Roberts, and the book posed the question “What if the church was the missionary?” and that’s when some light bulbs started going off. As we processed that question, we realized that when we aimed at community, we got neither community nor mission. But when we aimed at mission, community almost always resulted.
When we started surveying church planting movements around the world, there were some very clear patterns that emerged, and we realized that very few of them were characteristic of our communities. Finally, we began to see mission as central to the new testament church as we studied Acts together, and in many ways mission was the organizing principle of every facet of that church. We just couldn’t keep doing church the way we have been doing it after we considered all these things.
The Verge Network
The Austin Stone launched the Verge Network to feature resources from and for the missional community world. They’d love to see any and all of you join them for the Verge Conference in 2012 in Austin, TX!
Part two of my interview with Todd Engstrom continues with more on The Austin Stone’s missional move right here.