The Shape of Missional Leadership

Donald Goertz

Christlike leaders? Does Jesus really address the topic? Is he practical? Does the Bible provide better, more realistic leadership models? Yet, that call to Christlikeness remains and I would suggest that it is here that we will begin to find a voice in our postmodern, post Christian world and a foundation for beginning to speak of metanarrative within the context of pluralism. Crucial to this conversation are some basic theological characteristics of leadership born out of a missional engagement.

I. The primary identity of a leader is one who hears.

Leaders are expected to lead, while we provide input. But what voice shapes the vision? Jesus operated as one who acted on what he had heard. First his Father spoke. Then Jesus acted. While we too encourage leaders to listen, the unanswered question is, are they able to hear? Most of us are like a young Samuel who heard a voice but was unable to recognize the speaker. Leadership formation must involve teaching people how to hear in order to enter into God’s vision. As a consequence, one of the key disciplines of leadership is contemplative prayer. Kingdom leaders regularly put themselves in places where they are able to hear God and to work with people who can help them recognize the voice.

II. The posture of a leader is that of a servant.

This is Jesus’ primary metaphor. He is the washer of feet. Leadership is fundamentally an issue of character, a posture of humility. Only if we identify ourselves as people who hear is this possible. Only if the vision is not mine, if my ego is not tied up in the success of the venture, can I adopt this posture. We are talking about humility of character that is able to take all of one’s gifts and powers and put them in the service of another’s cause. Since it is God who is acting, outcomes may surprise. Since I do not define success, I refuse to force outcomes. Rather as a leader I continue to listen and to put myself in a place where I am prepared to respond to what I hear.

III. The task of a leader is obedience.

Leaders lead. Structural accountability for performance issues is acceptable, but can we be effective if we see ourselves as under authority? To live in obedience to God can only be worked out by choosing to enter into relationships where we become accountable to others for character growth. Only in this way are we able to keep from confusing our voice for that of God. Only regular practice of the discipline of confession and forgiveness makes this type of life possible. In recognizing and naming our sin and failure we help to shape communities that are open and growing in accountability.

IV. The goal of a leader is to live as a servant of the mission dei.

A commitment to personal and corporate transformation marks the missional leader. The "good news" is of the Kingdom of God, something much bigger than the Church. Recognizing that God is at work in every corner of the world, including institutions and structures, these leaders understand that no place stands outside of the work of grace. They endeavour to discern where God is at work and, with the community of faith, to enter into it. This means working for reconciliation, seeing possibilities that are not yet visible to others. One can only achieve this with a commitment to theological reflection as a spiritual discipline and to an ongoing dialogue with culture, rooted in a clear understanding of the Kingdom.

V. The location of a leader is identified by incarnation.

Rooted in the words of Jesus "as the Father has sent me, so send I you," incarnation is a simple, powerful call identifying us as sent out ones. Leave those places of safety and comfort, places of belonging that we call home. Following the example of Christ, the leader, willing engaging risk, leads the community out into the world. If Jesus’ life and ministry provide the shape of our own, there is an engagement at the deepest levels of both power and brokenness. As suffering, death and resurrection form a part of this engagement; the community of faith will need a leader who shares their location.

VI. The style of a leader is unique.

Each missional leader is a part of a unique leadership team. No one person has all of the gifts needed to exercise effective kingdom leadership. Recognizing that God gives gifts to all people, they understand leadership as a team endeavour. Also, knowing that a natural instinct is to emulate our own models, a missional leader is committed to short-circuiting this. They strive to nurture the unique and creative gifts in others through the practice of the ancient skills of mentoring and spiritual direction.

[This article first appeared in the Tyndale Centre For Leadership Newsletter, June, 2005.]