Missional Leadership

According to Alan Roxburgh, every congregation holds a missional vision (Allelon.org podcast,“Church Transformation”). Lying deep within every group of Christians is a call to relate to the broader community in redemptive ways. Two factors lie at the base of this understanding. First, God is sovereign and places his called people purposefully. Second, the Holy Spirit continues to be active in the lives of believers, even when there appears to be little life among them. The missional leader, then, “cultivate[s] an environment that releases the missional imagination of the people of God” (Missional Leader 21).

In the world of the corporate church, big personalities and programs overshadowed the organic movement of vision within the people of God (“Church Transformation”). Will Mancini says that each church has a unique role to play in the mission of God. The imposition of outside programs and borrowed strategies neglects this uniqueness (Church Unique 9). Therefore, the missional leader extracts missional qualities of a particular church rather than imposing the latest program.
One of the more helpful paradigms used by Mancini illustrates how a missional community finds its unique vision. The “Kingdom Concept” defines how the church will affect the community for the mission of God. The Kingdom Concept is found is the confluence of three elements of the church. The “local predicament” describes the location of the church and the specific issues of the surrounding community. The “collective potential” includes all resources available to the church. The “apostolic esprit” describes the ideas that energize leadership. Where these three meet, the local church finds its kingdom concept (85). The missional leader guides this discernment process.

While a primary missional leader may guide the process, in missional communities, missional leadership teams share the vision and move the vision forward. R. Paul Stevens laments in The Other Six Days that the call of God to all believers has been narrowed to such a degree in Christendom that only ecclesiastical calls are recognized (155). God calls all Christians to perform functions for the mission of God. In Christendom, unfortunately, those functions became identified with clerical offices (146). This led to a sharp distinction between laity and clergy. Missional communities lessen this distinction between laity and clergy greatly, involving a wide range of people in the leadership of the church.

True community and discipleship are key ingredients to a missional leadership team, which should embody the greatest hopes of the missional congregation (Rouse and Van Gelder, A Fielduide to the Missional Congregation 86). If the broader church is to be a sign of the coming Reign of God, then the leadership team should model this as well. Through true community and personal discipleship, missional leadership teams create a healthy climate where the Holy Spirit can lead the church (91).

The missional church’s relationship with denominational structure ebbs and flows. The primary concern of the missional movement appears to be that denominational structure would be applied to local congregations and thwart the organic movement of the Holy Spirit (Shaping of Things to Come 21). Hirsch provides a more helpful paradigm in The Forgotten Ways. He describes “networked structures” which enable and expand ministry while being agile enough to change directions quickly (196). These networked structures allow organic movement to shape direction. Cole’s image of the exoskeleton is instructive here as well (Organic Church 125).

Undergirding the entire conversation about missional leadership is an understanding that the Holy Spirit is a work within the people of God. Craig Van Gelder notes that the massive changes in societal attitude toward the church could be evidence of God’s movement (The Ministry of the Missional Church 48). Even in times of change and disruption, missional leadership trusts the movement of the Holy Spirit and asks “What is God doing?” and “What does God want to do?” (58, 60).

Franchises, Denominations, and the Missional Church

Missional church is completely tied to local context. Craig Van Gelder reports that one of that one of the phases of denominational history (1920-1970) could be called the Corporate Denomination. During this phase, the church adopted corporate structures and expectations. One of the values in corporate culture of the time was uniformity (Van Gelder 38). McDonald’s mastered the idea that a burger would taste and be presented the same in Flagstaff, Arizona and Brundidge, Alabama. Within denominationalism, a similar expectation was set. No matter where you are, the Methodist franchise will be structured in this way, will worship in this way, will do ministry in this way, will have pastors trained in this way. In modernity, this worked fairly well. We knew what to expect, and that was valued.
The disunity of postmodernity has called uniformity into question and has devalued predictability. During his political life, Tip O’Neill often said, “All politics is local.” Today, all things are local. Everything is gauged by local cultures and values. Interestingly, when O’Neill used the phrase, he was referring to a physical location. A particular geographic area has specific political needs. With the information age, physical location has been replaced by cultural, or even technological, location. Therefore, where the parish mentality previously seemed appropriate for geographic locations, the missional church appeals to the church to target specific cultures and microcultures.