Monday, May 29, 2006

Church Definition from Webber

While working on yet another essay last night I read this great quote in 'the Younger Evangelicals' by Robert Webber. Thought I'd share it with you.
The church is where the Spirit of God is forming a people who are the expression of God's redeeming work in the world. They are the people in whom the dwelling of God is forming a new creation. They are God's witnesses in the world; they witness to God's victory over the powers of evil and are a sign of the ultimate reconciliation of all things.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Absent.

I was thinking today about how I haven't really blogged at all lately. I've been kinda busy with some new people in my life that I'd like to share with you about.

At Easter Jay and I had a guy stay from West Papua, a young guy whose life has been pretty traumatic and the people who were looking after him thought it'd be good for him to stay with a family over the Easter break. So he came and celebrated Easter with us and our families, our lives haven't really been the same since. We had had some pretty impacting first hand experience of sharing hospitality with someone in a powerful way.

Not long after a this, a good friend who does a lot of advocacy work for refugees (and writes a great blog on it all at http://asylumseekernews.blogspot.com/) called and asked us if we could offer similar hospitality to another guy, this time from Cameroon. Again we did and found ourselves greatly blessed by the new friendship and joy we experienced at being able to care for someone in need.

The same day this guy left us I got a call from the Red Cross to ask us if we could have a guy from Afghanistan come and stay with us. Thankfully we were again in a position to offer hospitality and the last 4 weeks have been some of the most challenging and meaningful of my life. Without going into this guy's story I want to say that it is incredibly traumatic, i don't understand how he smiles, laughs or even gets through the day really. Whenever I talk to him about his story I just want to cry, the injustice and evil are heartbreaking. Yet in the midst of all of this God has been at work; bringing us into the picture and using us to bless this guy in a way that he finds unbelievable, sharing with us the privilege of serving and loving someone to bring about healing, challenging and stretching our understanding of love and sacrifice, bringing a depth of meaning to hospitality that we never knew existed and creating a new friendship based on love and trust.

It's been a joy and a blessing, also a pretty good reason for my absence here I reckon!

Monday, May 8, 2006

Key character qualities of a post-modern missional leader essay

The last couple of days I've been writing an essay on the key character qualities of a post-modern missional leader. It's not due for a bit over a week but I've done my first draft (which is usually also my final draft) so I thought I'd post it and see what people thought. You can download it in .doc format here or I've posted it all below if you'd rather read it that way. Let me know what you think, what I've missed, where I've been heretical and what sucks if you feel like it.

Describe the key character qualities of a post-modern Missional Leader

The scriptures provide clear explanations of the character qualities required of leaders (1 Timothy 3 + Titus 1) and this essay does not seek to replace these requirements. Instead the intention of this essay is to support and expand on those requirements for the current post-modern context, specifically focussing on missional leadership and with particular reference to the critical elements of God’s essential nature.

In my recent reflection on the critical elements of God’s essential nature I wrote about how God is proactive, sacrificial/other person centered, relational, motivating and gracious. As we are made in God’s image and seek to be like him, I see these elements to be critical qualities that post-modern missional leaders should aspire to. For the purpose of this essay I will tag each of the key character qualities of a post-modern missional leader with the critical elements of God’s essential nature from my recent reflection to show the relationship between them.


Missional leaders should be
relational, not dictators (tags - sacrificial/other person centered, relational, motivating). Due to the changes in how authority works in a post-modern setting, as opposed to a modern one, the missional leader ‘must be less positional and far more relational than in previous generations.’1 This means that the leader cannot afford to make top-down decisions and use authority simply on the basis of their position. The leader must work hard to build credibility through evidence of competence, relational connectedness with those they are seeking to lead and also a sense of calling from God. ‘Authority does not come with a position and a title but ... it has to be earned. It is established on the basis of trustworthiness and competence ... leadership emerges as power is shared rather than as authority is exerted. That power may arise from the application of one's area of expertise, but it is based on trust and is reinforced as personal relationships are deepened and extended.’2

Missional leaders must also be permission-giving rather than simply delegators. Many leaders delegate work to others but never actually give away power, they are simply passing on work that needs to be done. Missional leaders need to be confident enough in themselves that they don’t have to make themselves indispensable, confident enough to give others who have the capacity, the tasks and the authority to carry them out. They need to give permission for others to take leadership.
3

The leader’s approach to decision making must also reflect this change away from the bureaucratic tendencies of previous generations of christian leaders. A more honest attempt at building consensus is required from post-modern missional leaders. The executive decision making approach disempowers and devalues those being led; leaders need to work on developing the context for healthy consultative or consensus based decision making to occur.
4 It should be noted that consensus based decision making is not without its problems as it requires all members of the group to agree on a particular path before advancing on it, obviously this opens the group to being held back by a small minority. Simon Hall from Revive has a helpful description at how this difficulty can be overcome, ‘We try to distinguish between “I think this is a bad idea, but you’re my community, and if you want to do it, I’ll still back you,” and “I really believe God is against this.” If we get any of the latter (and we have occasionally), we don’t make a decision.’5

God’s personhood and desire to have healthy relationships with people must give shape to our approach to leadership. The Holy Spirit resides in us, prompting and encouraging not pushing or demanding. God gives us the privilege of serving along with him, he chooses to use us even though we are broken and get things wrong. He doesn’t delegate and then take things away from us when we fail, he empowers and encourages us, enabling us to get it right. His rules are not enforced on us in this life, we have the freedom to choose, even when he, the powerful one, does not like our choice. He is eager to listen and to act. Our leadership needs to be shaped by this strong relational element that God demonstrates in how he leads us.

Post-modern missional leaders need to be completely
honest and accountable (tags - relational, motivating, gracious) because current generations are so cynical, able to sniff out hypocrisy wherever there is the slightest whiff of it. Gibbs writes, ‘postmoderns want above everything else to experience authenticity. They are interested not so much in our truth claims as in the extent to which our lives correspond to the truth we proclaim.’6 For this reason missional leaders need to be accountable to those they are seeking to lead, not setting themselves up as beyond question or challenge. They must lead lives that are transparent, easily visible to those around them, sharing their wins and their losses their joys and their struggles. Notions of a private life and a public life are not good enough; unless a leader is willing to make themselves vulnerable and accountable to others they will not truly gain the privilege of leading.

Part of post-modern missional leaders being honest and accountable is in how they model discipleship. Post-modern missional leaders desire people to follow Jesus, they want people to become and grow as disciples. An essential factor in them being successful at this is their own lives of discipleship. More than ever it seems critical that leaders model radical lives focussed on following Jesus. Leaders must live lives of humility and submission in a culture of pride and independence, selflessness and integrity in a culture of greed and corruption. If leaders want to see people making hard choices to follow Jesus then they must lead the way. If they want people they lead to serve the poor then they must do so, if they want people they lead to share the stories of Jesus then they must do so and if they want to see the people they lead devoted and in love with Christ then they must be that way also. The significance of the leader modelling radical discipleship cannot be overstated, it is essential.

Missional leaders need to be
culturally and spiritually connected (tags - proactive, motivating). The context in which we seek to be faithful to God and his kingdom agenda continues to change at a very rapid rate, unless leaders have their finger on the pulse of the culture they will fail in their attempts to engage it with gospel. However a finger on the pulse of the culture is not enough, leaders must also stay connected to the Source of all life, if they stray they will become syncretistic and very quickly unfaithful. ‘The role of missional church leadership includes the examination of the community it is trying to reach and the teaching of biblical truth to a local congregation.’7 This will require leaders to spend time in the culture they are seeking to reach, authentically immersing themselves in it to develop a deep and rich understanding. Post-modern missional leaders will also need to spend time connecting with and understanding God. If they wish to influence a culture with the truth and power of the gospel then that must become their story and experience. Leaders need to be trained and developed in their understanding of who God is and what he has done as well as what that might look like in their context.

Post-modern missional leaders need to be people who can tell and live the alternative story of the kingdom of God. They need to be enthralled themselves with God’s transforming dream and spend much of their time seeking to be used by God in bringing that about. With those they lead they need to share this dream and articulate this alternative reality. If these leaders are not sharing God’s kingdom view of the world with those they are seeking to lead and influence, then where are they people leading to?

The reality that surrounds us is in many ways mediated to us by all kinds of influences. The media, business and many other influences control how we see and understand reality, this is simply part of life for people these days. A leader needs to take up some of the task of mediating reality and meaning for those they are seeking to lead. A leader needs to be able to perceive the stories and journeys our culture is encouraging us to pursue and help people see that in the light of the kingdom of God. Leaders require great insight and discernment as they seek to be culturally and spiritually connected enough to guide others in the current context.
8

God acts before us, without his act to first love us we would not be in relationship with him, leaders must take note of this and be proactive also. Cultural and spiritual engagement require us to be proactive, it is essential that leaders follow the characteristics of God in this way. Leaders also need to follow God’s character to motivate, God’s transforming love gives purpose and meaning, it gives hope and light where otherwise there is only darkness. His gracious and merciful nature motivate people to try again when they fail, they give the courage to act even when it looks like failure is certain. God’s trustworthiness is inspiring because it gives something to fall back on when we reach high and don’t make it. As leaders seek to cast the vision for the kingdom of God and help others understand God and the world they live in they are following this characteristic of motivation.

Post-modern missional leaders need to be servant-hearted (tags - proactive, sacrificial/other person centered, gracious). Often people refer to Jesus style of leadership as servant leadership and clearly he was a servant of all, but many people misunderstand the nature of Jesus’ servanthood. Jesus did not come to comply with everyone else’s wishes, but to do the will of his father (John 6:38). This needs to be kept in mind by missional leaders as they seek to imitate Jesus model of servant leadership, they are a servant to the Father and in turn servants to those they seek to lead.9 It is crucial for post-modern missional leaders to be servant-hearted because so much of the leadership that has gone before them has had no element of this characteristic. There is a cynicism in current culture towards leaders, that they are only after power for themselves, that while they may talk about caring for others they are ultimately only interested in their own agenda and well being. Leaders will have to fight against this cynicism and mistrust with authentic servant-hearted leadership that breaks down these barriers and gives people a glimpse of God’s character.

Leaders need to be servant-hearted because it reflects the character of God. The key example of this is when God acted at his own cost in Jesus, he sacrificed himself for us. Even though humanity’s response to him has so often been rejection he still does not delight in our failures but only desires what is best for us, He cares for those who are poor and lowly and blesses all despite their response to him (He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matt 5:45). Acting from his own motivation God gives gifts to those who don’t deserve it, he is gracious and kind. This is the model for servant-hearted post-modern missional leaders.

As stated at the beginning of this essay the scriptures make clear the requirements of leaders. The characteristics discussed in this essay (relational, honest and accountable, culturally and spiritually connected and servant-hearted) are not a replacement but an expansion on those given to us in scripture. This essay has shown that leaders need to follow God’s example as they seek to bring influence and guidance to other’s lives in a post-modern context and with a missional agenda.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

A leader is ...

A whole bunch of quotes from the first chapter of LeadershipNext called Redefining Leadership, not surprisingly these quotes are focussed around defining leaders and leadership. I should point out that they are not quotes directly from the author, they are mostly quotes in the book also.
A Christian leader is a person with a God-given capacity and the God-given responsibility to influence a specific group of God's people toward God's purpose for the group.
I like the focus on God giving capacity and responsibility although I have to say that I wish there was a less loaded term than influence to use.
Leadership is your capacity to guide others to places they (and you) have never been before.
Initially I felt uncomfortable with the added '(and you)' here, but I guess it is right. My Forge coach tells me that when I'm going through rough things, one the ways to look at it might be that I'm learning and that's good because I can't lead others where I'm not willing to go. I guess the '(and you)' doesn't have to mean at exactly the same time.
Leadership involves a person, group, or organisation who shows the way in an area of life - whether in the short - or the long-term - and in doing so both influences and empowers enough people to bring about change in that area.
There's that pesky word influence again, although it is well balanced by the description of the influence coming from 'show the way' ... not so loaded. I like the element of empowerment here also.
If by leader we mean one who holds a position of authority and responsibility, then every Christian is not a leader. Some are - some are not. But if by leader we mean a person who enters into a relationship with another person to influence their behaviour, values or attitude, then I would suggest that all Christians should be leaders. Or perhaps more accurately, all Christians should exercise leadership, attempting to make a difference in the lives of those around them.
This is a wonderful little quote as I think it helpfully pushes us on the issue of who is a leader. I like it!
True servant leaders are those who are prepared to take the initiative. But before embarking on a course of action, they listen to God and to the voices around them in order to determine what God requires of them. They are committed for the long haul, maintaining faith and hope, patience and fortitude. They also make time, no matter how busy their schedules, to withdraw from the relentless demands of daily life in order to refocus and renew their strength. Such discipline enables servant leaders, who are all too aware of their limitations, to demonstrate foresight and anticipate their next steps. As they exercise discernment, servant leaders are constantly making connections between isolated pieces of information, looking for a coherent pattern to emerge.
I think this is the best description of servant leadership I've come across. I've had years of hearing about leadership being about servanthood but then still seeing them push on with only their agenda. Or talking about relying on God, but actually relying mostly on their own ability and ego. I want to lead like this.
... authority does not come with a position and a title but ... it has to be earned. It is established on the basis of trustworthiness and competence ... leadership emerges as power is shared rather than as authority is exerted. That power may arise from the application of one's area of expertise, but it is based on trust and is reinforced as personal relationships are deepened and extended.
I also long to lead like this, to lead by sharing power rather than exerting authority. That building and deepening relationships of trust might be more important than having position and title.
The leaders of the future must grow and flex with a changing context. They recognise the need to respond rapidly to the unexpected. They are risk-takers who maintain a low profile because they take so much 'flack'. They are also individuals committed to change precisely because they recognise the need for change within themselves. Motivated by their insatiable curiosity - a curiosity that drives them to see connections between apparently unconnected pieces of information - leaders of growing organisations are committed to lifelong learning. This in turn results in a refreshing humility; rather than simply make statements, they admit the limitations of their knowledge and continually ask questions. Leaders are constantly growing and making course corrections as they incorporate their new insights. If they stop learning, they eventually stop leading.
In the last few years as I've struggled to come to terms with what it means to lead I've often been drawn to pray for humility. I'm not sure I've got much of it yet, but I think I've come to understand what this quote above is talking about. I'm recognising the necessity for change precisely because I know that I need it myself so much. I'm recognising the need to change direction as I'm being taught new things. I'm recognising the need to keep learning, to be humble enough to face the fact that there is always something I have to learn.

The chapter finishes with a bunch of sections under the heading Leadership Challenges
Beyond preserving the inherited institutions: Leading a mission-focussed community of disciples
Beyond ideology-driven evangelism: Leading a value-based community of disciples
Beyond dispensing information: Seeking spiritual formation rooted in Scripture
Beyond the controlling hierarchy: Leading empowered networks of Christ followers
Beyond weekly gatherings: Building teams engaged in ongoing mission
Beyond a gospel of personal self-realisation: A service-oriented faith community
Beyond the inwardly focussed church: Leading a society-transforming community of disciples
Just chucked these in there 'cos they're interesting statements.