Missional Leadership

By Cam Roxburgh, National Director of Forge Canada

It has been said, “The church rises and falls with leadership.” I guess it depends on what is meant by leadership. And whose leadership.
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Over the 22 years I have been privileged to be a pastor, I have been enamored with much of the material on leadership. I have been influenced by the Willow Creek Leadership Summits, been a part of Leadership Network and have had leaders of wonderful ministries speak into my life. I am grateful for them and for what I have learned. Of course, I have shelves full of the latest-greatest leadership books in an effort to go from good to…well you know what I mean.

My concern is that our understanding of leadership has grown away from what God intends for us. I confess that I have been guilty of this. Whether we see leadership as an art, or a skill, or whether we say it is all about influence, we must take note that we have begun to act and think as though leadership is the most important gift or role in the body. We begin to believe that it does all depend on us. Both of these are—in and of themselves—dangerous.

As we have grown in our missional understanding of God and the church over the last 15 years, new questions have been raised over our understanding of leadership. But that journey has only just begun. There are many who are asking questions of the way we have read the text or have structured ourselves in the functioning of the church. Isn’t followership much more of an important issue in the New Testament? Doesn’t Jesus warn about copying the leadership patterns of the world?

Forge exists to help churches (existing and new) become more missional. In Ethos, a two-year process of producing missional DNA, we begin with an exploration of Missional Leadership. This first module of Ethos looks at developing the character and competencies that Christ fostered in His disciples. We assume that leadership is first about becoming like Christ and living in the reality of the kingdom of God, bearing witness to the Christ that dwells within us. In light of this, we at Forge suggest a number of important components for missional leadership formation.

First, we start with theology. This is about God, and about His mission to redeem all things. Perhaps in the contemporary church we have adopted more secular perspectives of leadership that inadvertently cause us to believe that success depends on us. Far too often I am aware both in my own life and in the lives of many pastors I meet, that we believe at some level that it is all about us. When we begin with the question—“What works?”—we inadvertently begin a conversation about the church, mechanics, and our own strength. But missional theology reminds us that this is upside-down. We must begin with a different question—“What is right?”—and recognize that our conversation and action take place in response to the nature, presence, and action of God. Our lives bear witness to God. Missional Leadership participates in the mission of God and so anticipates and bears witness to the reality that all things are made new in Christ. It is God who redeems the world.

Second, we recognize that missional leadership is about helping God’s people recognize God at work in their context. Theology (who God is) leads to missiology (what God is doing). It is a very different kind of leadership that helps God’s people focus on the journey and not just the destination. Instead of just finding success measurements, leaders help God’s people pay attention the work of the Holy Spirit in them and around them. Perhaps putting our eggs in the basket of business-type leadership has caused us to think that we are responsible for the growth of the numbers in the church instead of paying attention to where He is at work.

Third, missional leadership develops the competencies that Jesus was fostering in His disciples. In the kingdom of God, there is a very different approach to life than there is in the Kingdom of the world. This includes leadership. Gardens produce flowers and vegetables, but the gardener is responsible for creating an environment that fosters growth. Missional leadership recognizes that those who have the gift of leadership in the body of Christ are not responsible for growth. Rather, they foster an environment where growth can take place. The competencies of missional leadership reflect the seemingly upside down nature of the kingdom of God.

Leadership is important, but the church rises and falls with the leadership of Jesus, and on our willingness to follow. Leaders create an environment for growth to happen.

Cam RoxburghFind this article in its original context in December’s Missional Voice newsletter. Cam Roxburgh is the National Director for Forge Canada, the VP of Missional Initiatives for the North American Baptists, and the Team Leader at Southside Community Church in Vancouver, Canada. He lives in Surrey, British Columbia with his wife and four children. cam.roxburgh@forgecanada.ca

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