Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

I recently asked some leaders what their biggest challenge was in leading their teams. One person wrote:

The biggest challenge I face is finding volunteers to step up and lead or help.

Here’s some reflections I offered:

Recruits for Ministries

Technical fixes

  • offer time-limited, clearly defined, small tasks 
  • change the story, e.g. from “we need someone to volunteer to help with the Sunday School” to “there is an opportunity here for you to impact a child’s life”
  • don’t appeal to people’s sense of duty; invite them to offer their gifts. I use the “Go with the guilt” principle. Sometimes, when people are asked to do something, they say ‘yes’, even though they would like to say ‘no’. They say ‘yes’ because they think that they will feel guilty for not helping out where needed. Then, they get angry and they resent the time and energy the task is taking. I invite them to ‘go with the guilt’ and just say ‘no’. Do what brings you joy and delight. 
  • limit the number of ministries that each person can take on (one or two at the most: one major, one minor):  less assertive people often don’t offer their help if someone else is already doing it
  • offer ‘apprenticeships’ — pair a less-experienced person with an experienced person so that the less-experienced person can learn and gain confidence in their capacity to do the task. In this way, ‘volunteers’ become ‘leaders’, their creativity is unleashed, commitment strengthened, confidence developed
  • celebrate the work people are doing; help them find and articulate the holy significance of what they are doing. Send letters to them reflecting on the holy significance of what they are doing; invite people to share their experiences of God’s presence and work during worship, in newsletters, in special publications.

Adaptive changes

Turn the notion of ‘church’ upside down.

The model of ‘church’ we have inherited delivers projects and programmes that require ‘volunteers’ and committee members. People are recruited to fill positions that 

  • may or not be clearly defined 
  • may or may not have a clear end-date 
  • may or may not fit their gifts, passions, interests or skills.

Missional church focuses on developing relationships — with God, with each other, with the ‘neighbourhood’. People aren’t recruited to fit the needs of the structures as much as the structures are shaped to nurture and develop the Spirit -driven gifts and calls of the people so that they are equipped for mission in the world. 

It assumes:

  • the the mission is God’s and God will provide the gifts and people that are needed to fulfill the mission. (Develop your capacity to pray and trust Psalm 23:1 —  “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need” — not everything I want but everything I need to accomplish the work God has given me to do)
  • the work of the church is to be open to what it is that the Spirit is asking of its people; to be open to where the Spirit is leading the people in mission. This means developing the capacities of the people for prayer, for listening and for discernment; developing eyes to see what God is supplying and the ways in which God is already working
  • you need to develop the person before you develop the ministry. “Change happens at the pace of relationship”. The process/programme/project are only tools for developing the relationship with the people. This includes allowing people to ‘drop the ball’ and not rushing in to cover for them. If you always pick up the responsibilities that they drop, you infantilize them. The point is not to run a successful programme; the point is to develop people and relationships
  • ministry happens through collaborative teams of ‘ministers’ (defined as all the baptized people of God) vs. hierarchical ministry offered by paid professional ministers who look for lay people to help them do the ministry or accomplish an agenda. I have been working with a group of lay people who are engaged in developing their capacity to respond to the Holy Spirit and who have been experimenting with new ways of participating in God’s mission. A member of their congregation said to them, “Why are you doing this? Isn’t that what we pay the minister to do? Why not leave it to her”. I reflected back to them, “You have been experiencing God’s presence and work in all sorts of relationships, both inside and outside the church. You have been struck with awe as you have been part of holy moments of God’s grace in other people’s lives and in your own. You get to be in sacred experiences. Why would you want to leave all of that to be only the experience of the ordered minister?”
  • ‘failure’ will be expected. The Church is venturing into uncharted territory. We don’t know how to make ‘church’ work any more. We need to take one step at a time, to discern, to experiment, to reflect on what happens and learn from it. Create a culture in which experimenting and failing are expected as steps to learning what will work.

When you operate out of these assumptions, the focus shifts from accomplishing a task to growing people. Put the work into growing people in their capacity to listen for, discern and respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading. It may be slower than jumping into a new project. One group who spent 3 -6 months learning how to listen and discern (and grumbled about it the whole time) discovered that, when they did launch a project which they believed that the Holy Spirit was leading them to do, things fell into place more quickly and with a far greater effect than they had expected. Many more people showed up to help than they had expected. The project grew more quickly; far more lives were impacted.

Be ready to be surprised — 

by the ways in which God is working in people’s lives; 

by the ways in which God supplies what is needed for the ministry/mission;

by resurrection!

Give God plenty of room to use people in ways you cannot imagine 

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I’ve been  doing some research on congregational amalgamations. One thing is very apparent: amalgamations have a greater chance of being ‘successful’ if they are driven by a conviction that the participating congregations are able to serve God’s mission better together than separately.

What is also apparent is that most congregations enter into the conversation about amalgamation when they are desperate: the leadership of the congregation are tired of working very hard to keep things going; the building is in need of major repairs; the finances are unable to sustain the ongoing costs.

Often, then, people enter into the conversation hoping that an amalgamation will solve those problems. Past experience indicates that that will probably not be the case. If nothing is done to address the dynamics that caused the decline and the crises in the first place, within a few short years, the new congregation will be facing the same problems again.

Addressing those dynamics is hard work. Once a congregation enters into the process of amalgamating with another congregation, its people can be easily distracted from that hard work by the technical details of making an amalgamation happen. However, figuring out why God has called them to be the church in a particular place and time is critical to their becoming a flourishing congregation. That work needs to be done before, during and after the amalgamation process.

In the recent past, many congregations tried to do that work by developing mission or vision statements and by listing their values. I am not convinced that that has been helpful or fruitful. Many congregational mission statements are merely generic descriptions of what the people think a church should be. They are seldom very compelling. They are usually focused primarily on the church rather than on the mission.

So, what does a congregation do in order to get a clear sense of what God is calling them to be and to do in their particular place and time? I suspect that the answer to that question lies in story-telling. The Church is a story-formed community. The Bible doesn’t list a set of values. It tells stories about the Triune God and about the people who have lived in response to and in obedience to that God.

What would it look like to reclaim that way of being the Church? People would need to know the Story well. It would need to dwell deeply in their hearts and their lives. The sad thing is that so many Christians have given up on our Story. They are not convinced that the stories in the Bible have much to say to the way they live their lives. It is a great challenge for their leaders to wrestle with the scriptures so deeply that the Story catches fire in their own lives. Then they will have something to offer their people.

The people will need to know the Story well enough that they are able to work with it creatively. Then, there will need to be a culture in the congregation that nurtures in them that creativity and celebrates it.

I am wondering if a way to start would be to give story-telling a more prominent place in the life of the community of faith. Have people tell the stories of what God is doing in their lives. Discover what biblical stories are living at the heart of the community. Learn those stories. Wrestle with them. Tell them to each other. Let those stories shape the decisions that are made. Let them be the lens through which the congregation sees what God is calling them to be and to do.

Does anyone know a congregation where that is happening? I would love to hear about it.

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As the church moves into a new paradigm, ordered ministry personnel find themselves confronting questions about their identity and role.

Many different models and metaphors have been used to describe the role and identity of ordered ministers. When the Church existed in Christendom, the ordered minister often operated as a chaplain — tending to the pastoral and spiritual needs of people who lived in a culture that helped the church shape and form Christians and a culture that saw itself as  operating on Christian ethical principles. We live in a very different culture now.

A model or metaphor for ordered ministers that is being reclaimed is that of equipper — one who equips the culture of the congregation such that all the baptized know that they are ministers both in the church gathered (ekklesia) and in the church scattered into the world (diaspora). The ordered minister is a ‘ministry developer’ who mentors, guides and educates the ministers of the congregation for their ministries. S/he is the team leader, the overseer of the joint work of the people.

This model requires different kinds of leadership from the chaplaincy model. Among other things, it requires leadership that is willing to upset the status quo that prevails in the environment of most congregations. Major shifts need to be made in the ways congregations govern themselves and in their delivery of pastoral care, faith formation, worship and proclamation. They must be structured for relationships instead of programmes: relationships of trust, of truth-telling, of forgiveness, of compassion. That work of re-shaping congregations will require ministers who are cultivating a deep identity in Christ rather than in the work that they do or in the acclaim of the congregation.

Leaders need different metrics for measuring what they are doing. Rather than counting bodies, buildings, and budgets, churches could count how many people have had their gifts identified and their vocation made clear. How many people in the congregation are equipped for ministry? How many lives have been transformed? What is the depth of community? Where are there signs of mutual love and support? Those metrics are relationship-based. They are developed through different skills and capacities than most clergy received in their formal theological training. They operate out of a different imagination than functions in most congregations. William Willimon suggests that the test for pastoral ministry is not, “How much have I been able to accomplish at my church?” but rather, “How much have I enabled the laity to accomplish at their church.” (William Willimon, “The Point of Pastoral Ministry: Lay Ministry”  March 26, 2007).

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Something new is being created in various places across the United Church of Canada. A new congregational culture is taking shape, albeit often in tentative and fragile forms. Congregations and other faith communities are finding their way forward. Based on the conversations I have been having, some trends seem to be emerging.

There is a congregational culture emerging that is focused on the ministry of all the baptized, not primarily on the ministry of the ordered ministry personnel. Clergy-centred solo pastoral ministry is giving way to participatory leadership teams in all aspects of congregational life. Authority is being distributed among the people based on gifts, relational influence, and areas of mission; power is seen as something that is to be given away to others. Clergy are recognizing that it is not their role to ‘be the minister’ but to equip the ministers of the congregation and to cultivate a congregational culture where creativity and permission-giving and risk-taking are the norm. There is an expectation that people will be engaged in deepening discipleship throughout their whole lives since the work in which they are engaged cannot be done in one’s own strength and wisdom. What ‘deepening discipleship’ looks like is localized, depending on each different context and the gifts and passions of the people involved and driven by the missionary situation in which people find themselves.

A congregational culture is emerging that prioritizes the deepening of the ministry of all the people over the continuance of the institutional structure or the building. Organizations get the results for which they are structured. That which is given attention is what grows. Churches are changing what they are paying attention to. This includes changing the way the church measures what it is doing. Rather than measuring how many people are on the membership roll or how many dollars are being raised and spent, churches are beginning to measure the people’s depth of involvement in ministry and mission in the world. Rather than paying attention to who is serving on what committee, worship services and annual reports are providing opportunities for people to witness and testify to the ways in which the Holy Spirit is working in and through their lives in their neighbourhoods, places of work and leisure times. The conversation is about ‘sightings’ of the reign of God, not the needs of the institution.

The emerging congregational culture is finding ways to attend to the pastoral care and spiritual needs of its members (often through small groups) but the dominant conversations are not about getting one’s needs met but about discerning what God is doing and what God is calling the church to be in the world. The focus is not on programmes and membership privileges but on following Jesus as a way of life. People are learning ways of listening to others outside the church. They are learning not to approach situations as ‘fixers’, with their well-intentioned agendas; rather, they are recognizing that they are often on the receiving end of the hospitality and gifts of ‘the other’. There is a humility and openness in their relationships — and a recognition that it is about building relationships rather than fixing problems.

Not every renewing congregation or developing faith community exhibits all those characteristics. However, these trends keep emerging in the conversations I have been having. What is also apparent is that congregations often are finding their way forward in isolation from others. They need to be in networks with other faith communities that are finding their way. What another church does is probably not directly transferrable to another church. ‘Cookie cutter’ solutions will not work in the diverse situations in which congregations find themselves. We live out our faith incarnationally, which means its expression is shaped by the local context. However, what is working for one church may provide inspiration for a creative initiative in another congregation. Besides, we all need companions on the journey, especially on this journey where we have no maps but only Jesus who is himself the Way.

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Conversations about equipping the baptized for their ministries turn quickly to matters of spiritual formation and discipleship. What Christian practices need to be embraced? What does evangelism and witness look like in our context? What enables people to discern not only where the Holy Spirit is at work but also what their call is in that work?

What is apparent is that behind those questions lie more foundational questions about the nature of our congregations. What does spiritual formation and discipleship look like in a church culture where that has not been a priority? It is difficult for people to discern where the Holy Spirit is already at work when they are unpracticed in such elemental disciplines as prayer, standing under the scriptures, and talking about faith together. Exciting new initiatives lose steam when those who participate in them are not deeply grounded in the Source of Life. As Elizabeth O’Connor articulated the wisdom of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., “If you do not attend to the journey inward, you will burn out on the journey outward.” Frank Viola has warned, “You cannot raise the bar on discipleship without raising the bar on the ekklesia—the living experience of the body of Christ—the native habitat in which true disciple-making and transformation take place” (Discipleship in Crisis, e-book).

What is needed is not simply a matter of offering more courses and seminars on discipleship or evangelism. What is needed is a shift in the culture of congregations. A new imagination for what it means to be the church needs to be cultivated. A different set of symbols, metaphors and narratives need to shape the ethos of the United Church of Canada.

Chris Pullenayegem, New Ministries Animator for EDGE, outlines the process of change as a matter of asking some basic questions:

*What has to remain?

*How do we do it more efficiently so that resources are freed up for new experiments?

*What do we need to let go of in order to create space for something new?

*What new things do we need to do in order to make this new thing happen?

Andy Crouch, in Culture Making, advises that “the only way to change culture is to create more of it. . . . If culture is to change, it will be because some new tangible (or audible or visible or olfactory) thing is presented to a wide enough public that it begins to reshape their world . . . if we seek to change culture, we will have to create something new, something that will persuade our neighbors to set aside some existing set of cultural goods for our new proposal” (p. 67).

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The Triune God is already at work among us, making a new creation. We know from the scriptures that, if we are to see that work of God, we need to pay attention to what is happening at the margins, at the edges of what is ‘mainstream’. At the margins of the United Church of Canada, new patterns of being ‘church’, new patterns of leadership, and new patterns of ministry are taking shape. Many of them have been ‘flying under the radar’, quietly but courageously finding a way forward into God’s new creation. Sometimes they are at the margins because the realities of these faith communities do not fit the current structures and policies of the United Church. Sometimes not much attention is paid to them because they don’t look successful the way that we often measure success (numbers of people in the pews and dollars in the bank).

These faith communities at the margins are taking many forms: collaborative or regional ministries, house churches, lay-led congregations, base communities, fresh expressions, pub churches, congregations sharing technology and worship, intentional communities. In almost all of them, there is a turn toward reclaiming the ministry of all the baptized, although it may not always be expressed or experienced in such terms.

As new communities of faith emerge with a focus on being missional, there will be a need for other such experiments that are aimed at giving both individuals and local churches a new imagination and capacity to engage their neighbourhoods.

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The report of the United Church’s Comprehensive Review Task Group, “United in God’s Work” recommended that the United Church “make a commitment to supporting new ministries and new forms of ministry through an initiative that tentatively would be called Chasing the Spirit” . It frames the purpose of this initiative in terms that come from the Missional Church conversation: “The task group believes the challenge, risk, and hope for the church lie in joining what God is already bringing to life”(p. 13).

The language of the missional church conversation is being heard in many places in the United Church. There is lots of talk about engaging the neighbourhoods around church buildings. However, the term ‘missional’ is often applied to congregational mission projects rather than connoting a genuine shift in identity: mission is seen as something the church does rather than what the church is.

The Missional Church conversation recognizes that the the Church does not have a mission; rather, it participates in God’s mission in the world. That mission does not just happen in distant places; the Holy Spirit is at work everywhere, including the neighbourhoods in which congregations exist. God works through the everyday, ordinary lives of the people of the church and through the congregation as a local expression of the Body of Christ. Baptism is a person’s ordination into ministry and mission. The church is not a ‘place’ where spiritual consumers come to get their needs met. It is an outpost of the reign of God from which disciples of Jesus are sent into the world. It understands itself to be both gathered and sent for the sake of God’s mission of reconciliation and grace. The conversation is not about, “What can we do to get more people into our church”; it is about, “Where is God already at work and in what ways are we being called to participate in that work?” As congregations make this shift in identity, the role of the ordered ministry personnel shifts from being “the minister” to being a leader who equips disciples of Jesus for their ministries in the world and who cultivates a congregational environment that “nourishes this work of discernment, experimentation, learning and engagement with God at work in their neighbourhoods” (The Missional Network website).

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These posts on the changing shape of the church are the result of a project I began as an attempt to discern what supports would be most helpful for lay people who were providing ongoing worship leadership in congregations that either could not afford or could not attract ordered ministry personnel. What has become apparent is that that question is only one dimension of a much larger and more complex shift that is happening in the United Church of Canada. Across the country, increasing numbers of congregations are moving away from a clergy-centred model of church towards a model that recognizes that all who are baptized are called into ministry.

Communities of faith are seeking training and support for the ministry of the baptized in a number of different forms. There is, indeed, a growing number of congregations that are lay-led. They are looking for help for those people who are providing leadership in worship, in pastoral care, in spiritual formation and in outreach ministries. Other congregations find themselves able to afford to pay ordered ministry personnel for only part-time work and look to lay people to provide leadership in areas that would, in the past, have been done by ordered ministry personnel. They, too, are looking for ongoing training and support for these people. Even congregations that still operate with a more conventional model of church are looking for ways to engage their members more deeply in spiritual growth and practice. In all these situations, the ministries for which support is sought are largely focused on the ekklesia — the church gathered.

In some places, there is also a growing recognition that there is an equally urgent need for training and support for the baptized as they exercise their ministry in the diaspora — the church sent into the world. The United Church has given a lot of attention to the work of the church in the world as it addresses systemic injustice and oppression. However, there is room for richer and deeper support for the ministry of the baptized as they live out their faith — as individuals in the places where they live and work and play and as a community of faith in relationship to the neighbourhood in which it exists. As the Rev. David Shearman wrote in a recent post on his blog, “The local church [has been] generally focussed on making sure that worship happens, the sick are visited, the young are raised in the faith and at the end of the day, there is a good and convivial feeling.” Congregations are re-awakening to their calling to be externally focused and to engage their neighbourhoods. They are looking for resources to do that. This includes figuring out what ‘evangelism’ and ‘witness’ mean in a post-Christendom culture and for people for whom those words carry a lot of negative baggage.

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In the posts that follow, I outline some of the core convictions from which I am working and about which I believe  “soul-stretching conversations” (Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass) need to happen. I recognize that these convictions will not be shared by many people in the United Church of Canada. I hope that they provide a starting point for the conversations since it is in the conversations that the way forward will be found. I also outline some of the implications of those convictions for the ways in which we train leadership in the church.

Conviction 5:     The Church is intended to be a community of ministers.

Christians know God as Trinity — a relational being who invites us to participate in that relationship.

The basic rhythm of church life is twofold: being gathered and being scattered. Worship gathers the community of disciples into God’s presence, receives their offerings of adoration and praise from the week that is past, nurtures them and sends them out into the world to live their adoration and praise in their daily lives, anticipating God’s new future. Churches that thrive in the future will be communities in which each person makes an active contribution, both in the church gathered and in the church dispersed in service. As much attention will need to be given to the formation of the so-called laity as to the clergy, to the church in diaspora as to the church in ekklesia.

The model of the church will need to shift to recognize the power, giftedness, and calling of all the baptized.

“Baptism and the ministry of the laity is the starting point for the ministry of the church to the wider community. Although ordained ministries have historically received greater attention, the ministry of all the baptized, sometimes called the ministry of the laity, is now the subject of widespread recognition. Importantly, newer occasional rites associated with baptism also include rites of blessing for the vocations of all the baptized, the ever-present and perennially overlooked complement to ordained ministry. Such attention to the ministry of the laity is crucial, for it is in the daily encounter of Christians with non-Christians, in life at the border, that significant missional activity occurs” (Robert D. Hawkins, “Occasional Services: Border Crossings,” in Thomas H. Schattauer, ed. Inside Out: Worship in an Age of Mission , p. 186)
In conversations about elevating the ministry of all the baptized in churches, two kinds of comments often surface. The ordered ministry state that they have a hard time getting the people of the congregation to make commitments to serve on committees and to attend programmes. The people of the church indicate that they do not feel qualified or adequate for the tasks that they are asked to do, that meetings are not a good use of their limited time, and that they are they are weary from taking care of the ‘business’ of being the church. They are tired of expending all their energy on fundraisers and on the administration of the structures. They are yearning to attend to the nurture of their souls. They are often strangers to basic Christian practices but, when they experience them, find that the practices feed their souls. They want their churches to be places of transformation: places where they themselves experience the transforming, liberating power of Jesus Christ and places where they are trained to invite others to experience that same transforming power.

Ed Stetzer has likened the church to a “bear fed by tourists . . . What happens when you feed the bear is eventually it can’t fend for itself.” The models of church and of ministry that are operative in most churches leaves most of the power in the hands of the paid ministers. The rest of the congregation, restricted from exercising real ministry, becomes dependent and weak. Paid ministry personnel need to be given authority to give their authority away to the rest of the congregation’s ministers. The baptized need to be commissioned to expressions of ministry that really matter — the kinds of ministries that will challenge them so deeply that they will be compelled to pray, to search the scriptures, to seek out the companionship of others in order to find the help they need to live into their ministry. “When people are grounded in spiritual practices and are growing in faith, they are more willing to take up the exercise of their spiritual gifts and calling” (from a conversation with Rev. Dr. Richard Bott).

Some Implications for Leadership Training

A) The leaders of a church will need to be trained to equip others for ministry, helping the  church to be the church. Their work will be less about providing chaplaincy services and more about cultivating environment where all the people of God thrive. They will need to be trained in cultivating an environment where each person knows that s/he is indispensable to the Body of Christ. They will need to stop trying to rescue the church by working harder when others do not step up. They will need to trust that a congregation’s mission endeavours will develop organically, i.e. from the callings and passions and commitments of the people.
B) Leaders will need to be actively engaged in apprenticeship in Christian practices. Training for leadership will need to include a strong emphasis on formation in what the scriptures call ‘holiness’, i.e. formation in spirt, character, and virtue. It will include training in faithful use of power and in exercising creative authority.

C) Congregational leadership will need to develop the capacity to nurture structures that help people discern their callings and the gifts that the Spirit has given for those callings. They will need coaching in trusting and empowering people to own their ministries and their identity as God’s ambassadors. Such participatory leadership cultivates a community that comes together to discern their participation in God’s mission. Elizabeth O’Connor describes such a community at Church of the Savior in Washington, D. C.: “Everyone was needed and everyone was aware of the point at which he was needed” (Elizabeth O’Connor, Call to Commitment: The Story of the Church of the Savior, Washington, D. C., p. 43.)


These days, many people are looking for hands-on-ministry. They are not interested in being passive consumers in a church that operates out of a solo-minister model. They want to participate. More than that, they want to participate in activities that emerge organically, from the grassroots, not in activities that are dreamed up by someone else and managed from the top down. Leadership for such people consists of participatory teams. Most United Church ministers have not been trained in team leadership. They do not know how to do it. There will need to be ongoing training provided for ordered ministry personnel who want to move their congregations toward ‘every-member ministry’.

There seems to be very little attention given to training people for participatory team leadership in the United Church of Canada. One possible exception is the Camino D’Emaus congregation in Quebec. This congregation includes five ‘base communities’ which meet weekly in addition to the Sunday worship services. These base communities are located in their neighbourhoods and each one has a different focus. Each gathering includes a spiritual dimension; for example, a sharing dialogue on biblical passages and life experiences. They are lay-led. The animators, or lay leaders, of these communities are part of the parish council. The church provides very intentional leadership training once a week. The focus is on “popular education” rather than academic. This is not to say that the quality of the training is not high. Rather, it is based in liberation theology’s model of praxis and reflection. Through participation and discussion, the participants develop their faith and leadership skills.

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In the posts that follow, I outline some of the core convictions from which I am working and about which I believe  “soul-stretching conversations” (Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass) need to happen. I recognize that these convictions will not be shared by many people in the United Church of Canada. I hope that they provide a starting point for the conversations since it is in the conversations that the way forward will be found. I also outline some of the implications of those convictions for the ways in which we train leadership in the church.

Conviction 4:   The Church is missionary in its very essence.

The Church is easily drawn into many good and worthwhile endeavours. However, just as facing death causes a person to examine and re-set priorities, so the church in our time is being drawn back to basics. It is a time for identifying what the essentials are and for stripping away that which is extraneous. In a time of vast changes, what must be preserved and what is it that the church must let go of? In its most elemental form, what makes a church the church?

William Willimon, in Pastor, suggests that, in its most elemental form, what makes the church the church is the presence of the living Christ. Mark Allen Powell, in the introduction to  A New and Right Spirit says that “the mission of the Church is simply to love Jesus Christ. Everything else is just strategy” (p. viii). Tom Bandy pushes congregations further to identify, “What is it about your experience of Jesus Christ that the community around you cannot live without?”

Another way to approach the conversation is to ask, “What are the essential elements that make up the church?” University Hill United Church identifies five marks of the church: worship, service, community, teaching, proclamation.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann tells the story of an Anglican diocese in British Columbia. Its involvement in Residential Schools and the subsequent settlements of lawsuits for abuse suffered by aboriginal children at those schools led it to declare bankruptcy. At a news conference following the declaration, the bishop of the diocese was asked what the future of the church might be. He said, “We have a book, a towel, a table and a cup. We have what we need.” (http://time.com/110732/sermon-series-getting-smashed-for-jesus/)

Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor at The House for all Sinners and Saints, identifies the essentials in her sermon, “Stop Saying that the Church is Dying”: You know what the culture around us will NEVER do? Preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments and proclaim forgiveness of sins. You know why? That’s OUR job. That’s our main job and while we are free as the church, to participate in any number of other activities in the world that seem bigger and more impressive let’s remember:  We are those who have been, and continue to be, entrusted with nothing less than the Gospel.”

Roland Allen, in Missionary Methods, looks at the Apostle Paul’s pattern for establishing churches and identifies that only four things were deemed necessary: “a tradition or elementary Creed, the Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion, Orders and the Holy Scriptures.” (chapter 4, e-book)

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century produced a number of definitions of the church. The most famous one is found in “the (Lutheran) Augsburg Confession of 1530. Its Article VII describes the church according to two distinguishing marks, namely as ‘the assembly  of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly’”.   David Bosch has pointed out that such a definition deals only with what happens within the assembly of the church, not with its calling in the world. Loren Mead, author of The Once and Future Church, “argues that the ‘crisis’ the church faces has to do with the church’s relationship to its ‘mission’. . . . there is something fundamentally flawed about the way the church does church” (quoted in A New and Right Spirit, p. 6).

The churches that are finding their way through this time of transformation are giving fresh attention to their calling in the world. Congregations that had drifted into being not much more chaplaincies or social clubs for their own members are reconnecting with their neighbourhoods. Some are experimenting with new expression of church that reach out beyond their own comfort zones. Some are engaging in the “missional church” conversation: listening to people outside the church; looking for ways to be active participants in the ‘new thing’ that the Spirit is doing.

The God who creates the Church is a God who is on mission in the world. The Trinitarian God is a sending God — the Father sending the Son; the Son sending the Spirit; God sending God’s people into the world. The Church is missionary in its very essence.

Some Implications for Leadership Training

A) Most ordered ministry personnel are not equipped to lead a church that understands itself as primarily missional — as existing for the sake of people beyond its own membership. Churches are largely shaped by a consumer mindset. Christendom models of church required clergy who were trained to provide good service to their members and to keep those members satisfied. What is needed now are leaders of faith communities who are equipped to cultivate a church environment where the participants are developing the capacity to discern where the Holy Spirit is at work in their neighbourhoods and are learning to ‘give account for the hope that is in them’ (1 Peter 3:15) to other people who do not share their faith commitments.

B)  The Church’s faith is an incarnational faith — lived out in the concrete realities of the neighbourhoods in which the churches exist. Since many communities are increasingly diverse, training for leadership will need to include training in cross-cultural realities and radical hospitality.

C)  Additionally, since the mission for such communities will be informed by the contexts in which they exist, and therefore will be very diverse, training for leadership will probably be mostly localized. Modernism privileged methods that were universal and standardized. In such a context, seminaries and training centres could be far removed from the local churches in which their graduates would served. It was assumed that the training provided in one place would be easily transferrable into any congregation across the country. This was never true: rural churches have known for many years that ‘national’ programmes and standards were much more applicable to city churches than to rural ones. Whatever training for leadership emerges to serve churches of the future will need to be far more localized and organic, growing out of the specific contexts in which churches are serving. Local congregations will need to become sites for leadership training.

D) Communities of faith will need to adopt an identity as learning communities. Leaders will need to be trained in cultivating churches that are discipling communities. The leaders themselves will need to provide a deep grounding in the traditions of the Church so that they can lead people in working with the traditions imaginatively and creatively. The leaders will also need to develop skills and capacities for passing that tradition on to the participants in the church. Frequently, leaders have offered Bible Studies or Study Groups but few people attend; often, those who do sign up stop attending after a session or two. Leaders will need to know: What are the attributes of the kinds of studies that people do want to participate in? What are different methods of delivering the information?

E) Discerning the Spirit’s leading requires a capacity for imagination. As Walter Brueggemann points out, the prophets in the First Testament were mostly poets — helping people break free from the status quo by helping them imagine that things could be different. Many leaders will need guidance in working creatively and imaginatively. Congregations will need to be places that curate the arts as a way of helping people pay attention to what is happening around them.

F)  A return to the essentials, to the basics, of Christian community will mean that new expressions of ‘church’ will have the freedom to emerge without being burdened with extraneous activities and requirements. If the church is essentially missionary in its nature, leadership within the churches will need training in birthing new churches and in equipping the people for evangelism that is authentic to their experience of faith. Doing church the way it has been done will not produce new results. Planting, birthing, new churches requires a different set of skills and capacities. Leaders will also need to learn how to train ‘missionaries’, who engage their neighbourhoods in appropriate ways which reflect the hospitality and humility, love and grace of Jesus Christ.

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