We have to face the reality that the church has lost its place at the center of culture.
For generations, the church enjoyed the position as a primary influencer in the culture. But that day has passed, and the church has been nudged to the margins.
The church particularly in America has reacted to this shift by attempting to regain the center. It has pinned the hope of national revival to recovering its place of influence in culture. The formal training for church leadership has for years been informed by this mindset, and continues to perpetuate the notion of the church at the center.
Rather than struggling to move to the center of culture again, why not instead engage the culture with the gospel from where we are? Churches must learn to transition to mission from the margins rather than from the center. That begins with the leadership. Pastors, planters, and leaders have to unlearn some things and re-learn how to lead missionally.
Today’s view of church leadership is based largely on the professional model. Ministry is seen as a profession requiring specialized training for specific roles that church members look to for spiritual resources. The image of the professional is rooted historically in how leaders are trained, how leaders see themselves, and how the churches see the leaders. Ministry is a profession in the same sense as law or medicine. Therefore, a professional degree is preferred and it takes professionals to do it. Some unfortunate ways the professional model is fleshed out in churches today are…
Pastoral care is the main function of the chaplain professional role. Taking care of the flock by visiting the home bound and hospitalized, providing counsel, preaching good sermons, marrying and burying duties, and basically managing the church are the chaplain’s duties.
Helping people feel good about themselves, showing how the gospel can empower people to succeed in life and giving principles to live their best life now is what the motivator professional leader does.
The pastor operates as a CEO who seeks to grow the church with marketing and branding, energetic worship, creativity, and relevant teaching series appealing to the felt needs of their target audience.
Notice a common factor among these three examples of the professional model. The primary leadership burden falls to one person. The organizational chart looks like a pyramid with one point, the pastor/leader at the top. Missional leadership is by necessity and scriptural history not for professionals, but for everyday people.
So what does missional leadership in a church look like? First, it is shared leadership. A plurality of leaders with a mix of gifting share the responsibility of leading the church. The facets of administration, shepherding, equipping, proclamation, and discipleship are divvied up among leaders who are best gifted for those particular responsibilities.
Next, missional leadership involves shared ministry. Ministry is not seen as the domain of the professional, but of every believer. Leaders in a missional church give the ministry away by equipping believers to live out the realities of a gospel-centered life in the everyday. Every believer is engaged with ministering to one another and their communities in the normal course of the everyday rhythms of life. Believers demonstrate the heart of God and the love of Jesus by caring for needs in very practical ways. The clergy/laity divide is broken down. If you have responded to Jesus’ call, Come, follow me, then you are called into ministry.
Finally, missional leadership culminates in a shared mission, making disciples. Believers are trained in gospel fluency, being able to apply the gospel to themselves, one another, and nonbelievers as gospel needs surface. Making disciples is way more than an invitation to the Sunday gathering; it’s a way of life. Leadership will train believers that making disciples is not only about seeing an individual converted to Jesus, but seeing that individual consumed by Jesus.
The missional church leader has the challenge of unlearning the professional paradigm and re-learning a whole different paradigm. Find others who are on this same journey and learn from one another. Build networks of like-minded missional leaders. Reach out to those a little further down the road than you when you hit roadblocks. Missional leadership is different and transitioning can be scary. But it is well worth it.