Missional Leadership???

Buzz words. They pop up in the church like zits in our forehead T-zone on an unsuspecting Monday morning. I’m not sure why our culture is so “catchword” oriented, but we undoubtedly are.

One of the catchwords in the church the last several years is the term “missional”. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different take on its definition, but most would agree it has something to do with “living on mission”, “life as mission”. It is rooted in the “Missio Dei” which means “sent by God”.

“As the Father sent me, so send I you.” - Jesus

It is this mindset that drives the belief system that we are missionaries in whatever context we find ourselves. We don’t “do” missions, we “are” mission. It is this theological framework that deconstructs the modern versions of Christianity and reconstructs something that aligns with the unavoidable “goings on” of Jesus in the gospels. He was obviously “up to something” with his life. He wasn’t “shooting from the hip” or “hoping for the best”; he was deliberately living out a mission assigned to him.

At times Jesus’ disciples would be trying to talk him out of things and he would respond with “missional” declarations. When tested by the crowds or the religious leaders, he would react to their criticisms with a clear sense of mission.

It is this particular and peculiar “mission” mindset that is spawning the buzzword “missional” in the church these days. There are times when I’d just as soon dismiss the whole idea along with its ideologues, but there is something to this “missional” thing that isn’t “newfound” at all. It seems anchored, rooted and ancient…like it was meant to be, like it always was.

As I’ve sought to restructure my life to fit a more missional mindset, I’ve found that it affects my leadership immensely. If you’re going to lead missionaly, it requires a revised tactical strategy. I’m not a master tactician, but I’ve come to realize that God has wired me to think more tactically that I’ve given myself credit for in the past. I always thought of myself as an “off the cuff, tornado-chasing, impulsive maverick”, but I’m realizing that I live with not only a sense of “passion”, but also a sense of “mission” as I lead. I have ideas that become ideals just like the next guy. I have thoughts that become theories, too.

So, I thought I’d throw something out there for scrutiny. It is fairly new, but it hit me last week and I thought there was something to it. Please don’t let the “word games” distract you from the “food for thought”.

I’m obviously using the word “mission” and the play on words to communicate what I believe to be “leadership qualities” that bring about “missional” change. Here they are in no specific order (and yet ordered with some specificity…hehehe):

Submission – bowing

*I believe that leadership starts with surrendering yourself to another. Mutual respect and submission gives someone credibility in my book. When you bow down and wash someone’s feet, you lead from your knees in a posture of servanthood and submission. When someone doesn’t lead with this posture, it smacks of an agenda, a power play.

Admission – opening

*I believe that leadership must embody vulnerability and honesty. Unless and until you admit your humanity you will never humanize another, you will only serve to dehumanize them with your ploys and projects. When a leader openly admits weakness and failure and sin, he paves the way for others to come out of hiding. Leadership must be open or it is nothing.

Permission – normalizing

*I believe a leader is always listening for and looking for where people are hearing “NO!” inside their heads and is speaking “YES!” into their spirits. Most people know what they are to do or be, they just haven’t been given permission to do or be it by another. When a leader normalizes someone’s question or answer, they release them to be free in the expression of those things. Most people live reserved and restricted all the while knowing what is right. Leaders don’t teach people what is right as much as they release them to do what they already know is right. Jesus was notorious for saying, “Go and do likewise”. This is giving someone permission to act on their God-given impulse.

Commission – initiating

*I believe a leader is continually looking for “rights of passage”. Humans seem to be wired to need these “checkpoints” in order to move to the next mission. A lot of leaders “insinuate” but don’t “initiate”. They “sort of” let them know they have what it takes, but they don’t empower them to “test themselves” through actually leading themselves. Discipling isn’t teaching someone information, it’s showing them how to do something and then stepping back and watching them do it. Leaders should move from people watching them to them watching people. Jesus did this with the 70 he sent out before him to the towns where he was “about to go”.

Intermission – stopping

*I believe a leader has a horse-sense for when it is time to pause in the mission in order to preserve its longevity. If you keep driving people with your drivenness, they become pent up with nervous energy, tighter than a snare drum. If life is going to be missional, it has to look and feel natural and normal. It can’t look harried and hurried, forced and fabricated. It must flow out of the healthy rhythms of one’s heart. Leaders are patient with the “process” instead of uptight with “progress”. Taking breaks isn’t the same as resignation. Giving people a “breather” lets them know that you care more about them than the product “they crank out”. Jesus was always stopping in the middle of success in order to fill his tank and the tanks of those along side of him.

Omission – removing

*I believe a leader knows what to cut out of his life at just the right time in order to stay the course. Most good leaders are taken out because of an “overabundance good things” not a “single sin”. Saying yes to ten “good things” is just as deadly as saying yes to one “bad thing”. Missional leaders protect mission from the “good ideas” that dilute the “best ideas”. But they don’t’ just protect themselves from subtle parasitical distractions; they protect their teams. If they sense a project, program, or event is siphoning fuel from the mission, they amputate it from the “to do” list. Missional leaders kill anything that leaches lifeblood from the Mission. In so doing, they keep the purpose potent and the mission meaty.

Transmission – spreading

*I believe a leader knows that wherever he is he is transmitting a signal. The passion of a person’s heart is felt, not dealt. Caught, not taught. Leaders don’t turn something on and off depending on where they are, they see themselves as leaders everywhere with everyone. When leadership is “put on”, people are “put off”. It has to spill from a person’s soul almost accidently, like someone caught you being “good” without you knowing it. People are always playing “follow the leader” even when they don’t know it. They are taking their “cues” from the leader the most when he isn’t “officially” leading. What is transmitted in the “off time” when the leader is “off duty” or “off the clock” is what drives missional leadership because it substantiates the message that we are never “not” on. We don’t go to the Lord’s house; we are the Lord’s house. We don’t worship for one hour; we worship for 24 hours. We’re always on the clock. We’re never offline. A leader transmits mission like a cell phone tower transmits frequency. The question is, “How strong is the signal?”


Well, this is a work in progress. I’m sure there are others, but these readily come to mind. Feel free to contribute to the “mission” words if prompted. I’m all ears.

All I know is that “missional leadership” is a different beast altogether. And I’m glad it is because I have an aversion to “traditional leadership” for some reason. Missional leadership feels more like elastic than plastic.

I like elastic.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for this article.

What about "Remission - forgiveness": Leaders should lead the example of living a life of forgiveness - both on the giving and receiving end. As often as we might forget to pause, many leaders forget the importance of taking a step back when there is conflict. At times along the way, there is a necessity to repent and clear up any misunderstandings or frustations. It is important to take a look at what has already been done, and reassess before moving forward.

It's also interesting that "mission" is a noun, and so are all the other words that contain that word. The suffix, "-sion", makes these words nouns and like you said, mission is something we "are" rather than "do". SO, it's interesting to see how embodying these "mission"al words leads people to produce the fruit that God intended. Definition and identity shape the purpose God has when calling us into the Great Commission.

Just food for thought.
Jason said…
beautiful insight...it shall be added to the list post haste. thank you anonymous. Reveal yourself oh, though masked person! hahaha.
JR Rozko said…
Jason, came across this post by way of my interest in missional leadership - love the path you're thinking down here, I think it's incredibly helpful. You're also go a great outline for a book by the way!

Though I'm sure it was coincidental, I thought it was funny that the title of my own blog made its way into your list of catch phrases ;)
angie said…
Oops! Sorry, "Anonymous" is me.

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