Simply Missional: Leadership Priorities and Knowing the Culture

Stetzer and Geiger write,

4. Missional and Simple leaders know the culture.

They offer several examples of Paul working within Grecian culture to the teach the gospel. They then note, 

Missional leaders fall deeply in love with the city or town in which God has placed them. They embrace and embed themselves in their community. Such leaders understand the vital key of incarnational ministry by living out the words of Jesus on a daily basis through a missional rhythm of being a blessing to the people (community) to which they are sent (Genesis 12:2).

When a church is marked by complexity, it is usually not filled with church leaders engaging their neighbors. They are too consumed managing the systems that keep the warehouse functioning. The warehouse has become the end instead of a means to effectively release and distribute people into the world.

And the second point is a critical one, I think.

We in the Churches of Christ insist on having our churches overseen by a plurality of elders, in accordance with the First Century pattern. And this is good. But it’s a problem.

It’s a problem because part-time, volunteer elders have but so much time and energy to give to their work. And if they’re busy keeping the machinery of the church running, they can’t be missional leaders. It’s just not going to happen.

Do you want your elders talking about who will teach the summer series on Sunday night or about how we’re going to raise up a church planting team and going to help fight illiteracy among the poor? We don’t have time or energy for both.

And if our leaders get involved in doing evangelism and service work themselves, well, they sure don’t have time to deal with finding teachers for Wednesday night or thinking about something — anything — that’ll get attendance up on Wednesday nights like it used to be.

People who’ve never tried it have no idea how much time running a church takes. Just the administration of the programs and budget can be hugely time consuming. Wise elders in larger churches delegate much of this to staff and committees, but larger churches have more stuff to do. Even after massive delegation is done, a lot is left.

The Simple Church theory is that we solve this by doing less in order to do more. And delegation is not the answer, because if we delegate, we delegate to members. And the same problem arises, only at a different level.

Do my most talented, caring members plan the summer series — or volunteer among the poor? Do they run the Wednesday night children’s program — or do they hold a VBS in the poorest part of town for kids who don’t get to hear about Jesus at all? They can’t do both.

It’s all about priorities and choices. 

Which brings us to Stetzer’s and Geiger’s first point. We leaders have to know the culture. It’s not just so we can reach it. It’s also because our younger members are part of it! They don’t think like our olders members — and all elders are older members. Thus, elders who don’t make a conscious effort to be around young people and hear how they think will lead the church to please the old heads — their friends — completely unaware that they’re frustrating the younger members.

Worse yet, even if the young members are humble and submissive enough that they keep coming anyway, they sure won’t (can’t) bring their friends to a church that thinks it’s still 1950 — or 1900.

We have to speak in the language of those we seek to convert. Paul knew his Aramaic and Hebrew, but he wrote in Greek because that’s what his listeners understood. 

Nowadays, those outside the church don’t understand Stamps-Baxter. Or boring, awful communion meditations about why the Lutherans and Catholics are wrong about something-substantiation. Or sermons on instrumental music. We speak in terms and about things that the world, at best, doesn’t understand and very often finds laughable, if not repugnant. And that’s a losing strategy. 

Jesus of Nazareth, who surely was the smartest human being ever, spoke in simple, short stories because his audience understood stories. It’s a good example. We just have to transform our language — our rituals, our songs, our sermons — into language where we can at least be understood.

And we need to prepare our members to love the lost so much that they complain when we don’t do this.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to Simply Missional: Leadership Priorities and Knowing the Culture

  1. Matthew says:

    True points, it is hard to do everything so we pick out a few and feel good about it.

  2. Alan says:

    Real evangelism doesn't happen in church buildings. It happens in living rooms, restaurants, coffee shops… It happens while you do the things you do. It is one form of service that everyone can do.

    Delegation is part of the answer. Along with delegation goes specialization (Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 12:4-30). It is OK to specialize. If I specialize in serving the poor, that doesn't mean I don't ever evangelize. If I specialize in the ministry of the word and prayer (Acts 6:1-4), that doesn't mean I don't ever serve the poor. But we have different gifts and different roles, and we are instructed to focus on the areas of our gifts and responsibilities. We have to learn to embrace the biblical notion of specialization — especially in the case of leaders.

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