Friday, September 29, 2006

Missional Leadership

A missional approach to Christianity requires a new model of leadership.

Some of the models that have been effective in the past are no longer viable. The strong, “visionary” leader is more at home in the corporate world than in the missional church. The great communicator may sell lots of books and look great on TV, but he is not equipped to lead a missional movement. The effective organizer is a genius at generating activity, but he is an obstacle to organic development.

Len Hjalmarson suggests that the follow traits are what we need in leading the church forward in this time of cultural transition.

  • Instead of leading from over, we lead from among.
  • Instead of leading from certainty, we lead by exploration, cooperation and faith.
  • Instead of leading from power, we lead in emptiness depending on Jesus.
  • Instead of leading as managers, we lead as mystics and poets, “speaking poetry in a prose flattened world” and articulating a common future.
  • Instead of leading from the center, we lead from the margins.
I want to address each of these suggestions in turn.

Instead of leading from over, we lead from among.

This is what Jesus was modeling when he washed the disciples’ feet: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:13-15).

The first responsibility of a leader is to define responsibility. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.
Max De Pree
Our most consequential failures in ministry are often failures in relationships. Who we are in our relationships with people generally trumps what we do for people.
Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God
Instead of leading from certainty, we lead by exploration, cooperation and faith.

This quotation expresses the common view of leadership:
Leadership is knowing what to do next, knowing why that’s important, and knowing how to bring appropriate resources to bear on the need at hand.
Bob Biehl, Increasing Your Leadership Confidence
But that is not the kind of leadership needed in the present situation.

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.
Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus
Instead of leading from power, we lead in emptiness depending on Jesus.

The church has trained its leaders to use the tools of the world. Leaders are encouraged to seek power. Of course they will only use that power for the advancement of the Kingdom. But power is not the method of the Kingdom.

A casual observer may more easily compare much of what masquerades for Christianity with Nietzsche’s power ideal than with Jesus’ focus on vulnerability and service and Paul’s conviction that God’s power most often shows through our weakness.
Brian J. Dodd, Empowered Church Leadership

There is a world of difference between being productive and being fruitful, between striving to build Christ’s church and allowing Christ to build his church through you.
Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God
Instead of leading as managers, we lead as mystics and poets, “speaking poetry in a prose flattened world” and articulating a common future.

We’ve reduced the gospel to seven steps to a great life.

To address the issue of truth greatly reduced requires us to be poets who speak against the prose world. . . . The only proclamation that is worthy of the name preaching is not moral instruction, or problem solving, or doctrinal clarification. It is not good advice, nor is it romantic caressing, not is it a soothing good humor... It is rather the ready, steady, surprising proposal that the real world in which God invites us to live is not the one made available by the rulers of this age... This offer requires special care for words, because the baptized community awaits speech in order to be a faithful people.
Walter Brueggemann, Finally Comes the Poet
Instead of leading from the center, we lead from the margins.

The Gospel is aimed at the outcasts, those who are at the margins of society. The church is most effective when it is at the margin itself.

Mission, then, is not essentially a human activity undertaken by the church and its leaders out of obligation to the Great Commission, gratitude for what God has done for us, and the desperate plight of the world. It is God’s own mission in which we are invited to participate.
Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God
These are just some sketchy comments. I hope to address these issues more completely in the future.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


Missional Jerry said...

We are in desperate need of missional leadership.

How does one guide a church into becoming missional? Thats a question we all need to ask and seek answers for.

Pastor Rod said...


I agree. Unfortunately. there is so much pressure placed on leaders in the church to follow the safe path.

I also agree that the how question is important. But I suspect that the practical answer is not as important as the "theoretical" answer.

In other words, the actual steps are not as important as the values and attitudes we need to have as leaders. If we get that right, I think the Holy Spirit will supply the answers to the other questions as we are obedient to what he has already revealed to us.

Those of us who feel called to missional leadership must support each other, because there are many forces (within the church and in the culture) that will oppose us, not to mention the spiritual opposition.

Keep up the good work,


mark o wilson said...

I find it interesting that leaders who serve in a "high demand" level of organizational responsibility (i,e, Biehl) have a different definition of leadership than the philosophers who've not shared that experience (i.e. Nouwin)

Nouwin has a lot to say about living and spiritual health -- and the integrity issues surrounding leadership. He is one of my favorite authors.

His perspective, though, is incomplete if you want to understand how leadership really works.

To understand how to be a whole and spiritual person -- read Nouwin, Foster,Willard, and Manning.

To understand how to be a more effective leader, read Maxwell, Schaller, Hybels and Biehl.

Pastor Rod said...


While I do not have the experience of leading an organization of the scope that you have, I would take a somewhat different stance.

I agree that we can learn a lot about human nature and interpersonal dynamics from the "business world." I also agree that there are certain principles that apply across the board in dealing with people. But I think that the moment we try to run the church as if it were a business that we get ourselves into all sorts of difficulties.

For one, we turn into pragmatists. We start measuring everything by "effectiveness."

I'm not claiming that I have the answer. But I do see a real problem here that the Church in general and our denomination in particular is apparently not willing to face.

Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation. I welcome further dialogue on this issue.

God Bless you and your ministry,


mark o wilson said...

Good point Rod.

I agree with you, mostly.

I make a distinction between growing as a leader, and "running a church like a business."

We should glean from many fields, and not automatically reject Biehl because he's "business" -- nor Nouwen because he's "Catholic."

Discernment is the key here.

Leadership practices are not the "chicken and rice" -- but rather the "spice."

I agree with you in that people go off the path when they make the spice the main meal.

Phylip Morgan said...

Interesting article and comments.
I think this whole area of post-modern leadership is still in a state of flux as we seek to "define" it through approaches that work v those that don't.

Alan Nelson's book "Spirituality & Leadership" made interesting reading on this topic recently.

Shall we re-visit this article in 10 years and comment then?

Pastor Rod said...

Thanks, Phylip.

I'll have to check out that book.

It has been more than two years since the original post. While my views have adjusted somewhat. I still would agree with pretty much everything I wrote.

It would be interesting to see what we would think in ten years.

God Bless,