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