Home > Brian's Blogs, Missional Church, Uncategorized > What is the/a Missional Church? (10): Leadership

What is the/a Missional Church? (10): Leadership

The church is…the church does what it is…the church organizes what it does.  To be more complete: the church is missional…the church does missional things…the church must be organized missionally.  The question for today is: what does missional organization look like?

Craig Van Gelder’s The Ministry of the Missional Church has taken a long time to explain what the missional church is.  Now he gets into the dirty details of how a missional church functions.  But, before we expect Van Gelder to lay out THE missional church structure, he provides this important thought:

“Leadership and organization need to be understood as always being contextual and therefore always being provisional in character.  This means that leadership and organization will need to change over time to respond to changing contexts” (122).

Simply put, Van Gelder believes in a leadership and organizational relativism.  This seems scary because isn’t relativism of all forms unbiblical?  Notice what Van Gelder says:

“The Bible provides a rich resource of information about leadership and organization.  As the church in the NT spread into the world, it encountered a variety of different contexts and cultures.  Quite naturally, the congregations that emerged in these contexts developed a variety of leadership and organizational approaches.  The reality of this diversity is now evident in the different polities that make claims to alternative views regarding how the church is to be structured.  In the face of these competing claims about what the right form of church government is to be, it is evident that it is hard to argue successfully for a normative pattern for leadership and organization from the biblical materials.  As an alternative to this, it is more helpful to recognize the vaiety of patterns and practices that emerged within the church during the first century” (123).

But despite this diversity in form of leadership and organization, Van Gelder believes that the Bible is clear that “there be formal leadership in the church” (124).  Diversity does not equal no leadership.  Rather, diversity equals diverse leadership structures.  Diversity also does not equal no organization.  Rather, diversity equals diverse organizational structures.

If leadership and organization are necessary but neither can be set in stone, what does a local church do?  Van Gelder believes it is not possible to provide a once-and-for-all-never-changing leadership and organizational structure.  Rather, Van Gelder believes that the local congregation must consider itself an “open system” (to use social science terms).  This open system will always consider its context (local community and environment), its boundaries (both physical, such as the building, and theological, such as the role of Christ in the organization), its purpose, its infrastructure, its people, etc.  All of these things must come together, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to set the leadership and organization for a local church.  What is “right” in one place may not be “right” for another.  What “works” in one place may not “work” in another.

On a personal note, I think our adventure into Co-Pastoring actually fits this model well.  No one is under the assumption that this is THE biblical model.  It is biblical, but not THE biblical model.  Furthermore, most of us realize that Co-Pastoring as we experience it will not work in a lot of other churches for any number of reasons.  But for us,  it works at this place, at this time, and with these people.  This is contextual, Spirit-led leadership and organization.

Van Gelder goes into great detail in this chapter, including over 20 pages reviewing various views of organizations, but I think this chapter can be succinctly summarized this way: “It is important for Spirit-led church leaders to develop a self-conscious organizational theory that reflects both the reality of the congregation’s life as well as the complexities and challenges before it” (126).

In other words, the key is Spirit-led flexibility.  This may reek havoc on our firmly established church constitutions, but is this a more biblical way of leading a local church?

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