#ChurchTrending: Six Assumptions That Must Make the Missional Shift

What do you think?

In exploring trends that are shaping or misshaping the church, we might discover several common leadership assumptions that must shift toward a more missional posture:

1. The Right Program

Although most would be quite reticent to admit it, we continue to assume that if we can just find the right program and strategy and implement it well, the church will be back on track and ‘succeed’. In fact, some have presumed that ‘missional’ is this next ‘latest and greatest model.’ I confess, I have been there done that. The challenge at hand for the church however is not a problem to be solved, a need to be met or an issue to be addressed with another program or plan.  The challenge is whether we can learn to sit and listen to the other, the neighbour and the neighbourhood where God is at work ahead of us. Residing in this unfamiliar and often uncomfortable ‘space between’ as Alan Roxburgh refers to it, where leading is more about being attentive and vulnerable then about strategizing is both disorienting and disturbing for most church leaders. When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, he realized with fear and trembling that he, like we, was being called out of the predictable, secure, comfortable and safe environment of Midian and into an unknown future where God was leading and already at work. Moses had to trust, obey and take the risk of letting go of all that he had known and been, in order to embrace and become all that God had already called and made him to be in this new reality. The strategies and skills of his role in his father-in law’s household ‘program’ were neither adequate nor appropriate to the new journey and world ahead of him. However as Moses listened and followed, God provided, equipped and empowered him along with others such that God’s will was done on earth as it is in heaven.[1]  In the same way, missional leadership exposes our illusions about being able to order church and society with the right programs and strategies. As we find ourselves in a place outside of such systems, we learn again to trust the Father and engage without the familiarity and security of our predetermined schemes and agendas, models and plans.

2. More is Better

Another assumption that arises out of popular leadership trends has to do with our understanding of the nature of “success”. Many including myself, have measured church success in terms of having more and more people attending on Sunday mornings and participating in church educational opportunities, service projects, etc. but if God is to be found in ‘out there’ and missional leadership is all about faithfully following the Incarnate One who lived among, loved unconditionally and embodied the space between with grace and mercy then “success” is not about “church attendance”. In fact, the focus of the church moves from “onstage” to “off stage” which releases, values and empowers us to cultivate lives in and with our neighbourhoods rather than commit our time and effort to “onstage” in-house activities.[2]  After all, the One we claim to follow, left heaven’s stage to walk the back rooms, caretaker’s closets, and parks at the end of the block and, to sit at the tables of the other.  Can the church get off her stages and into her neighbourhood?

3. Hub and Spoke

Another related leadership 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 the latter, i.e. your every day ordinary Christian is, well, to be put it crassly, ill-equipped, ignorant and 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. [3] 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.[4]  As missional leaders step out of the hub and spoke mentality, leaving “their baggage behind” and “enter[ing] into the life of [their] neighbourhood” as the vulnerable ones,[5] the Spirit teaches that “what God is doing has a lot more to do with the stranger and receiving hospitality than being in control of the resources and the answers.”[6]  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.”[7]


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