Wednesday, February 06, 2008

So How Many People Do You Have? 4

This continues the (copying of a) series of posts by David Fitch. In the last post he described how Canadian missional church planting is changing. Here he describes how leadership is changing.



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 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 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.


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. 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. 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.

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.


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 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.


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 things 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. 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.


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. 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.

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.

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