Thursday, March 12, 2015

Missional Leader as Sculptor of Ethos

 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?

John Maxwell defines leadership this way: “Leadership is influence.  Nothing more.  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 , wrote, "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."

Missional leaders 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 Creation

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.

1) Prayer—Never 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. 

2) Scripture—The 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 ethos.

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 ethos. 

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 Kingdom work.   

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 communities.

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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 March 2015

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