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Newbigin on Missional Leadership

Lesslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society outlines his understanding of the role of the church in culture, namely, to be a sign, foretaste, and instrument for the kingdom of God.  But what about church leadership?  What is the role of a church leader in a missional community?

Here is a collection of quotes from Newbigin’s chapter, “Ministerial Leadership for a Missionary Congregation:”

“I have already said that I believe that the major impact of such congregations on the life of society as a whole is through the daily work of the members in their secular vocations and not through the official pronouncements of the ecclesiastical bodies.  But the developing, nourishing, and sustaining of Christian faith and practice is impossible apart from the life of a believing congregation…

“In some Christian circles it is unfashionable to talk much about the ordained ministry, because of the fear of being guilty of elitism, one of contemporary society’s catalogue of unforgivable sins.  Without going into an elaborate discussion of this fear, I will make two simple points.  First, I hope I have already made clear my belief that it is the whole Church which is called to be – in Christ – a royal priesthood, that every member of the body is called to the exercise of this priesthood and that this priesthood is to be exercised in the dialy life and work of Christians in the secular business of the world.  But this will not happen unless there is a ministerial priesthood which serves, nourishes, sustains, and guides this priestly work…And second, one can put the same point from the other side.  The full participation of the members of a body in its activity does not happen without leadership.  The business of leadership is precisely to enable, encourage, and sustain the activity of all the members.  To set “participation” and “leadership” against each other is absurd.  Clericalism and anticlericalism are simply two sides of one mistake…

“The task of ministry is to lead the congregation as a whole in a mission to the community as a whole, to claim its whole public life, as well as the personal lives of all its people, for God’s rule.  It means equipping all the members of the congregation to understand and fulfill their several roles in this mission through their faithfulness in their daily work.  It means training and equipping them to be active followers of Jesus in his assault on the principalities and powers which he has disarmed on his cross.  And it means sustaining them in bearing the cost of that warfare…

“He [Jesus and the missional leader] is not like a general who sits at headquarters and sends his tr0ops into battle.  He goes at their head and takes the brunt of the enemy attack.  he enables and encourages them by leading them, not just by telling them.  In this picture, the words of Jesus have quite a different force.  They all find their meaning in the central keyword, “Follow me.””

So what is Newbigin saying?

  1. Leadership is absolutely necessary in the missional church.
  2. The primary responsibilities of missional leaders are 1) to equip and encourage the people in their mission and 2) to lead by example.
  3. The church is a priesthood of all believers.  This priesthood’s ministry does not take place in the confines of the institution of the church, but out in the daily life of society.  Therefore, missional leaders must equip their people – not for “church” ministry – but for life ministry.

Yet again I find Newbigin’s words to be extremely challenging.  I think Newbigin is truly applying the Reformation theology of the priesthood of believers in a way that many Reformation churches have not.  Because of this, I think Newbigin challenges most contemporary views of church leadership and the role of the “lay” person.

Very challenging stuff…

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  1. October 7, 2009 at 12:08 am

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