Microchurch Movements: The Starting Point Is Returning to Jesus

May 22, 2023

In 2020, we (KC Underground) felt a particular passion to begin equipping leadership teams in the systems and structures that have shaped our team. We had learned so much from the way Tampa Underground shared their lives and resources with us, we felt ready to extend our own story to others. This also felt important as we witnessed churches being forced to think creatively about their own forms during a global pandemic that forced us all to ask better questions.

We set out to create what we call an Immersive—a 30-hour deep dive into what informs the way we function as a network in Kansas City. We knew we wanted it to be less seminar-driven and more workshop-focused. That is, we wanted to create as much space for contextualization as possible. So, we had to ask the questions, “What do we include?” and “Where do we start?”

Where Do We Start?

Our first inclination was to start with gospel saturation—that’s when every man, woman, boy and girl has repeated and regular opportunities to hear, see, experience and respond to the gospel in their network of relationships. We started here because we wanted to course-correct from our own backgrounds that had been focused on strengthening and growing our own faith communities rather than thinking about our city first, or about the whole Church in our city thriving—not just our own faith community. We wanted to help people embrace a different paradigm that was not about church growth, but about Jesus filling everything everywhere with himself. This is grounded in Ephesians 1:22, 23: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (NIV).

We wanted to help people embrace a different paradigm that was not about church growth, but about Jesus filling everything everywhere with himself.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the desire to fill our cities with the gospel. It shapes us. But something about that starting point didn’t seem right to us. Maybe you felt that way too as you read the previous paragraph. As leaders, we can be tempted to put the work of the Lord before the Lord of the work. We find ourselves pursuing the harvest, more than we are pursuing the Lord of the Harvest. Our desire to advance mission can often be fueled by some very mixed motives in us. We needed to check those motives.

Return to Jesus

Fortunately, Jesus loves us so much, and he gently and patiently called us to repentance. You have probably had one of those moments where Jesus has said something like, “Oh, interesting, that is where you would like to start? Okay. But if you are interested in following me, I might have another way.”

We needed a moment to return to Jesus. In fact, that’s the phrase that we use now in nearly every meeting and environment we curate; we aim to first “Return to Jesus.” It has become the phrase that centers us. Before we start any training or get to work on any new project, we “Return to Jesus.”

We center that language in what Alan Hirsch described to me as a “three-word-worldview”: Jesus is Lord. It’s about a radical commitment to the lordship of Jesus in every area of life. We realized if we didn’t start here, gospel saturation and everything that came after it would be informed by our own striving and brokenness.

Jesus Is Lord

In the western context, the form and function of the church has usually come first. Jesus probably comes second, and then mission—if it comes at all—lags in third place.

If we are to have a genuine Jesus movement, however, then he must come first, and we should then seek to bend our rhythms and our ways around simply knowing and loving him. As we do this, we will learn that our mission and calling flow from that posture. Our church forms will then respond to that mission and the fruit that emerges. But they are indeed only that, just forms, structures in place that can adapt and change to hold and house the people of God in a new generation.

Our temptation will always be to lean on building the systems and structures that help make everything clean and explainable. But when we hold up Jesus, we see that he does not fit neatly into our frameworks. He is too great for that. We always hold him up first and look for what he is doing and then join him in it.

If we want to see gospel saturation happen in a city, we must recapture Jesus is Lord, radically surrender to him, and strip away all the externalities that would encumber that commitment.

If we want to see gospel saturation happen in a city, we will not first build and explain and categorize and systematize and structure our plans and ask Jesus to join us. If we want to see gospel saturation happen in a city, we must recapture Jesus is Lord, radically surrender to him, and strip away all the externalities that would encumber that commitment.

Now, when we offer an Immersive in Kansas City, we invite teams to return to a commitment of Jesus is Lord first. We slow down together. We read 2 Corinthians and ask, “What does the phrase, Jesus is Lord mean to you? Do you need to recapture it?” We try to help people write out their own commitments. In the future, when they start thinking too much about building systems and structures, or when their soul gets sideways because they’re trying to perform, or things are going their way, or life just quits working, we want them to have something to go back to and stand upon. Namely, their commitment to Jesus is Lord.

If you can center yourself on Jesus is Lord, what flows out of that is gospel saturation. It’s a natural flow. You want everyone else in every domain of society, every corner of culture to know exactly what you know: there is nothing better than Jesus.

Once, as I sat in silence pondering the questions I was posing to these teams, the Spirit helped me write these words in my own journal:

Jesus is Lord is…

      • an invitation into beholding again your first love. It is not first a command, but an invitation to see beauty. It is first a declaration to “see” that He is Lord. It is not about power structures and authority. It is not about who wins at the end of the day. It is about breathing in and breathing out new life. It is about creation. It is about flourishing.
      • about joy coming in the morning.
      • about setting free and releasing.
      • about silver linings behind clouds, chains breaking and prison walls coming down.
      • about reunions and first steps.
      • about disparate ideas being fashioned together in all their uniqueness to become a celebrated stained-glass window.
      • about running in open fields with wildflowers, and forests of tall trees of oaks and pines that shade a bed of wild mushrooms and sassafras.
      • fullness that spills over into laughter, and everyone wants to talk about it because it births creativity. It is creativity for creativity’s sake. When you taste and see, you know! You know and you want others to taste and see.

Caesar is lord is…

      • about power and might.
      • about conquering, and claiming, and oppressing, and extending a way, Caesar’s way, with no thought about anyone else…this is also my way.
      • about peace through force.
      • about disparate ideas being homogenized into goop and marketed with Caesar’s brand of good news.
      • about marching in lines and bowing down to a powerless idea that we all know is empty, but no one wants to say anything because Caesar is lord has only instilled fear and lacks any creativity.
      • about saying, “Yeah, but what about…?” or “I’m not sure if…” or “We’ve never done that…” Caesar wants to kill everything that’s not in the system.

Jesus is Lord is always an invitation into new worlds.

Jesus is Lord is an invitation into exploration.

Jesus is Lord is always first an invitation, not authoritarian demand. It’s not an invitation into smaller things, but into an expanse more vast than you can imagine.

What about you? What does that little phrase mean to you? Before you move on to the next thing in your day, what if you spent some time slowing down and reading through 2 Corinthians 4? When you’re done, ask Jesus what he’s saying to you about his lordship in your life. Write out some thoughts and share them with someone today.

In 2023, we’ve partnered with Leadership Network to reproduce our Immersive environments for leaders in the predominant model churches and for leaders who are seeking to start new microchurch networks in new contexts. You can find out about both learning communities at Microchurch Next Learning Communities.

Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson serves as one of the founders and directors of the Kansas City Underground, a mission agency and decentralized network of missionaries and microchurches in Kansas City. KCUG’s forty-year vision is to have a missionary on every street and a microchurch in every network of relationships, connecting with training Hubs throughout the city, saturating Kansas City with the beauty, justice, and Good News of Jesus. Brian and his wife Kristen live as missionaries with their five kids in their neighborhood, seeking to build an extended spiritual family there.
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