missional living

Two Essential Practices of Missional Church Leadership (or any leader)

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

Ideals

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.

Community

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.

Mission

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.

Bottom Line

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.

Lead By Position or Through Influence?

I recently wrote an article chronicling some of the key tensions I faced while working in the formal position of Youth Pastor.  It was published on the Youth Specialties site today.  Can you relate or have you experienced this tension?

It was my first day working in the local public high school.  The teenagers walk into my classroom, 70% listening to their iPods while the other 30% are busy texting.  They turn the chairs from their desks and face them towards their friends so they can carry on the conversation they were having on the bus.  Trying not to show my inner panic, I calmly walk around the room and keep a stern face while thinking, “I’m sure they will all focus once the final bell rings for class to start.”  One minute later the bell rings.  It might as well have been their mom asking them to take out the trash…no response.  I think, “What have I gotten myself into?”

I had worked at churches and been in youth ministry my whole adult life.  I owned the title of “youth pastor” and was pretty good at it.  Most little boys want to be baseball players or astronauts when they are little.  I wanted to be a youth pastor.  Weird?  Maybe, but there was some truth to that dream and aspiration.  I loved teenagers and being a youth pastor was a great context to serve them.

My time as a youth pastor was full of authentic relationships, generally; the teenagers came to me and I was the guy that was supposed to have all the answers and create a good time.  Everything was going smoothly until I started asking myself some hard questions…Read Complete Article Here

Living Mission

We were about to pray for our Sunday evening community meal when a man walked in the front door looking a bit rattled.  He looked around the living room where we were all gathered in a semi-circle and said, “My car just got stolen in the alley behind your house.  Did any of you see who it may have been?”  Living a neighborhood formerly known as “Heroine Hill,” unfortunate incidents like this don’t seem that uncommon.

Living a life rooted in the Mission of God forces us into meaningful relationships.

Throughout the Biblical Story, God is constantly pursuing a relationship with His people.  He seeks out their restoration and invites them back to Himself.  He is a missional God; a God on mission to redeem the Creation that was fractured early in its story.

Those that have been restored to relationship with God are then sent on mission to represent God to the world (see Abram in Gen. 12) and invite others into the restoration that God is waiting to offer humanity.  There is an expectation that God’s people are to carry on the act that God has exemplified throughout all of history.  There is a rhythm to God’s mission.  God seeks his people; people are restored to their Creator; people seek other people; people are invited into restoration in their Creator.  Repeat.

God is on mission and he calls all his followers to participate in advancing his mission.

As a people on mission, we are to represent the heart of God to all people, in all places, at all times.  I live and serve among a community of people that take seriously God’s vocational call to live on mission.  Whether in half way homes, refugee populations, after school programs, coffee shops, public schools or community basketball courts, we seek to enter the story of the people of our neighborhood with the Good News of Jesus.  In order to invite people into relationship with God, we must establish sincere relationships with each other.

Last night (the same night that started with the man telling us of his stolen car), we (NieuCommunities) opened up our home and invited the neighborhood to come share in a Christmas celebration with us.  It wasn’t a gathering of strangers.  It was a gathering of friends.  In the same neighborhood that offers so many examples its fractured reality, we were able to experience an evening of Shalom/peaceful wholeness.  The culmination of the relationships we have established in this neighborhood, it was a group that included Iranian doctors, women coming out of their house for a cigarette while they listened to Christmas carols, a formerly homeless family, newspaper reporters, etc…

On the eve of God’s culminating act in His mission of restoring humanity –Jesus’ life, death and resurrection-we were able to experience a glimpse of his Kingdom come.  An affirmation that we have joined God’s divine rhythm of redemption and restoration.  A call towards a life of missional discipleship following closely in the footsteps of our Rabbi, Jesus.

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