Oikos: part one

Welcome to September! We hope you enjoyed the August series of blog posts and now we’re back with a new term and a new series for the Missional Communities blog. We are going to take September to look at the topic of ‘oikos’, what it means and what it looks like in practice. If there are any topics or issues you would like to see our team write on then do let us know in the comments and we will see what we can do!

Si Ford kicks off this new series looking at what we mean by ‘Oikos’. Enjoy!

Some of the most common questions you hear people asking about MC’s are “what’s so unique about Missional Communities?” or even “why is a Missional Community different to a small group?”

If you have looked around this site much or been involved with MC’s for a while, you will know that Missional Communities are described as “extended families” on a mission together. This extended family principle is a key foundation of any MC and refers to a particular way of living that we see the early disciples experiencing in the book of Acts. The word in Acts that describes this extended family is “Oikos” – an odd sounding Greek word that really helps us to understand what the heart of a MC should be!

For example, in Acts 20.20, Paul writes “…I have preached the gospel publicly and from house to house” – in effect from household to household. This word for house/household is Oikos.

But what does it mean?

Well, to Paul’s original audience, this would have had a very clear meaning. They would have know that he was referring to the everyday “extended family unit” that everyone functioned in – a place where extended families spent time together, shared meals, took care of business and looked after each other.

20120904-173152.jpgIt would be easy to read this from a Westernised mindset and automatically think we’re just talking about the modern day nuclear family – we’re not! Most of these extended families would have involved around 15-35 people (which, funnily enough is the size we normally recommend for a MC) and would have included Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents and others. There is a particular dyanamic created in a group this size (known in sociology as the “social space” – one of 4 types of space that we all look to function in. Click here to read a blog from 3DM about this) which is very different to that of a small group.

This style of belonging would also have been very useful social structure for the disciples when they landed themselves with thousands of converts to disciple and a faith community to lead that was growing daily!

As an overview of how these things worked, here are 5 key principles involved in an Oikos that help to inform some of the underlying values of a Missional Community (an extended family on mission together), along with some quick examples and questions for you to ponder.

1. Prayer
Oikos was a place for spiritual growth and expression. As an extended family, we gather together in times of prayer and worship. This doesn’t mean replicating a Sunday service, rather learning to engage with the Lord together as a family would. This could take a variety of forms and be with or without music, using Psalms, writing words of praise or simply giving thanks round the table. Does your community come together before God?

2. Meals
How many examples are there of the disciples eating or sharing food together? Lots! Sharing meals is such a key part of building community and growing extended family relationships! In our Oikos, we do this through a combination of Sunday lunch, meals in the evening and often breakfast together! Whatever works for your “extended family”.  How often does your community share a meal together?

3. Shared Resources
An Oikos meant members of the family becoming interdependent and sharing what they had (we see the disciples spelling out this principle for us in Acts 2:42). This is often the hardest aspect of Oikos for people to grow in, as it can be the most countercultural. This could look like sharing possessions, offering regular time to help someone out, supporting someone financially, inviting someone to live with you… The list goes on! It’s about finding somewhere to start. Where could you take the next step in shared resources within your community?

4. Fun
When do you simply enjoy each other’s company? Jesus said of his disciples: “I no longer call you servants…but friends” (John15:15). Its important that those in our communities are growing deeper in friendship, as well as their personal discipleship. When are the times that you know you can just be together and have fun?

5. Mission
An Oikos had common purpose as well as relationship. Our communities need to be galvanized around a common vision and direction. The mission of the family should be know to everyone in the family. Where are we trying to make a difference? Who are we reaching out to? How are we being committed to seeing the kingdom break into a neighbourhood or network of people?

There are many aspects of Oikos that can feel unnatural or hard initially. Be encouraged – you are not alone! We all have lots of cultural obstacles to overcome in order to grow these “extended family” style relationships within our communities. This is because this so-called “social space” has largely disappeared from our culture today (how often do you see extended families gathered together?) so it won’t happen instantly. But with each of these characteristics, perhaps ask yourself where God is calling you as a community to take the next step.

To read more on Oikos, check out our series on the 3dm UK blog

Simon Ford lives in Sheffield, is part of the King’s Centre Church and works for 3dm UK. He has been part of and led various young adult and workplace-focussed missional communities over the last 9 years.