Missional Leadership, Part 4


What this means for leaders is that time must be spent getting to know a congregation, understanding its strengths and weaknesses, determining its values and passions. It also means analyzing your cultural context. What needs are reflected in your community, who lives there, what do they think about the church, etc.? From within this “research” a natural vision for the church will become evident. This also means that for many pastors who are coming to new churches they cannot bring the vision with them; rather they learn it as they study the congregation and its context. This vision, then, will, to some degree, look distinct and unlike anyone else’s vision. It is uniquely based on what God is uniquely doing among that unique situation.

            Missional leadership, then, will place a high priority on the organic nature of the church. The church is not an organization, but an organism. Their mission, their vision, will be part of their life, not some detached construct placed on them. If it is natural to their lives the congregation will more readily embrace the vision, which is key for seeing it realized. If the congregation does not take part in the shaping and embracing of the vision then not only will it not live out that vision, but you will have something totally different than a Missional church. When the leadership is the only partaker or carrier of the church vision you simply have another traditional church model, not a Missional church. Understanding this organic nature of the church, then, will be crucial for communicating and recruiting people for the vision.

            Much has been written on organic discipleship[1] and rightfully so. Helping a congregation embrace its vision will require building real relationships between leaders and church members and communicating that vision by means of those relationships. Authors Bill Thrall, Bruce NcNicol, and Ken McElrath, without expressly applying it to the Missional church, suggest that to engage your members in being the church you must build relationships that cultivate an environment of grace. They write:

The dynamics of culture can elevate people and organizations or weigh them down. The privilege and responsibility to nurture and release individual and organizational potential rests squarely on the shoulders of leaders. Therefore, to motivate change and growth, leaders must master the dynamics of culture.[2]

They add that this environment of grace will produce Missional results (though they don’t call them that). They write:

Although too few leaders can accurately describe the principles and process for cultivating an environment of grace…the results are clear. People feel empowered. They sense that who they are is OK, even though they know greater things are expected of them. They perceive the freedom to make important contributions, even when their suggestions require significant changes or their questions test long-held assumptions. They discern a positive spirit that acts as a catalyst in their soul, giving them a sense of hope that “here is a place where I belong.” This is home.[3]

What a culture of grace and meaningful relationships do for people is make them engage in the ministry and mission of the church and make it their own. Robert Coleman rather masterfully explored this reality, even if unintentionally, when he wrote of Jesus’ method of creating disciples. His classic work The Master Plan of Evangelism explains how Jesus’ relationship with the disciples brought about the implementation of this vision in their lives. He lived out before them and with them, constantly, what he wanted them to do and so as they spent time with him the inherently adopted his vision and method.[4] Relationships, however, were the key. What missional leaders are grasping, over and against some of the more traditional church leaders, is that communicating vision does not come with classes and lectures. It doesn’t come, primarily, with sermonizing and formal written documents. If the vision of the church is rooted in a missional philosophy then it means the vision is to be part of life and therefore its communication should be equally as organic. Creating vision disciples, then, becomes a process of living together and developing strong relationships, which in turn creates that environment of grace where members can feel free to interact with the vision for themselves.[5]

[1] Cole, Neil. Organic Church: Faith Where Life Happens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005. Organic Leadership: Leading Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009. Coleman, Robert. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Grand Rapids: Revell, 2006. McCallum, Dennis and Jessica Lowery.  Organic Discipleship: A New Testament Pattern of Mentoring Others Into Spiritual Maturity and Leadership. Huston: Touch, 2006. Ogden, Greg. Discipleship Essentials: A Guide To Building Your Life in Christ. Downers Grove: IVP, 2007. Putman, Dave. Breaking the Discipleship Code: Becoming a Missional Follower of Jesus. Nashville: B&H, 2008.

[2] Thrall, Bill, Bruce McNicol, Ken McElrath. The Ascent Of A Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999. 26.

[3] Ibid. 30-31.

[4] Coleman, Robert. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1993. 74.

[5] Much of this concept breaks down the wall of clergy/laity divide that has plagued the modern church. Ed Stetzer says Missional leaders must reject clergification which makes them somehow the paid professional Christian who does the work while the congregation sits back and watches.

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