By Karen Wilk
Last time, I kicked off the conversation about leadership trends that are shaping or misshaping the church. Here are two more assumptions about church success that we need to reevaluate:
3. Hub and Spoke
Another trend is to presume that an expert, professional hub has all the answers. It supposes that those at the centre (imagine a wheel) have the resources, expertise, knowledge, power and authority to lead, provide for and guide those at the other end of the spokes. The assumption is that your every day ordinary Christian is, well, to be put it crassly, incapable on their own. It creates a dependency on an outside source which neither inhabits nor relates to the context, denies the giftedness and Presence of the Spirit at work in every believer and, therefore, will never be sufficient for that people and place.
It assumes that “one size fits all” and that that “size” can be managed, stimulated and controlled by the systems, structures and experts of the hub. In so doing, it implies that what those “on the rim” need, does not reside within them or is insufficient.1 Yet, it is this very insufficiency that opens us up to the work of the Spirit! In this vulnerable space we experience the wonder and joy of trusting the Spirit as we return from a foreign yet promised, land, carrying a cluster of grapes on a pole between us.2 According to Henry Nouwen, “the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.”3
4. It’s All About Me
A fourth and related default concerns the individualistic approach to life and faith. It’s about me: my needs, my relationship with Jesus, my comfort, my salvation. Church leaders therefore not only give their attention to the needs and perspectives of the individual but also are arranged according to a hierarchy of individual relationships. Catholic missionary Vincent Donovan deems both idolatrous. Love of the former consumes the vast majority of the church’s resources, time, energy and talent producing “a plethora of meetings and chapters and synods and councils and committees” while “individualism has its obsessions also: individual responsibility, individual morality, individual vocation to the priesthood, self-fulfillment, individual holiness and salvation…with little room for community in between.”4 Charles Taylor calls this the “unprecedented primacy of the individual.”5
The organization seeks, trains, and caters to the individual, forming an association or collection of self-selecting individuals. But does Christianity make any sense outside of communitas, the community of God’s people formed by, witnessing to, and participating in God’s mission?6 Missional leaders recognise the importance of WE, of the community not only in terms of discipleship, the shaping of imago Dei in the image of our Lord and Saviour, but also in terms of our vocation as the salt and light of the world in the world.
Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk assert that “Missional leadership is not effectiveness in meeting the inner, spiritual needs of self-actualizing and self-differentiating individuals or creating numerical growth. It is different from building healthy, non-anxious relationships among members of a congregation so that they appear attractive to people outside the church. Missional leadership is cultivating an environment that releases the missional imagination of the people of God.”7
Jesus sends out the twelve as well as the seventy-two in pairs, implying not only that it is about our going but that we cannot bring good news on our own but are sent together to do so.8 In fact, it is when we are in community (two or three) in Jesus’ Name that we are assured that Jesus is there among us.9 Missional leadership, then, is not only a communal experience but also a mutual experience.10
We are in this together! A church, then, is a self-organizing community on mission not, as has been assumed so often, a managed system.
Leading this kind of community challenges missional leaders to break out of systems management into the unpredictable open space from where he and she can together call forth and encourage all to become citizens of their own neighbourhoods and of the Kingdom of heaven (again or for the first time) as communitas.
In the final installment, I’ll discuss incarnational identity and the actions vs knowledge conflict.
This article can be found in its entirety at missioalliance.org
- Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2007), 90.
- Numbers 13:23.
- Henry Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1989), 30.
- Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1978), 68.
- Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 2004), 50.
- Alan Hirsch, quoted by Michael Frost in Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture (Peabody, MA:Hendrickson, 2006), 123. “Communitas” is “a community infused with a grand sense of purpose; a purpose that lies outside of its current internal reality and constitution. It’s the kind of community that ‘happens’ to people in actual pursuit of a common vision of what could be. It involves movement and it describes the experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group of people actually engaging in a mission outside itself.”
- Alan J Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader, (San Fran, CA: Jossey Bass, 2006), 122.
- Mark 6:7, Luke 10:1.
- Matthew 18:19,20.
- Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, 59.