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The Seven Indispensable Virtues of a Missional Leader

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Recently, in a meeting of pastors, we asked what qualities were essential for leadership in our church (and church plants from out of our church). By ‘leadership’ we mean all leaders in all the varied extended places of ministry surrounding Life on the Vine (not just pastors). Now there are many good guides on this topic already. There are for instance Al Roxburgh’s and Alan Hirsch’s. There is Richard Rohr’s The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective which J R Woodward uses in his assessment work (along with other things). I recommend them all. Here’s some distilled thoughts on “what leadership qualities we at Life on the Vine need to look for/mentor in our leaders for the tasks of leading a missional community?”
A Few Preamble Remarks

These qualities are not traits. They are more like virtues. Yet implied here is these virtues can be learned. They are skills that can be practiced and acquired over a time of apprenticeship and experience. Indeed, all of us as participants in God’s Mission should be growing in these virtues unto eternity.

Implied here as well is that we are seeking to nurture a specific kind of leadership for missional community. This kind of leadership will not necessarily place a high value (or at least the highest value) on an entrepreneurial-style leadership where often one strong leader sets forth the program, garners the resources, sets a vision, and then “sells” everyone else to follow. I contend that leading missional communities requires something more, something different (although some of the entrepreneurial skills will no doubt be needed in the group).

These virtues are to be found all over the New Testament as missional communities came into being. Some of the ‘virtues’ on this ‘list’ will be found in the classic character lists of the pastoral epistles (1 Tim 3, Titus 1; cf. 2 Tim 3:10-11). Others will appear in the fruits of the Spirit listed in Gal 5:16f. Others still might be illustrated in the life (and parables) of Jesus. Still others of these virtues might appear as gifts given to us by the Spirit in say 1 Cor 12. In all these cases, these ‘indispensable’ virtues (as I am calling them) are qualities evidenced in one’s life, yet implied is that they too develop (as for example the word ‘fruit’ implies) through exercise (1 Tim 6:11,12) and out one’s submission to God and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. They develop only as they are enlivened (1 Tim 1:6), empowered and blessed by the Spirit

With this preamble I offer the following seven virtues as virtues I have to continually “practice” in the Spirit. I have found them indispensable to leader in a missional community.

1.) Faith: (1 Cor 12:9) Faith is in virtually all the lists mentioned above. One leading amidst a missional community must be able to walk in faith step by step – day by day, month to month (Gal 5:25). And when certain things don’t happen… she must be able to pray through it – spending long times of prayer giving his/her efforts unto the Lord believing that He is at work for His purposes, in His timing. BTW I think depression comes often in missional leaders and it is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you move through it – talking it out – asking, “what dreams is God asking me to give up?” “what delusions of grandeur must I relieve myself of in order to see Him at work in this place.” It is this moving through that requires faith.
Hand in hand with the skill of faith is courage – the courage to obey and follow Christ’s leading which comes from discerning the situation (the next virtue). Nurturing/leading a missional community is often so counter cultural, so adverse to the ways we have been habitualized by society/family/school/career/money that it will take courage to step out and go against everything your instincts are telling you.

2.) Discernment: (Rom 12:1-2; Phil 1:9-10) One leading amidst a missional community will require discernment in immense proportions. It is the skill to be able to look at circumstances and ask ‘what is God doing?’ and then lead the discussion on ‘how do we respond?’ “What is God asking of us today knowing this too might change?” Such discernment comes only from a place of worship and prayer (Rom 12:1).

3.) Presence: One leading amidst a missional community must have a certain peacefulness, an “at-homeness” in his/her body. I call it “presence” and it is most often visible in the way he/she embodies “peace,” “gentleness,” and integrity of soul (Gal 5:22, 1 Tim 3:3; Eph 4:1-2). There should be no ceaseless striving for recognition. Yet there should be a certain gentle gravitas that says, “I’m here” willing to do what God requires of me. This presence is recognizable a.) when being criticized – the person does not seek to defend him/her self, b.) when preaching – there’s no personal agenda and c.) when ministering to someone in need – he/she listens in such a penetrating manner that his/her presence is felt apart from any words spoken. It is this presence (that bears witness to a trust-filled relationship with God) that can lead others into where God is taking us.

4.) Patience: I believe patience (Gal 5:22; 2 Tim 3:10; Eph 4:2) is essential to everything missional. It is what makes possible discernment and waiting upon what God is doing. Because of this, one leading amidst a missional community must regularly practice patience (best done through submission of all things unto God through prayer). We are in a time-line world driven by corporate projections, growth charts. But missional community is a different world. Mission work requires of us a daily gentle patience necessary to avoid the expedient that always builds church on the foundations of sinking sand.
Hand in hand with patience, is the ability to forgive, forebear one another’s failings and sin. If you cannot forgive people, if you cannot forbear with failings, you will not be capable of patience. Such forgiveness is never efficient in business terms, but it trans forms the very character of a community to reach into the world’s hurts with the gospel.

5.) Resourcefulness: (1 Tim 3:3-4) The missional leader must be a capable manager that avoids both the love of money as well as being flippant about it (1 Tim 6:6-10). We must know how to live simply and within/beneath our means. We must be able to manage our families toward these blessed goals as well as our community. We must be able to sustain ourselves financially for the long term in a way that does not compromise our leadership in the community i.e. make our livelihood so dependent upon our community that we cannot risk taking it somewhere God is calling because it might hurt us financially. We often are in situations where we must navigate bi-vocationality which if not done smartly(resourcefully), can take down many a missional leader.  This takes a large measure of the first virtue faith.

6.) Humility (2 Tim 2:24-25; Phil 2; Eph 4:2) For those leading missional communities, we live in a post-positional (position of power) world where we cannot assume respect or authority. Authority comes through humble service, integrity, presence, the sharing of wisdom and the speaking of truth in love. All of this makes humility essential. We do not lead as in the world via a healthy hubris and the authority of a bestowed (credentialed) expertise (Mark 10:42-45). We lead by walking humbly, depending on the Spirit to do the work of persuading and drawing people to Himself. God uses this kind of humility (of the kind of Christ in Phil 2) to shake the foundations of people’s lives and call them to a new way -when it is incarnated in our lives and our relationships

7.) Love: (Gal 5:22; 1 Cor 13) One leading amidst a missional community must have love for the unlovable. This is cultivated -not natural – learned by submitting each difficult encounter to the work of the Holy Spirit. I have been chastised for my despising of the suburban lifestyle. I have had to learn to love the suburbs and all its people if I am ever to minister the gospel. We learn how to love when we practice forgiving others out of the forgiveness and reconciliation in our own lives bred there through Jesus Christ by the Spirit. The Spirit then gives us a heart of love for the unlovable. This love eventually melts the hearts of the broken angry violent hurting souls around us.

Each of these virtues has a alternative vice: Rejecting Faith for example leads to a maddening controlling leadership. Rejecting discernment leads to a time-line driven calculated Leadership.And we could go on.  All of these virtues are a continual work of God by the Spirit through regular practice in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. The question is, not do we have all of this Christ-ly character now, but are we disposed towards them in the everyday practice of walking missionally among a people? Out of these wonderful virtues of life in the Spirit – which only comes through practice in the lives of people – God works to shape and nurture Mission in the world.

This is just my first response to the pastors’ question: What leadership dispositions are we seeking to mentor our leaders into for the tasks of leading a missional community? What vices are we seeking to avoid. I am sure I have missed some. What others would you add to the list?

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