When modern Western Christianity asks important questions, the voice and concerns of the church often dominate the conversation. For instance, questions about leadership might be phrased this way:
“What does leadership in the church look like?”1
There is another starting place other than the church. We can frame our inquiries with two questions:
The Theological Question: “Who is God?”
The Missiological Question: “What is God up to?”
If theology and missiology become our starting points, our thoughts and actions might end up quite different.
When we don’t start by asking “Who is God?” we end up casting him familiar roles: diplomat, entrepreneur or counselor. God is, according to scripture, a community of being. God’s very nature is love. God leads in humility, from “the space between.”2
When we begin with a recognition of who God is, we reassess who we are as his image-bearers. The result is a very different approach to leadership.
God’s Space Between: God is Trinity
God is Three-in-One.
This leads us to the wonderful and mysterious conclusion that God is social and relational. While God is a community of being there is also a wonderful and mysterious space between. God’s very nature is made of Three Persons who are distinct yet “neither divided nor fused or mixed together.”3
Within the Creator there is a space between. Therefore, such space can be found in all that the Triune One has created.
This recognition is an invitation for missional leaders. We can learn to live in the space between. We exist in open-ended and ambiguous spaces. We accept that we don’t have all the answers. We live in relationship with one another, the rest of creation and our Trinitarian God of this space between.
Jesus In Between: Incarnate Friend
During the seasons of Advent and Christmas, we reflect on this Divine Space. By becoming one of us, the Son stepped into the space between Father/Creator and humanity. The Incarnation affirms for us the wonder and mystery of a God who is willing to make Godself vulnerable, available and graspable. It also reminds us that we live in a space between.
By becoming flesh, Christ joins us in our space between, as being made of mud that also bear the divine image (Genesis 2:7). Jesus, the Incarnate One, does more than embody this space, he enlivens and directs it. He is the great shepherd in the midst of the sheep. He is the High Priest who mediates, reconciles and makes a way in the space between for His flock to do the same.
Jesus led from amongst his followers. He called them his friends (John 15:14,15). Likewise, the role of the Christian leader is not to stand over and above such a space but rather to inhabit it.
Missional leaders nurture authentic friendships with those whom they seek to lead. They come alongside, and serve one another in community with mutual trust, honor and love. Missional leaders do not impose their views. They seek, listen to and receive the gifts and insights of all who inhabit this space between.
Instead of a posture of command and control, missional leaders come side by side and even underneath. They demonstrate Jesus’ teaching and example that friends lay down their lives for one another (John 15:13.) Missional leaders can do no less.
This is the nature of love and God is love.
God is Love
This notion of leadership from among, as friends, directs us to the assertion that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16.) Love is always about the other. Love is always extending itself, which is also the very nature of “Missio Dei.”
The Sent and Sending One is the One who loves us first. God’s love occupies the space between even when it requires sacrifice and suffering (1 John 4:10, 19.) The often repeated axiom that “love is a verb” applies to God and what Godself does.
The Apostle John insists that the God of love calls and empowers His children to love as they have been loved. This love is also an act of obedience and gratitude not simply a feeling or statement of belief (1 John 4.)
Missional leaders who seek to love like they have been loved by God, will not be tempted to begin with answers, strategies and programs. Instead, theys seek to follow the “missio Dei” into the space between. In that space they will discover what the Triune loving One is already doing. They will participate in God’s very being (love) and mission.
The Spirit as Active Agent
This leads to another aspect of who God is, that must shape our missional leadership: The Scripture and our experiences affirm that the Spirit has gone and continues to go ahead of us. The Spirit is at work in God’s world in ordinary, everyday ways beyond the walls of ‘the church’.
This assertion is already evident in creation, as the Spirit hovers over all the earth. From then on, it is identified as the wind or breath of God, “an invisible and irresistible power present in the world.”4
Missional leadership affirms and looks for the Spirit’s activity in the world since
“we find the ministry of the Spirit involved in both the details of human existence and the behaviors of human beings. There is a material reality to the Spirit’s ministry. The Spirit’s ministry regularly takes on the particularities of a specific context.”5
Such an acknowledgment necessitates that missional leaders pay attention to their neighborhoods. They must recognize that the call and vocation of the church is to be in the world as the Spirit is in the world among the nations.
Missional leaders also affirm that the Spirit is at work in the ordinary lives of God’s people right where they live. The missional leader, along with their community seek to discern and partner with the Spirit. They don’t invent an agenda. They look for what Godself is already doing in the lives and communities around them. They imagine and dream with the Spirit about what God intends for these very people and places.
Have you looked to see what the Spirit is doing in your community?
The Priesthood of Imago Dei in the Space Between
If the Spirit has gone ahead and is active in the world, that activity is realized in those made in the image of their Creator. Human beings by their very nature and creation, being both Spirit and creature, embody space between (Genesis 2:7.)
Because people bear the Imago Dei of a Creator, they are co-creators. C.S. Lewis names this “the weight of glory” in every person, declaring that “next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”6
This weight of glory is displayed most perfectly in Jesus, the Incarnate One. Jesus shows us most perfectly what it means to be truly human. Having risen from the dead, Jesus sends his followers to live into their true humanity. They become Image bearers in and for the sake of the world.
Missional leaders must be sent and send others to become priests. They go to the space between because “in the Church of Jesus Christ, who is the only high priest and mediator, all the faithful are priests and clergy.”7 The vocation and identity of every believer (not just the ordained and professional) hence, is wrapped up in us all being sent Image bearers in the space between.
We engage with all that the Creator has made, not passively, but as priests and mediators. Through our lives, words and deeds, we acknowledge that creation is on a journey towards the new heaven and earth. This new creation is already here and yet to come in all its fullness. In this way, the church is a sign, agent and preview of the kingdom of God.
Missional leaders recognize, celebrate and call out the church from her internal spaces such as buildings, programs, and staff. They call the church to the people and places for which she is made and called to be a blessing. The church is God’s ministers, instruments and witnesses in all the earthiness of where they live (2 Corinthians 3:6; Isaiah 43:10, 43:12, 44:8 Acts 1:8; Matthew 5:14).
Simon Carey Holt invites Christians to see their role as “resident celebrants – neighborhood priests who embody and celebrate the presence of God where [they] live.”8 As Christ’s “called-out ones,” in the church and her leaders then are to add value, bring wisdom and cultivate better “villages.” Through incarnating the Gospel in this space between, we experience and embody God’s Kingdom with and for (and sometimes against) those not yet in the “ecclesia.”
This is the essence of missional leadership: abiding in and embodying right, where we live, the space between in such a way that others recognize that the Kingdom of God is near.
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1 Alan Roxburgh, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 34-43.
2 A term employed by Dr. Alan Roxburgh, Dmin 7616, Chicago: Northern Seminary, July, 2013.
3 Guido de Bräs, The Belgic Confession, Article 8, 1561.
4 Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit (MI: Baker Books, 2007), 30. Genesis 1:2, 8:1, Exod.10:13, 14:21; Num.11:31.
5 ibid, 27.
6 C. S. Lewis, “Weight of Glory” in Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1949), 46.
7 Hans Kung, The Church, (Garden City, NY: Image Books), 1976, 559.
8 Simon Carey Holt, God Next Door: Spirituality and Mission in the Neighborhood, (Victoria, Australia: Acorn Press, 2007), 19.
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