Having studied and now served/lived among a missional church community, I am seeing more and more the unique role leadership plays in this model of ministry. Initiating the paradigm of flat leadership (as apposed to hierarchal), these aren’t easy waters to navigate. In fact, in an attempt cultivate an ethos of shared leadership, the lines can become so blurred that there ceases to be any leadership at all. Based on my observations and experience, these are two essential leadership practices of the successful missional church leader:
1. Integrating Individual Ideals into the Mission of the Community
Whether we like it or not, we all enter community (whether an intentional community, local church, new relationship) with a set of expectations and ideals. Once we step into this new community context we start to compare our checklist of ideals (often unintentionally) with the set of ideals embraced by the greater community. When my ideals aren’t embraced and lived out by everyone else in the community of faith, I get frustrated and bail saying, “I’ll go start my own faith community that wants to value a TRUE set of ideals.” I understand this frustration, but it is exactly what fractures the Church (on a micro and macro level). Further, this person holds a definition of community that is 180 degrees counter to what community really is.
Ideals are essential to formation and mission, but when they aren’t integrated into the greater mission of a community, they become a hindrance. For example, Shane Claiborne has become a modern day prophet and community dynamo. When we hear and see his values being played out in his storytelling and way of life, we often (probably subconsciously) make his values our ideals. They are inherently great things, but when they become our unbending ideal of life and community, they are destined to isolate us from the very life and community he is advocating. If we truly desire deep community, we have to be willing to shed personal ideals that may not fit within the greater mission. And if your community is healthy, they will be open to embracing and exploring whether your ideal should become a community value.
Living in deep community, which serves as a medium for communion with God and participation in his Kingdom, embraces conflict and releases unrealistic personal ideals/expectations for those of the greater community.
I don’t know how many conversations I have had with brilliant and well-intentioned folks that have started intentional communities or missional churches that within one year had given up and moved on. They often are discouraged, frustrated and alone. This breaks my heart.
Their story almost always ends with an explanation of broken ideals and expectations of community and they become paralyzed. The myth is, “If we don’t do this, this and this, then we obviously aren’t a true community.” True community isn’t a static set of ideals. Community lives and breathes and has to flex so as not to be paralyzed by the very ideals we expect to give us value.
They had been striving for a common set of ideals instead of a common Mission. When their mythical utopia didn’t take shape, they figured they weren’t where God wanted them and it was time to go back to the drawing board of building community.
The wise missional church leader doesn’t simply point to a set of ideals, they point towards the Mission. There are all sorts of ways to serve God and advance his mission. A set of ideals fills out what that service might look. They are the means, not the end. If the leader points towards God’s mission, the ideals will fall into place, but they may not be the ideals that we first thought important when we came into our new faith community. We must choose mission over ideals.
Living in deep community is hard. Leading a group of individuals who all hold a set of personal ideals towards one Mission is hard. It is messy and I certainly don’t have it all figured out. With that said, it is worth it. I can imagine few things as symbolic of God’s Kingdom come than a band of Jesus disciples trading in personal ideals for the common Mission of God.
To Be Continued…Practice #2 in next post.