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).

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The Trunk of The Missional Family Tree

Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North AmericaIn 1998, The Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN), a group of theologians and teachers, produced Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. The goal was to spawn a “theological revolution” and fundamentally change how religious academies conceived and taught theology (Guder, Missional Church 7). Darrell Guder, the editor of Missional Church, claims that a consistent reductionism has recurred throughout Christian history that downplays the mission of God in favor of the institution of the church (The Continuing Conversion of the Church 188). The addition of “al” to “mission” was done intentionally to call into question the church’s understanding of its witness to the world. “We were obviously engaging in a polemic endeavor. We were critiquing reductions of mission to one of several clusters of activities that are proper to the church:  worship, fellowship, service….and, in some cases, mission” (“Lecture 1” 1).

The GOCN is the academic stream of the missional church movement, attempting to reshape the study of the church toward the missio Dei. More precisely, the group focuses on ecclesiology. While ecclesiology has been a focus of theologians for centuries, precise inquiry into the mission and purpose of the church has been lacking. As Guder says, “Ecclesiology neglects mission totally” (“The Promise and Threat”). Missional Church places the focus squarely on a missional ecclesiology for the Church in North America.

Over the last decade, the GOCN has produced eight books dealing with the ministry of the missional church, developed a newsletter, and launched (and relaunched) a website. The books have ranged from evaluating missional communities (Treasure in Clay Jars, Barret) to, most recently, how denominations fit into the missional church schema (The Missional Church in Context, Van Gelder). The current focus of activity for the GOCN is the development of a structured missional hermeneutic. In a recent newsletter, George Hunsberger outlines a strategy for reading Scripture through the lens of mission (“Proposals for a Missional Hermeneutic”). Through this new venture in missional hermeneutics, the GOCN continues to provide a strong trunk for the missional movement.