Simply Missional: Missional Leadership

pews1I grew up in the Churches of Christ. And when I was a teenager, we had these classes for leadership training. Of course, girls had to take something else, but the boys were trained in leadership. 

As best I can recall, we learned to —

* Lead a communion service and pass the trays.

* Lead a public prayer.

* Preach a short sermon.

* Lead singing.

* Say the prayer before the offering, which was, of course, separate and apart from the Lord’s Supper, although it was always immediately afterwards.

Notice a pattern? That’s right. “Leadership” in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was leading in the 5 acts of worship. And this tells you what “church” was all about in those days: get the pattern right and make sure the next generation can do the same.

By the 1990s, “leadership” had changed. In those days we were reading books on church growth. I have a couple of dozen books, which I studied intently. I just knew that if we did what the books said, we’d have 20,000 members, just like Saddleback or Willow Creek. 

Alongside those books are several books on business management. I’ve got business books on how to be a change agent, how to be a team, how to pursue excellence, and on and on. 

Now, make no mistake, most of these are great books. I still read and teach out of some of these. And I’m glad I can lead the occasional communion meditation. There’s nothing wrong with all this stuff. It’s good stuff. It’s just not complete stuff.

Nowadays, the new buzzword is “missional,” which is radically different but not contradictory. Rather, the point of the idea of being missional is to add a new dimension to the discussion of how to lead a church. And as you’ve seen, the concept is very, very big. It also teaches us much about how to be a family, how to raise our children, and how to be a Christian. It’s that big.

The point of being missional is really twofold, which is onefold really, but the onefold part isn’t obvious.

First, to be missional is to live in society as a missionary, recognizing that you are not a citizen of the country where you live, but a citizen of heaven, sent by God to live as a stranger in a strange land, to study and learn the culture and the language, and to teach the timeless gospel in terms that convert the people of the world whom you encounter. 

A great book on the subject is Resident Aliens by Hauerwas and Willimon. It’s short and deserves multiple readings. It’s that good. There are tons of other books, of course, but this one lays the foundation brilliantly.

Second, to be missional is to be about mission of God, that is, to about the work of spreading the Kingdom. The subtle but critically important point here is to learn to fuse compassion for the hurting and needy of the world with compassion for the lost and damned of the world. In other words, missionality blends benevolence and evangelism into a whole that we might call “Kingdom living.” I discuss this in more detail in my An Unconventional Approach to Mission (which you should click on and read).

Missional Christians do not see benevolence and evangelism as competitors or evangelism as more important than benevolence. Rather, they are both outworkings of our love for others. And they are both at the center of our calling. Hence, they are onefold — if you love your neighbor, you’ll teach him about Jesus if he’s lost and feed him if he’s hungry.

You see, the call to be missional is to rearrange our view of religion. No longer do we place Sunday worship and church organization and church programs at the center of our Christianity. These have the advantage that they are convenient and requirement little sacrifice. We can live as most Americans live and be regular church goers and volunteer to teach Bible class or drive the teens to the beach. It’s not that hard.

But if we move evangelism and benevolence to the center of our religion — indeed, to the center of our lives — things get harder. It’s no longer enough that our churches grow because we provide better sermons than the other churches. We want the church to grow by converting the lost to Jesus.

No longer is growth of our congregation the centerpiece of our vision. Rather, we want the Kingdom to grow, even if it means losing some members to a church plant or sending resources overseas where they’ll do more good than here.

No longer is benevolence all about a $500 budget for beggars who come to the door, making us feel guilty. Rather, we actively go into the world trying to bring Kingdom to the lost and hurting. We look for opportunities to show the love of Jesus in practical ways.

No longer is church attendance about getting our tickets punched. Rather, church is not about attendance at all. Church is about being the community we were always meant to be and to have. Church is where we feel and provide love and acceptance and compassion. Church is where we get to be who we were meant to be. Church is where the Sermon on the Mount is lived, not just taught. We attend church because its a foretaste of our home in heaven.

No longer are classes about the joy of learning. Rather, classes are all about being equipped to be better parents and spouses, better friends and coworkers, and better evangelists and servants to those in need. Class is not a study club. Class is training to wage war against Satan with lives of compassion.

No longer is Christianity about morality. Rather, Christianity is about service, and morality is how servants live. No longer will we just be nice people being nice. We will instead be people called to participate in God’s mission not only to redeem the world, but to be salt and light making the world better.

No longer is Christian leadership about getting “five acts” right or filling slots in the summer series or getting more people to church on Wednesday night. Rather, Christian leadership is about recruiting and training an agape army prepared to storm the gates of Hades, driving evil from the land by filling the land with God’s love.

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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3 Responses to Simply Missional: Missional Leadership

  1. Alan says:

    Actually, Christian leadership is about loving your neighbor, just like evangelism and benevolence are. The leader sets the example, and helps those around him to follow that example, because that is what they need.

    The simple irony is that all you have to do is love your neighbor. And it only takes one person to get it started.

  2. Well said, Alan.

    But just to emphasize, it's to love one another, the way Jesus loved us — which is an even higher calling.

  3. Julie says:

    I just sat in a all church meeting and listened to one of our elders scold us. We weren't getting service and bible study started on time. Church services is not the time to socialize, according to him. Also, we are supposed to be there on Sunday and Wednesday night or we are not committed. How can they be so inwardly focused!! It amazes me. It's like the great commision is totally ignored.

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