I left off the last post asking what kind of people make good gardeners/missional leaders? Since I wrote this about observing Canada these last four years, you’ll notice I reference Canada in the post. In my travels, I have observed that missional leaders both in Canada and Northern US will most often be the following kinds of people. Am I close? Is this too idealistic? (like maybe some – not all – denominational leaders might accuse me of).
SOME OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING MISSIONAL LEADERS
THEY WILL BE SURVIVORS
Enduring missional leaders learn how to survive financially and spiritually for the long term. They must be able to hold down a job that does not consume him/her, merely enable them to live simply for the long term. In Christendom, the denominations used to pay someone to go plant a church. This would usually be one person who was unusually gifted and (based upon the above premises) and could get a self-sufficient church going in three years. This person was in essence paid to extend an organization, open up a franchise, and set up a version of church with the distinctives of the denomination. In the new post-Christendom, this doesn’t make sense. In my opinion it takes at least 5 years of “seeding a community” before one even begins to see an ethos of community and new life develop that can be a cultural carrier-transmitter of the gospel. As a result, the new missional community leaders must have patience, steady faithfulness and the ability to live simply. They must be able to get jobs and not see the ministry as a privileged full time vocation. They must have a mental image of how they are going to sustain their lives financially, relationally, spiritually and personally. It all must take the shape of a sustainable rhythm. In my experience, these kinds of leaders are often found among the young and disenchanted evangelicals. I have learned they merely need a vision and a support network and they are willing to sacrifice in ways my generation never would.
THEY WILL BE COMMUNAL SHEPHERDS
I have found that missional leaders are most often shepherds of an overall ethos of a community. They are not starting and managing an organization. They may not even be good at organization. Instead they are cultivating a communal sense of mission identity among a gathering people “for this time and place”. It used to be every church planter had to be an extravert entrepreneur, someone who looked good and had the perfect family. Single people need not apply. This person had to be a good salesman (woman) and had to have endless energy. He or she had to set a vision, direct a course, motivate and sell. Now I certainly can see that many of these qualities are helpful in starting new things. Yet I have seen, in this new era, that the missional leader is most often someone who can take time and be with people. He or she will listen to people, discern the needs, articulate where we are going, knit the community together in a common struggle with gentleness, encouragement, listening. For we do not gather as we once did to hear a charismatic leader preach an entertaining piece of inspiration. We do not gather for a professional piece of programmed worship experience. In the new post-Christendom we are coming together to be formed and shaped, supported and edified for the Mission as a band of brothers and sisters. Yes we do gather on Sundays to hear the Word, to be nourished at the Table, and respond to what God is calling us to, but we do all this not as individual but as a community, a community “sent out” into mission.
These kinds of leaders do not grow on trees. I think they must be mentored in character for the patience and faithfulness such shepherding requires. That type A person who is always selling something or programming something has a role – don’t get me wrong. But missional communities will not grow unless there is a nurturing sustaining presence prodding for the long term. Leaders that can adapt, roll with the punches, and shepherd communally are more valuable than the high-powered “strong starters” who wish to be gone in two years. These leaders are mentored not through leadership conferences and books. Instead, we must have regular times together to practice together listening, mutual submission, responding with love and guiding instead of dictating. We look together for what God is doing in our lives and in and around our community.
THEY WILL BE INTERPRETIVE LEADERS
Rarely do missional leaders lead their communities as a feature Bible teacher who dictates the a.’s and b’s of Biblical doctrine. Rather they are interpreters of what God is doing communally through the teaching and preaching of Scripture. They read Scripture in community and preach looking for what God is calling us to in the neighborhoods. It used to be that every church planter would be this high-towered charismatic gifted preacher. He (normally a man) would draw the crowds. Soon a crowd would be gathered to hear “the show.” These days are past, not because you cannot attract dissatisfied or thrill seeking Christians from other churches with a great preacher, but because we have seen that true spiritual growth occurs communally only when the whole congregation is involved in times of praying, hearing, submitting and responding to the Word. Interpretive leaders(1) do not dictate from the pulpit a list of do’s and don’ts and solutions from God for every problem. They interpret the Scriptures to open our eyes to what God is doing and where He is taking us. In a different way then, we must mentor leaders who are more than great preachers. They must lead their communities in interpreting what God is doing via the eyeglass of Scripture. Where is God taking us, where is he calling us? His/her sermons therefore fund the corporate imagination of God’s Kingdom in our midst and where He is at work in our everyday lives. And when conflicts arise, we sit and pray, submit, pray for courage and humility and discern the Scriptures for the journey we are in called God’s mission. This kind of leader often does not come from our (all too often) modernist seminaries. They are grown in a community who gathers to worship the Triune God so as to discern Him at work in our midst.
THEY WILL BE DIRECTORS OF SPIRITUAL FORMATION
I believe that missional leaders must know how to guide the community in a spiritual formation. Admittedly, this kind of leadership is not common among younger evangelicals at least. Yet I still believe that the development of communal worship liturgies that are historically thick yet still local and organic, is crucial for these times. For we now recognize that the consumerist forces of our post Christendom Canada (and even worse United States) cannot be resisted as an isolated individual. An individual alone cannot resist the forces of desire that tell us a five bedroom house, two new cars are more important than Mission, the life itself we share with the Triune God. Our communities therefore must be places of spiritual formation, of resistance to the forces of distraction, unsatiated desire and exploitation of those we choose not to know.
This means that our Sunday/Saturday? gatherings must be places of spiritual formation, encouragement and sending out for Mission. We must ever navigate against putting on a show that will attract, yet develop a liturgy that is simple, accessible and Scriptural that thereby guides our lives into Christ and keeps us from the distractions that would take us from Mission. I know that liturgy is a difficult pill to swallow these days for the newly arriving missional leaders. But there will be no missional community of people formed and shaped for mission if we just preach Mission as a legalistic requirement. Mission requires patience, a sense of vision and a self-denial that can only be trained in the simple organic disciplines/liturgies of the historic church.
THEY WILL BE LEADERS WHO GIVE AWAY POWER
Missional leaders that have served for any length of time have learned how die to their ego’s and allow God to use every man and woman’s gifts in the community for the furtherance of His Kingdom. Hierarchy is the product of Christendom. It hails to a day when Christianity still held power in society, when, Jesus was still established as a given in Canada (even when the protestant liberal Jesus dominated Canada, there still remained an authority and respect for who Jesus was). Hierarchy made sense in a day when the preacher in the town was looked up to and held power. This world, when one man could wield influence and get things done in the name of Christ, is waning. As a result, no one man or woman can lead a community from the top down and expect the church to go on as a viable social reality. We cannot be the very Body of Christ if we do not empower the manifold gifts in the community to minister the kingdom as part of everyday life. If we even try to operate out of the old hierarchical ways, missional communities will flounder and their leaders will die from exhaustion. I have seen it happen over and over.
It is my belief therefore that missional leadership needs always to be multiple. Most missional pastors/leaders need to be bi-vocational (bi-ministerial) for their own survival. Such leaders must learn to mutually submit to the other leaders as they guide the journey of the community. They must mutually learn to mentor leaders and give away power. Different strengths should be recognized among leaders and then multiply that leadership (following the APEPT model of Frost and Hirsch’s The Shaping of Things to Come). This model subverts the CEO pastorate style we have all become so used to for each pastor gives away power instead of consolidating it. This kind of pastoral leadership models a kind of community for the rest to see instead of dictating the rest of the church to just do it. In this way, all shall own the leadership of this community and the journey we are on in the Mission. This kind of leadership needs to be modeled and practiced and it does not come easy in our day.
THE PROMISE OF CANADA’S NEW MISSIONAL LEADERS
All of the above paints a picture of a leader mentality drastically different from the church planter of the past. Yet most (not all) of the missional leaders I have met possess strains of this new mentality. I believe this bodes well for the future. For I believe this next generation of pastors (in my experience coming mostly out of evangelicalism) provides hope for a renewal of Christianity in Canada. Like a fermenting revolution evolving out of a tired and reified ancien regime, these tiny bands of Christians have come on the scene committed to live a life together of worship, spiritual formation, community, hospitality and service to the poor (of all kinds). In ways never imagined by the machinations of the mega church, many of these bands are already infecting their neighborhoods with an embodied gospel that cannot be denied, only responded to. Knowing Christendom is gone, they carry no pretension. Instead they embody the gospel in its most compelling, authentic, non-coercive form. This new wave of Christians is small in number and possesses little to no resources financially. Most do not impress with their grandiose visions. They do not hang in the halls of power. They do not make a show of their successes. Yet their vision of a simple Christian habitat as witness in the world reminds me of the Irish missional orders God used to effect a profound conversion of European society in the 4th century. We have seen the world changed like this once before (read How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill). Could we be in the early stages of seeing God move in a similar fashion once again? Let us pray it be so.
1. I owe this term to my friend Jim VanYperen.