Published by Rachel Noel on 15th September 2016

The Missional Leader: Equipping your Church to Reach a Changing World, by Alan J Roxburgh & Fred Romanuk, Reviewed by Robin McAlpine

The Missional Leader: Equipping your Church to Reach a Changing World, by Alan J Roxburgh & Fred Romanuk

Jossey-Bass, 2006, 219 pages, hb, ISBN 978-0-7879-8325-3, £15.99

Purchase here

Reviewed by Robin McAlpine

missional-leaderWhen I heard about Missional Leader, the title immediately caught my imagination. As the Development Officer for the Mission and Discipleship Council, Church of Scotland with responsibility for Leadership Development, I wondered what this book would have to say about developing leadership in Scotland today. I was not disappointed.

The first thing that struck me was the declaration that even in this world of change congregations still matter, with the role of the leader to create a culture of hope and expectation, helping people to discern God’s direction and activities within them. These are comforting words for a traditional denomination. There is also confirmation that God has given us who we have as our congregations, with the key task of leadership to help people understand, seek and use their gifts for the building of Christ’s body in their communities. God turns up in the most inauspicious places, so why is it that we are still surprised by God’s activity amongst his own people! This is summed up in the key motif of the book, ‘missional imagination’, to be released by the people of God.

This will not happen unless the culture of our congregations change, and here we come to the core of the book. How do we cultivate a congregational environment where God is the centre of conversation? For this to happen, leadership must be cultivators of missional church. There are many tools to do this, but Missional Leadership focuses on the scriptural narrative and invites the congregation to reconnect with this story as a means of forming a ‘new imagination’. As a result, change and transition will take place in the context of the local congregation, as a complex system of relationships, traditions and networks.

It is important to understand how this system works, what motivates people, and to see congregational life as a culture and not an organisation. This is of particular importance when we think about the principle of ‘non -alignment’. In the context of discontinuous change you cannot align all the congregations’ strategy, structure, skills, systems, people, resources and values around a common goal or vision. We cannot define outcomes from the ‘front end’, God’s future arising from God’s people is messy, non linear and unpredictable!

The heart of the book is the “Missional Change Model”, described like a sail boat that has to tack to get to its position, rather than travelling in a straight line in the midst of the turbulent ocean of discontinuous change. Its purpose is to help local congregations navigate these waters and is based on the work of Everett Rogers.

The start is an awareness of where people are. It is about leaders cultivating an environment in which people discover the language for talking about what they are experiencing, so developing a new language to help them imagine fresh ways of being God. Then comes understanding, people start to ask new questions about what is happening in relation to their feelings and thoughts. It is a time to gather new information, try out new ideas and receive feedback, but not to seek solutions. It is about ‘shaping a space’ not forcing a ‘strategy or plan.’ The next step is evaluation, where the congregation examines current actions, attributes and values in the light of new understanding, and begins to consider specific activities and programs. This is not action and planning, for people need to be held long enough to assess the reality of the place, and ask the right questions. Next comes experimentation, where new ways of testing and shaping its missional life can begin. This is adaptive change, instead of using the same approach and assuming that somehow this will solve new challenges! The final part is commitment to a new way of being church, and a missional culture that is embedded. The key skill of leadership throughout is to balance normal life with experimentation that needs to be initiated.

The ‘tickets’ to missional leadership are identified as self identity, rooted in maturity and knowing its source, along with trust and integrity. Out of which develops the capacity to cultivate a conversation of imagination and hope rooted in the biblical narratives, the habit of listening with the desire to hear the ‘other’, and developing relationships for missional engagement with neighbourhood, community and social reality. The salient point for the church today is whether we seek to form alternative community or help seekers to feel that they belong without any expectations? Into this mix is raised the issue of dualism, between the inner Christian life and an uncritical approach to leadership skills from other areas. Do they too not need to come under the ‘critical’ gaze of God, for to follow the strategies and plans of leaders alone will not build the church; we need a way of life that elicits God’s future from his people. This turns our default leadership position on its head! The final skill in engaging with conflict and helping people live in the difficult places long enough, to ask new questions. This will involve courage, to carry on the long journey, in the same direction.

“The key to innovating new life and mission in a congregation is not so much a strategy for growth as it is cultivation of people themselves. It is from among the people that the energy and vision for Missional life emerge.” The meaning is obvious, yet difficult to achieve as many leaders have been trained to shape and determine the future through their own planning and strategies. If we really took this seriously, how would this affect our leadership?

To foster the Missional imagination is about being surprised by the spirit of God, yet not allowing ourselves to be blown around in a sea of change with no control. “What if the church is not about attracting people into a building but living as God’s people in the public space of their own community and neighbourhood.”

This is our challenge. I would be grateful if anyone wishes to enter into further discussion about the issues raised in Missional Leadership and to hear some of your stories where you have sought to put these principles into practice.

Robin McAlpine is Development Officer (Elder Training & Leadership Development), Church of Scotland

This review first appeared in MODEM Matters Issue 9 in October 2009.

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