There is much talk today about being missional. The idea is grounded in the notion that we move towards people, not that we require them to move towards us. It carries with it the understanding of empathy that allows us to meet people where they are with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. But what type of leader does it take to lead people into this experience? I offer up three critical traits from 2 Corinthians 4:1-10 and 2 Corinthians 1:8-11.
1. An identity rooted in the fact that we have been redeemed and called This is the sure knowledge and understanding that we as Christ followers have been rescued and commissioned. We have been bought and sent. The gospel is not a collection of good sayings-it is the announcement of good news. It is the proclamation of redemption that carries with it the privilege and responsibility of transference. A leader must be secure in who they are as a redeemed loved child to ask others to follow their calling into missional engagement.
2. A belief in the gospel as the ultimate reality of life There are many, many competing philosophies of life in the world today. There always have been. The gospel stands alone. Again, the gospel is the proclamation of good news, of a historical, life altering event. It is the announcement of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection that can set us free from slavery to sin and death. All other world philosophies offer improvement theories. The gospel offers freedom and transformation. There is no greater need or greater reality. A leader must surely believe this to lead others into the morass and messiness of missional engagement. This bedrock belief also provides the passion to the message.
3. A ridiculous faith in God’s presence and goodness I believe these two traits provide the foundation for faith. The clear understanding that God is completely good (no imperfections and no injustice) and always present (he is with us in every situation and setting) allows us to weather the missional storms. I only call this type of faith “ridiculous” because it is other worldly and will be attacked by the world. A leader must continually point followers to this reality about the nature and character of God.
What are your thoughts on other key traits?
I was asked not too long ago what I thought the character makeup of a missional leader should be. Of course the definition of a “missional leader” could vary greatly. But for our purposes I will argue for “someone who is leading a group of people into the mission in some way to encounter the lost”. With that in mind here are my thoughts on the character traits that are necessary-in no certain order:
1. Integrity-this is the idea that a person is the same outside as they are inside. There is congruency between their governing center and their actions. This is the quality that makes a person trustworthy. It is also the quality that makes people want to follow. I believe this is the quality of consistency-and that is critical in leading people into true engagement for the cause of Christ.
2. Humility-I have commented before on the necessity of this trait for leaders. This is the quality of not thinking of yourself. Be sure-it is not the quality of making little of yourself-that can actually turn into a subtle form of pride. It is the recognition that all one has comes from Christ-the privilege of leading, the power to lead, the talent to lead, the followers to lead. Humility is what will allow you to go the distance in leading. This is the trait that allows a leader to give away credit and admit mistakes. This is another important factor in drawing followers.
3. Faith-The mission is about people. And people are messy. Not only that but the essence of the mission is getting people to change their very reason for living-to point them to a glorious Christ-by admitting their absolute need for Him. This takes great faith in a great God. Because He is the only One who can actually accomplish it. And best I can tell from the Scripture-this is not so much about “trusting” God for huge numbers-but about prayer! We lead on our knees.
4. Endurance-Every leader goes through times of doubt, times of criticism, times of tiredness, etc. And so do the followers. Endurance is the quality of long suffering-of not quitting. I am a long distance runner-to be able to endure you have to keep your eye on the prize-on the finish line. That reference point is Christ Himself. I had a professor in seminary that talked about the principle of a “slave leader” from Scripture. One of his key points is that a slave leader can never quit-on God or others. That’s endurance.
5. Generosity-This may seem like a strange trait to bring up in a top five list. But I mean this sincerely. A missional leader must be generous in every way. First and foremost-he or she must be generous with the Gospel-to believers and unbelievers alike. They must be generous with their time. They must be generous with their money. He must be generous with their knowledge and experience. They must be generous with their power and authority-raising up more leaders better than themselves. The mission is meant to be given away-even that can be hard for the leader looking to make a name for himself.
Well-there are few thoughts. What are yours? What traits would you add or take away? Join the discussion.
I have noticed many cultural differences between the U.S. and Italy. One notable one is how important relationships are here in Italy and how they are conducted. I call it the “fast coffee/slow food” connection. Most realize that in the U.S. we have developed a “slow coffee/fast food” culture. Over the past 50 years we Americans have moved towards a fragmented family, dietary nightmare called “fast food”. Meals are taken as quickly as possible or only for strategic purposes-thus why families rarely eat together and the invention of the “power lunch.” But over the past 10 years and the advent of Starbucks we have also begun to develop a “slow coffee” culture. The coffee shop mentality has returned in the U.S. This is often where we catch up with people-even our children at times. And followups to the power lunch have now become the “power coffee” appointments. Yet I have to admit that Starbucks can be quite loud and distracting-while I love their coffee, the very environment can threaten my ability to really connect at a deeper level.
In Italy-they do the opposite. There are caffe bars on almost every corner. They are small-often with only a counter bar. You enter, you order your espresso or cappuccino, you pay and you leave. The whole experience may take less than five minutes. Ah-but meals-that is a very different story. There is “riposo”-a pause from work for a two to three hour lunch. And the evening meal often lasts two to three hours also. Italians take their food and their meals very seriously. Meals are done in a very particular order for dietary purposes. Every region has its own specialties that are not to be missed. But more than that-life is done around the table. Relationships are nurtured around the table. The largest room in our 800 year old home is the dining room. You take acquaintances and colleagues to coffee-you have meals with your true friends and family.
We have noticed that doing ministry in Italy requires trust and time. This is a suspicious, non trusting culture-and for some historically good reasons. But we have also noticed that the walls drop and trust is built in the home around the dining room table. Conversations go much deeper and spiritual truth is better received around the table. While Italians are certainly known for loud, boisterous conversations-there is an inescapable focus that takes place. There is one conversation, even if five people are having it at the same time. We rarely conduct ministry events these days without food and a home setting.
I know a lot of ministry happens in Starbucks these days in the U.S.-but I wonder how much of it is still “hit and run” ministry. I think I like the “fast coffee/slow food” environment of Italy better. For one the food is amazing-but so are the opportunities to take time to demonstrate the love of Christ. Invest in someone over a long, slow meal!
I have spent more time thinking about the need for both presence and proclamation. I also happen to be studying 1 John for my devotional time. 1 John 1:1-4 stood out to me as a great biblical picture of both presence and proclamation. Read below.
1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– 2the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us– 3that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
John is saying something significant about Jesus Christ. First, he is combating heresy that had crept into the believing community–the heresy was that Jesus was never truly a man. John counters with his real life experience of Jesus. John even goes overboard on describing his personal experience of Jesus. But second, John wants to make sure that his readers understand that this Jesus “was made manifest.” In other words this eternal God took on a real presence–a human presence. Notice too that what John experienced–that which was made manifest–had to be proclaimed. There were two reasons for this proclamation–that these people might have fellowship with John and his companions–and that they might have real fellowship with the living God–Father and Son. And this proclamation brings John’s band great joy.
John links presence and proclamation. The very real life experience of Jesus results in a very joyful proclamation of Him. The result is sharing–participation–for that is the real meaning of “fellowship.” When one responds to this proclamation they get the great privilege of participating in Christ–and in the body life of other believers. That brings us back to presence. It seems in the Scriptures that there is no presence without proclamation and there is no proclamation without presence. They simply go hand in hand.
My family and I recently made a trip to Cinque Terra. As the name describes this is a cluster of five lands–five small villages along the western Italian coast. A seven mile hiking trail connects these five villages in a very picturesque journey. We spent four days exploring, eating, resting, shopping, and hiking. The rugged coastline is one of the prettiest I have ever seen–it is well worth the time if you ever get the opportunity to come to Italy.
On one particular day as I was off doing a little exploring on my own–something stood out to me. In every one of the five villages there is at least one–if not two or three–Catholic churhes. Usually they hold some of the most prominent locations in each setting–often at the very center of the town. Now these towns are small–I can’t imagine that any one of them has more than a few hundred full time residents–yet there is at least one church for each community.
This thought occurred–if fulfilling the Great Commission in Italy were only about “presence”–then the Catholic church has done the job. All over this country you would be hard pressed to find a city, town, or village without a church building at the center of town architecture. Sometimes even today the debate goes on that really all we need to do is be present in the lives of unbelievers to draw them to Christ. Or some would say that this is the primary thing we must do–we must stop being only attractional in our strategies–and we must be more missional by being very present in the places where unbelievers live, work and play. I was forced to go back and re-read some of the passages in Scripture that we look to in describing this missional mandate. And sure enough–it is hard to escape the need for presence. “Going” implies location. “All the world” implies location. But there is one other critical element that one cannot escape either–proclamation. Throughout the New Testament the gospel is something to not only be lived out and demonstrated–but something to be communicated–proclaimed.
I visited some of these churches while touring–it is rare to find more than a dozen people at mass. Certainly the Catholic church has made many efforts to be present in the lives of people everywhere. But presence is not all that is required. There must be a faithful proclaiming of the simple and pure gospel message of Jesus Christ to accompany any presence. While I would completely agree that attractional ministry will not take us where we want to go–neither will simple presence among the lost. There must be both presence and proclamation.
I am currently reading Organic Church by Neil Cole. I have read several books out of the emerging church movement. Cole’s work is quite insightful and adds some well thought out principles to the Emerging Church conversation. I also see several things that concern me about the movement and some of its pundits. But there is no doubt that what is being said and what is happening is significant–and will stir the mind as to what God is up to.
As I have reflected on some of these works it strikes me that we are in a crucial season for the Chruch as a whole. The very identity of the Church is up for grabs. I currently believe that there are several critical questions that are being asked both inside and outside the Church. Leaders will have to provide answers and directional clarity. Here are what I consider to be some of those key questions that will impact the Church for the foreseeable future:
1. How will the Church ultimately repsond to the homosexual community?
2. What will ultimately be the role of women in leadership within the Church?
3. What is Church?
4. How do we do Church?
5. What is true church growth?
All five of these must be answered with humility and with charity–but all five must be answered biblically. To do less will lead to heresy and dysfunction. These are some of the very questions that the Emerging Church Movement is raising and seeking to answer. Where I believe the movement is shining is in the realm of ministry philosophy. Where I see some stumbling is in the realm of theological clarity.
The picture to the right is a depiction of Jesus and the twelve on an outer wall of the Montserrat cathedral. While quite striking I did notice that all 13 figures are portrayed as very old and pretty stoic–I wonder if that is how they really lived and led in this new venture called Christianity in the 1st century.
Today, I want to complete the description of what Alan Hirsch posed as six critical components of church DNA for the 21st century. In the last post I attempted to describe Jesus as Lord, Missional Incarnational Impulse, and Apostolic Leadership. Now for the other three:
4. Disciple Making
Hirsch argues that we are not really that good at this in Western Christianity–but we are comfortable with the notion because the concept is familiar. Hirsch sees this as the core task of the church–and it is vitally connected to the center, “Jesus as Lord.” The scriptures tell us that we are to be conformed more and more to the image of Christ–to become true representatives of Jesus out in the world–this takes real discipleship. Hirsch also advocates that we disciple both believers and unbelievers–and know that some will be evangelized along the way. This makes sense in Hirsch’s paradigm in light of an incarnational gospel–because this is a life on life approach to both evangelism and discipleship. One of the key phrases you will hear from Hirsch is that “we must lower the bar on church and raise the bar on discipleship.” He feels we have weakened discipleship in our current settings–even in the midst of an emphasis on small groups. Discipleship should result in a person embodying the message of Christ–and embodiment of the message is essential to transmission of the message. Hirsch goes one step further in stating that the quality of our leadership will be completely in line with the quality of our discipleship. The bottom line of discipleship is a deep involvement in a person’s life. Discipleship is face to face and it is primarily experiential. It is not just about educating a person’s mind–but engaging them in experiences that cause them to trust God in new and fresh ways.
5. Organic Systems
This is how we organize movements. Hirsch argues for organizing according to natural life systems. It has the “feel” of a movement–very spontaneous, flat in its organizational structure, and self reproducing. At the core, people absolutely believe in the message of the movement. Power and authority are distributed out–not centralized. There really is a sense of chaos and organization working together. The centralizing piece is the DNA–the core concepts or principles of the movement–but there is great freedom in the function of living our that core DNA. These core values combined with freedom of function is what can propel the movement and keep it organic.
Notice Hirsch does not list number six as “community.” He is not advocating that just mutual fellowship will get the job done. He is aiming at something else–he is aiming at community built around shared faith experiences. This creates a different quality of community and bonding. Two critical aspects of this communitas are liminality (being thrown into something that is over your head) and ordeal (the actual challenge or goal to be reached). Hirsch points out that we see this both in Scripture and in our culture. In recent times, events such as September 11th and the Tsunami tragedy served to greatly rally people together in community to minister to the victims. In the Bible we see Jesus taking the 12 out and exposing them to many faith challenging situations–resulting in a greater learning and bonding. A part of this is to help a disciple really learn to live out their faith in the world. This also provides the sense of adventure in life and in the movement.
There you have it–six core components that Hirsch would say are essential if the 21st century church is to survive and have significant impact. I have been thinking at two levels as I consider this–both for my church here in Austin and for Campus Crusade as whole. I am still thinking–join me. I look forward to your musings on this topic.