3 Leadership Assumptions that Destroy God’s Mission


It’s one thing to verbally affirm that in our postmodern, post-Christendom world we face adaptive challenges. It is entirely another to respond to these challenges adaptively. We naturally assume (at least I do) that we can formulate the strategies, organize the resources, and outline the steps for leading our people in participating in God’s mission. But if we are in a space between (see my related post), then such assumptions won’t get us where we need to go. What are these assumptions? I will suggest a few here.

The Right Program

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just implement the right program and strategy so that the church would get back on track and succeed?

With such a thought in mind, I (and other leaders I’ve known) have sought out and adopted models from various “successful” churches, expecting that doing so would make things right and lead us where God wanted us to go. However, if a renewed understanding of who God is and what God is up to resides in the space between, then models and programs, no matter how good they are perceived to be, will not produce the desired results.

The reason is that the challenge at hand is neither a problem to be solved, a need to be met, nor an issue to be addressed. Rather, it is a place to sit and listen to the other, the neighbour, and the neighbourhood wherein God lives. Missional leaders are called to reside in this unfamiliar and often uncomfortable space between, a space where leading is more about being attentive and vulnerable than planning and programming.

This is both disorienting and disturbing.

When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, he realized with fear and trembling that he was being called out of the predictable, comfortable, safe environment of Midian and into the unknown future of the space between, a space where God was leading and already at work.

Moses had to trust, obey, and take the risk of letting go of all that he had known and been in order to embrace and become all that God had already called him and made him to be in this new reality. The strategies and skills of his role in his father-in-law’s household program were neither adequate nor appropriate to the new journey and world ahead of him. As Moses listened and followed, however, God provided, equipped, and empowered him (along with others) such that God’s will was done on earth as it is in heaven (Exodus 3).

In the same way, missional leadership exposes our illusions of being able to order church and society with the right programs and organization. As we find ourselves outside of such systems, we again learn to trust the Father and engage ministry without the familiarity and security of our predetermined schemes, agendas, models, and programs.

More is Better

Another assumption that arises out of previous leadership notions has to do with our understanding of the nature of church “success”. Many, including myself, believed that to succeed as a church meant having more and more people attending on Sunday mornings and participating in church programs, such as educational opportunities, service projects, and so on.

If, however, God is to be found in the space between, and if missional leadership is all about faithfully following the Incarnate One who “dwelt among”, loved unconditionally, and embodied the space between with grace and mercy, then success is not about church attendance as an end in itself.

In fact, the focus of the church moves from “onstage” to “offstage”, which releases and empowers us to cultivate lives in the space between rather than commit our time and effort to “onstage”, in-house activities.[1] Therefore, missional leaders ask: How do we nurture those environments and contexts into which God moves us, those places in which we hear and speak the “offstage” language? After all, the One we claim to follow left heaven’s stage to walk the back rooms, caretakers’ closets, coffee shops, and parks at the end of the block. In so doing, he attracted others to a new way of living in the space between that changed the world!

Hub and Spoke

Another presumption which works contrary to the nature and intent of missional leadership is the hub-and-spoke leadership structure. This approach supposes that those at the centre have the resources, expertise, knowledge, power, and authority to lead, provide for, and guide those at the other end of the spokes. This model diminishes the understanding that every believer is gifted, called, and made to be a priest in her/his neighbourhood.

It also creates a dependency on an outside source which neither inhabits nor relates to the context and, therefore, will never be sufficient for that people and place. It assumes “one size fits all”, and that that “size” can be managed, stimulated, and controlled by the systems, structures, and experts of the hub. In so doing, it implies that what those on the rim need does not reside within themselves or is insufficient (see Craig Van Gelder’s, The Ministry of the Missional Church).

It is this very insufficiency, however, that opens us up to the work of the Spirit in the space between. It is in this place that we can experience the wonder and joy of trusting the Spirit as we return from a foreign-yet-promised land, carrying a cluster of grapes on a pole between us. As missional leaders step out of the hub-and-spoke model, they leave “their baggage behind” and “enter into the life of [their] neighbourhood” as vulnerable ones. The Spirit teaches that “what God is doing has a lot more to do with the stranger and receiving hospitality than being in control of the resources and the answers” (quotes courtesy of Alan Roxburgh’s Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood).

According to Henry Nouwen, “the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love” (In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership).

God’s Mission and Us

Am I willing to be irrelevant and vulnerable? Is the church?

Can you relate to any of these default assumptions?

What have you done or are you doing to find and lead in the missional space between in such a way that you are countering or leaving behind these defaults?

What have you done or are you doing to live in leadership in the space between?

Avoid Assumptions Through Accountability–Work with V3 Coaches & Missional Church Planters



[1] Alan Roxburgh, DMin.7616, Missional Leadership (Chicago, Il: Northern Seminary, July 2013).

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Dr. Karen Wilk
Dr. Karen Wilk is a National Team Member of Forge Canada’s Missional Training Network, and a Missional Leader Developer for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Karen is the Lead Catalyser of Neighbourhood Life/NEW (Neighbourhood Engagement Workers) Community in Alberta, where she actively engages church leadership in moving their congregations out into neighborhoods. She has been a pastor in Edmonton for almost 28 years and completed a Doctorate in Missional Leadership at Northern Seminary in Chicago. Karen is the author of Don’t Invite Them To Church: Moving From a Come and See to a Go and Be Church. She is also a neighbor, wife, mom, and minister who is leading her own neighborhood community.
Dr. Karen Wilk

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  1. Bud Brown Jan 21, 2016 Reply

    You’ve brushed up against an important perspective on leadership, strategy and our efforts.

    They are necessary, but not sufficient. Furthermore, in God’s sovereign design they may at times not even be necessary, but that would be the exception!

    We are like Elijah before the prophets of Baal.

    It is up to us to pile the stones to build the altar. It is up to us to charge the altar with wood. It is up to us to slay, skin and butcher the sacrifice. It is up to us to dig the trench. It is up to us to pour the water.

    But unless God sends the fire, it is all for naught.

    When we come to conclude that our efforts, our leadership model and our strategy are the end of all wisdom, we’re in serious trouble.

    Then we’re not serving Jesus by leading his church, we’re running a franchise.

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