Monday, 4 March 2013

Working Theology of Missional Leadership Essay

So, since I have a lot of old assignment which I did while I was at Laidlaw saved, and I have this blog, I thought that I may as well put some of the better ones up, so that others can (if they wish) read something of the things I was thinking while I was a budding young theology student. Hope you enjoy!

This first one is one I did in my second year for Tim Keels class, "Missional Church Leadership" and is more or less a summary of what I learned in that paper. As it was one of my favorite papers, I though that it would be a good one to start with!

Working Theology of Missional Leadership Essay

There are numerous ideas and understandings about what leadership is and what role a “leader” should play in the context of a missional church. Often, leadership models developed in political or business spheres are adopted into a Christian understanding, simply applied for a context foreign to the people of God. While these can be helpful, as followers of Christ it is important that our leadership is modeled on Christ: on who he is, how he led and what he is leading towards. The gospel demands a strongly incarnational and cross shaped model of leadership. This essay will set out a theology for missional church leadership that is shaped by the incarnation of Christ. It will be based around four verbs that reflect critical activities in the life of a leader: knowing, being, doing and relating. It will show missional leadership to be an activity that must be practiced the way Christ practiced it.


Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” (John 2:15-17). Knowing whether or not you love Jesus is the beginning point for church leadership. Christians can only lead if they know the incarnate and triune God.1 There is much that a Christian leader must know: they must know their Bible, their theology, their context, and their structures. But unless they know Jesus, nothing else is worthwhile. It was the question which Jesus asked of Peter, and is the question that he asks leaders today. To love Jesus is to be present to Jesus.2 Therefore, discerning how God is present in the midst of day-to-day living demands a new posture which must be learned. If we do not love Jesus, then leadership can become an attempt to win God’s favour or grab power.3 This spells disaster not only for congregations, but the leaders themselves. The remedy is to remember the unconditional love of Jesus. The more leaders know of Jesus’ love for them, the more they will love Jesus in return.
Leaders must also know the story of what God is doing.4 This is the story which is told in the Bible. It is a great story told through many small stories. It is a story which encompasses the whole of humanity, from creation to new creation. It’s the story of Israel and the Church, of homecomings and exiles, of joys and of struggles. It is a story written in collaboration between God and his people. It is a story of ancient history and yet of total relevance. It’s a story which must become part of our DNA.5 It is the story which missional leaders need to tell, to act, to live and to love. Therefore, it is critical that leaders have a well thought out theology based upon serious reflection of the story of God. Theology reflects the ways we think about God and it should develop out of a context of incarnational community.6 It should lead the community not to know about theology, but to think theologically.7 Such a community will know the story of Christ so well that they will begin to think with the “mind of Christ.” It is only with the mind of Christ that Christ’s attitudes of humility and love can begin to grow. (Philippians 2: 5-8)
However, leaders also need to know what God is doing today. We are still living within God’s ongoing story and thus we live by faith that God is going to continue his story in our context.8 Therefore, leaders also need to know their context. It is critical that missional church leaders understand their own context and the ways in which culture is changing around them. Culture is not something static, but is forever evolving. Recently, we have seen a number of changes in Western culture, including the change from a modern to a postmodern worldview, new global needs, globalisation, pluralism and technological changes.9 If leaders don’t understating the changes in culture, the church risks irrelevance and possibly even death.10 The role of a leader is similar to that of a mapmaker who must draw maps for their people to help them navigate in the new contexts in which they find themselves.11 This gives leaders the ability not only to name culture, but also how culture has impacted the church. Yet it is not simply a case of applying social theories to church. We need to think theologically about where society is at. Within the biblical narrative we see that the people of God have faced both times of stability (location), such as when Israel lived in the Promised Land, and times of great change (liminality), such as when Israel was in exile. Leaders are called to discern and name whether they are living in times of liminality or location. Peter, for example, understood the Christians he was writing to be living in a time of exile (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11.)
God is not just saving individuals; he is also building a new people, the people of God. Therefore, missional leadership happens within the context of the people of God called the Church. The church is called to live incarnationally in their communities. As it does so, it develops habits and practices which tell the story of God, which inevitably turn into structures. A missional leader needs to understand the nature and origins of their context’s structures. This includes awareness of how historical factors such as economic changes impact on both church and social structures.12 Also, alongside official structures, there are always unofficial structures, which are often harder to name. Missional leaders need to cultivate structures which serve the mission, rather than running “missions” which serve the structures. The structures put in place must help grow the group into being an incarnational community. For example, many churches send families overseas as “missionaries.” However, a better approach could be to send out a number of families together to create community in a different context. These structures can help to create a culture. Congregations must create an alternative culture based around the gospel and what it means to be the people of God in a particular place.13 Thus by naming existing structures, leaders are able create structures to develop a culture of incarnational living as God’s people.


Leadership is about being what you want to lead people towards. Therefore leaders should become and be what they are leading their people to be. Leadership is about “becoming a fully integrated human being.”14 Leaders become an incarnate image of God’s vision for the future in the present. God’s mission is working towards the day when humans will express their humanity fully as an act of worship to God. Therefore leaders need to be people who embrace what it means to be human. To do so, they must become emotionally mature. This involves recognizing the difference between their emotional and relational thinking so that they can relate to others in a healthy way.15 Furthermore, people live out of multiple stories, many of which make them believe things about themselves that are not true. Leaders must work to recognize the unconscious scripts that dictate how they live and what they believe about themselves. This is not a process which happens in isolation, but in community. Therefore, leaders must be people who look after their own spiritual, emotional and physical health in the context of a community.
Critical to being a leader is being present. Leaders can only be connected with their people if they are present to their people. A leader must adopt the posture of humility and see themselves as servants to their people, as Christ did. (Philippians 2:5) They must also develop a posture of availability to live their whole lives with their people.16 Again, presence is a posture that is modeled on how God relates with humanity throughout his story. God is present in all of creation. (Psalm 139) Yet he became present in a much deeper way in the incarnation when he took on human flesh and came to Earth (John 1:14). And he continues to be present through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17). In today’s church, we talk a lot about God’s presence in the music we use for worship, but the reality is that God’s presence is much deeper than that. He is present when his people are living day by day in relationship with him. It is this presence which enables the church to then be present in the wider community. A leader can only cultivate a culture of presence by being present to God and present to their people.


The great commandments are to love God and to love others (Luke 10:27.) Loving is a relational action. It is therefore not surprising that leadership is also about relating. Human beings know in and through relationship with other humans and God. It is therefore critical that leaders have and continue to grow good relationship skills.17 Love (indeed, any relationship) is not just about happy emotional moments, which is often how it is portrayed, but must also be expressed in times of deep pain and anguish. Again, a leader can only engage in this way if they are fully present to the community they are a part of. Thus a leader must listen to the patterns of the wider community. Furthermore, this means that mission always takes place in community and the message is never disembodied.18 We are to live as communities who are incarnating the good news of Jesus Christ in particular places. That means living in light of what Christ has done in the world, as Christ came into the world to serve.
In order to relate well, leaders must understating relational dynamics within the body of Christ. They must understand that every group is an emotional unit, which has its own emotions that affect the way it operates.19 The emotional systems of groups are best understood is family terms, especially in church context, as the church is often described as a family. Many of the emotional reactions which people display are picked up and learned in their original family.20 A good leader recognizes this and works to defuse emotional issues by being a non-anxious presence. Within every group there is always anxiety.21 Critical to the role of the leader is the ability to absorb this anxiety and to be a non-anxious presence in the community. This allows the group to continue to function in a healthy way. Therefore, being present and relating well within the community cannot be separated from each other.


Leadership comes down to what the leader does on the ground. “Doing” ensures that what has been talked about actually happens. What a leader does is bring the knowing, being and relating together so that the community is able to live out incarnationally God’s intention for the future today. Thus the posture of the leader is that of an environmentalist: one who cultivates an environment where growth can flourish.22 They must cultivate an environment where people can know God more. It’s therefore about spiritual formation that brings people closer to God. There are many habits and practices that a congregation can adopt in order to grow and to tell God’s story. However, these habits and practices must help create an environment where people encounter God and participate in the growth of his Kingdom.
Yet how we do is as important as what we do. Leadership is not to be done in a missional church context in the ways which it would be in the world. Rather, it must be a model based on Jesus, rooted in love, humility and servant-hood. Therefore, maintaining our relationship with God must be at the heart of our leadership. It is only those who know God’s voice that are able to leads God’s people 23 (John 10:14-16.) A leader cannot give away what he or she does not have. Leaders are often so busy that they neglect their own relationship with God. It can result in the leader taking his or her own path rather than following God’s. The healthy “doing” of leadership, then, can only be done by a leader who knows how to be and relate well.

Conclusion: bringing Knowing, Being, Relating and Doing together

Jesus is calling leaders who are also followers.24 In order to lead people closer to the incarnate Christ, a leader must themselves be journeying towards him. While the World looks for leaders who are strong and powerful, the gospel calls leaders who embrace their weakness in humility. I have framed leadership in terms of knowing, being, doing and relating. But as we have seen, these are closer to four ways of talking about the same thing, rather than for separate areas of stages of leadership. Leadership in a missional context is about partnering with God’s Spirit to bring about the future realities in the present. It is about embodying God’s kingdom, as Christ embodied it during his time on Earth. Leaders must know the God’s story and the stories of our culture(s) in order to embody God’s story faithfully within our cultural context. Leaders must be present to Gods’ people, out of a deep relationship with a God who is present to them. Leaders must also be able to lovingly relate to others in order to relate well the love of the relational God of the Bible. They must be able to cultivate environments where structures become cultures where God’s people can flourish as God’s people. At the heart of missional leadership is a knowledge and love of the God who loves humanity enough to incarnate himself within it, and let it kill him on a cross. God calls us to have the same attitude and mind as Christ. That is the type of leader the church needs.

1 Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (Norwich: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1989), 24.
2 Tim Keel, Intuitive leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor and Chaos (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 235.
3 Nouwen, 58
4 Keel, 33
5 ibid
6 Ibid, 161-164
7 Nouwen, 65-66
8 Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 14.
9 Alan Roxburgh, Missional Map-Making: Skills For leading in Times of Transition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 90-107
10 Keel, 90
11 Roxburgh, xvi-xix
12 Keel, 190-198
13 Roxburgh, 143
14 Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 126.
15 Roberta Gilbert, Extraordinary Leadership: Thinking Systems, Making a Difference (Virginia: Leading Systems Printing, 2006), 67.
16 Keel, 232-233
17 Gilbert, 125
18 Darrell Guder, The Incarnation and the Church’s Witness (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1999), 22.
19 Gilbert, 19-21
20 ibid, 5-6
21 Ibid, 112
22 Keel, 240-242
23 ibid, 92, Nouwen, 29-30
24 Nowuen, 62


Gilbert, Roberta M. Extraordinary Leadership: Thinking Systems, Making a Difference (Virginia: Leading Systems Printing, 2006).
Guder, Darrell. The Incarnation and the Church’s Witness (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1999).
Keel, Tim. Intuitive leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor and Chaos (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007).
Newbigin, Lesslie. Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 14.
Nouwen, Henri. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (Norwich: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1989).
Roxburgh, Alan. Missional Map-Making: Skills For leading in Times of Transition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010).
Roxburgh Alan, and Romanuk, Fred. The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006).

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