For the last decade, I have done much thinking about the
essence of leadership—particularly missional leadership. What is it? What
does a missional leader do?
defines leadership this way: “Leadership is
Nothing less.” Influence
is a potent term.
It captures the essence
of leadership. Influence is the ability to persuade or move people or
institutions to adopt a certain course of action or to believe certain things
to be true.
It is also, as Erwin McManus
suggests, the ability to change the things that a person cares about.
In our context as followers of Jesus, missional relates to
those things that resonate with the mission of God. It involves participation in God’s actions in
creation. To be missional is to be in
tune with and acting upon God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” Thus, missional
leadership is influence that unleashes others to participate in God’s
overarching mission for His Creation.
Men and women who serve as missional leaders work to shape
and create a mission-centered ethos within their communities. Such an ethos is
shaped through language, environment, and actions. We will now explore these three elements.
Secular leaders have long recognized the power of language. Bart
Nanus in Visionary Leadership
"There is no more powerful engine driving an organization toward
excellence and long-range success than an attractive, worthwhile, and
achievable vision of the future, widely shared."
deploy the power of language to invite people to live in a new land—a land that
evokes God-sized dreams and is permeated with the love and hope that God
unleashed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through
the subsequent outpouring of the Spirit on Jesus’ followers. We, of course, are not describing mere
rhetoric—as if human language alone has intrinsic power apart from God. The Bible as the Word of God invites us into
this new world as the Scriptures announce to us God’s mission.
I am convinced that as interpreters of Scripture we need to
think about the overarching story of the Bible
. Too often we have a tendency to
read the Bible as a collection of fragments whose imagery we can capture for a
sermon or time of teaching. Yet, the Scriptures focus on the mission of God (missio dei
Humanity plays a vital role in God’s mission. In God’s original plan, humanity was created
to serve as a missional community to reflect God’s character to all creation. Human
rebellion (described most poignantly in the narratives of Genesis 3-11 and in
Paul’s letter to Rom (Romans 1-3) created the need for God to work profoundly
for the reconciliation of humanity. This
involved the creation of a new people—Israel through whom God would work to
bring salvation to the end of the earth.
God’s plan of salvation for humanity reached its climax in the life,
death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
Jesus fulfilled all that Israel was to be and unleashed his followers to
into the world to share the good news of God’s salvation through the power of
the Holy Spirit. The Scriptural story
ends where it began—New Creation.
Ostensibly, life in the New Creation will be a renewal of the original
purposes for humanity—living as a missional community for all Creation by
reflecting God’s character to it.
Thus we may outline the Bible as a whole in this manner:
Creation -- Fall -- Israel -- Jesus Christ -- Church -- New
The missional leader understands, breathes, and lives for
this narrative. She or he uses the power of language to help others to catch a
glimpse of what God is doing. The goal of this deployment of language is
simple: conversion. The missional
leader seeks to establish a missional ethos through language so that followers
of Jesus the Messiah may be (re)converted and (re)ignited to God’s mission and
so that those non-Christ followers may be invited to live for God’s mission
receiving the gift of life that God offers through trusting Jesus Christ.
Designers of missional worship services need to maneuver
skillfully between two false temptations. The first temptation is a stodgy
allegiance to a traditional liturgical service.
Traditionalists tend to forget that every tradition began as a
contemporary and fresh expression of worship in some context. It is simply wrong-headed
to think that an orthodox theology will translate only into one type of
worship. The second temptation is to overemphasize “edginess” as evidence of
missional zeal. It is a fine line between seeking to speak clearly and
relevantly to a target audience (or as I like to say “to speak human”) and
losing the essence of the Gospel.
Here are a couple of thoughts about shaping environment.
underestimate the importance and power of prayer. Missional communities resonate with God through
prayer. Leaders must lead from their
knees. The creation of environments must
be birth in prayer and sustained by the prayers of the missional leaders and
their communities of faith. There is no
substitute for this step.
Bible offers to its readers a new world.
It is an invitation to experience a new life and to live the reality of
New Creation in the present. Missional
leaders understand that communities of faith need to be saturated with
Scripture. The Bible is the most profound
book that humanity possesses. Missional
communites need to rediscover its power and its ability to shape and create
3) Deploy Gifts Openly—Missional
leaders push their communities to grow in grace and Christlikeness by
celebrating and deploying the gifts of the body. Many emerging Churches have rediscovered the
power of art in worship. Dance, music, painting, video, and drama are becoming
increasingly common in worship gatherings in missional communities in the
Western world. These features push
followers of Christ to use their own gifts. For too long, Christian artists
have been held at arm’s length by the Church. This has harmed the Christ
following movement because it has stifled the creativity of community as the whole. Any time that a person’s gifts and talents
are squelched the body of Christ is harmed. Missional communities need every
single Christ follower functioning fully. Deploying gifts in the context of
worship encourages others to use their own gifts for the good of the whole.
Missional leaders must learn to sculpt the ethos of their
communities of faith. We have already
looked at the potential of deploying language and creating environments that
reflect a biblical ethos. The missional
leader can also shape ethos through his or her actions. This may ultimately be the greatest shaper of
There are at least four areas in which our actions can model
a biblical ethos for our communities to embrace and embody:
1) The missional
leader can shape ethos through a commitment to a missional lifestyle. Mission must be modeled from the top down.
Our communities will only be missional to the extent that the community’s
leaders embrace mission as a core value and live their lives in light of God’s
mission. Our modus operandi must resonate with Paul’s poignant declaration in 1
Corinthians 9:22—“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible
means I might save some.”
2) The missional
leader can shape ethos through the practice of a radically inclusive ministry. All people on earth regardless of race, sex,
color, nationality, religion, or socio-economic class have been forged in the
image of God. This is the message of Genesis 1:26-31. All oppression and divisions among these
groups is traceable to the pervasive and persistent presence of sin in every
individual, group, and culture (Genesis 3-11). Sadly, the Church has for too
long perpetuated these divisions even within the community of faith. Yet, in
Jesus Christ, there is a radical newness. Through the life, death, and
resurrection of Jesus, the possibility of living the life that God created us
to live is a reality. The old divisions are gone. There is new creation (2 Corinthians 5). Paul
words in Galatians 3:26-28 are profound—“for in Christ Jesus you are all
children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there
is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you
are one in Christ Jesus.”
What does a radically
inclusive ministry look like?
a) It empowers women
for leadership roles. I fully understand that the evangelical world is
divided over this issue, but I am convinced that the biblical witness supports
the full inclusion of women in leadership roles within the Christ-following
movement. This is not the place for a full defense of this position, but I am
convinced that this needs to be part of our witness to the culture.
b) It rejects
divisions along socio-economic lines. Missional leaders are willing to pay
the price to allow the active participation of poor and rich alike within their
communities. James 2 gives stern
warnings about acting otherwise. As the world becomes increasingly urbanized,
we will continue to witness extreme poverty. If the Christ-following movement
is to ever have a global impact, it needs to begin serving the poor in their
own geographic locales.
c) It develops cross
cultural and interracial friendships as the presupposition for the creation of
multi-cultural communities that give the world a taste of the diversity of
Kingdom of God. Too many leaders lament the segregation of communities of
faith, but miss the irony that the basis for desegration is not lament but the
active embrace of persons different from ourselves. We need to cultivate
friendships and relationships with persons from backgrounds unfamiliar to us.
An inclusive ministry is the pathway to unleashing followers
of Christ to deploy fully their giftedness.
3) The missional
leader can shape ethos by empowering others to serve according to their
giftedness. The biblical portraits
of gifts (e.g., Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 12-14) suggest that the body of
Christ is a living organism in which each member has a crucial role to
play. The people of God need one
another. Biblical community occurs when
each believer deploys his or her gifts, talents, and passions within the
community. The missional leader will
work to shape the ethos of the community by (re)implementing a biblical vision
of the God’s people by empowering followers of Christ to unleash the full range
of their giftedness and the natural result of their relationship with Jesus
Christ. Missional leaders rather than
being the driving force of every discrete ministry within a community will
serve as coaches who train, empower, and encourage followers of Christ in their
4) The missional
leader can shape ethos by a commitment to living a whole and balanced life as a
follower of Jesus Christ. Human
beings were created to live in authentic community in which they reflect God’s
character to the world. Community,
holiness, and mission are the essence of the imago dei in humanity. Missional
leaders need to reflect these aspects in their own lives. The persons who
listen to us and watch us will be persuaded most readily by a life that they
would want to live. Following Jesus Christ is not about prosperity or material
happiness, but it comes with a joy and fulfillment that cannot be attained by
any other means. If we are to shape a biblical ethos for our communities, we
ourselves as missional leaders must live whole and balanced lives before our
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If you are looking for a resource to create a missional DNA in your community of faith through the study of Scripture, check out Invitation.
© 2006 Brian D. Russell, revised significantly June 2012 and