About six months ago while reflecting with my mentor he suggested that I began to write down some of the lessons I had learnt about my experience of missional leadership. He encouraged me to put down on paper some of the mistakes, the successes and some of the reasons why or why not the mission I have been involved in was effective. This would be mainly for my benefit as an exercise of reflection and to try to capture some of those things that are more intuitive and therefore not recorded or noted. At the same time Seventy-Two asked me whether I would write some more articles for their website. Being someone who needs discipline and deadlines I decided to combine these two suggestions. Therefore, over the next twelve months I plan to share eight different articles about ‘missional leadership’ as I reflect back over 25 years of ministry. These articles are mainly for my own benefit but thank you for reading and I pray that you might be encouraged and gain greater insight into your own leadership in mission.
Article 1: Take a Look in the Mirror
I never enjoy looking in the mirror. Seeing oneself always seems to be an uncomfortable experience but it is necessary from time to time.
If we are going to be effective missional leaders we must spend time looking into the ‘missional mirror’ and ask ourselves, “What is my motivation?” and “Do I still care about the lost?” Our own underlying passion for those who don’t follow Jesus is fundamental to an effective missional leader. If we don’t care about the lost then our churches won’t care. If we are not passionate about mission then our churches won’t be passionate about mission. It seems obvious but it’s essential.
Amongst the demands of church leadership it is so easy to lose sight of our own personal missional passion. It is certainly true of me. In the fullness of all the other things I needed to do as church leader I could go for days, no weeks, perhaps months without thinking about those outside of the church or feeling God’s heart for the lost.
One of my favourite parables is the story of the lost sheep. I love the way that Jesus sets up the story as a question. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep, until he finds it?” In modern day British society, the majority reply “Yes! We would go looking for the lost sheep!” but in historic Israel I expect the almost unanimous answered was “No!” By searching for the one lost sheep there was a huge risk that the shepherd could lose ninety-nine! The point, I think, Jesus is making is that God’s passion for the lost is so great that he is prepared to risk the loss of ninety-nine (i.e. The self-assured Teachers of the Law and Pharisees) for just one so called lost “sinner” who, when found, he rejoices over.
It is a very challenging story when we ask ourselves the questions, “What about me? Do I really care about those that are lost? Am I satisfied with the safety of the ninety-nine? Would I risk the ninety-nine for the sake of the one?”
If we are to lead our churches into mission and encourage them to be passionate about the lost it must start with us.
Passion for the lost does not just appear. It is not a natural phenomenon. Instead it must be found, worked on and maintained. We must be intentional to ensure that we return to the well of God’s tears for the lost.
It seems to me that there are two main streams that are essential to maintaining our desire to reach the lost. Our theological convictions (our understanding of God) and our own personal passion (our desire to tell others).
Who we believe God to be will feed both our practice and leadership. I am so grateful that my own theological journey is one that convinces me that mission is at the very heart of God. I am convinced that the Father’s search for the lost compelled Him to send his own son to die on a cross. I am convinced that all are invited into his kingdom. I am convinced that salvation leads to eternal life. I am convinced that choosing to receive God’s love in Christ is a far better outcome that refusing his love. I am convinced of ultimate judgement and justice. I am convinced that this God has called me into this mission to extend his invitation of love to those who don’t yet know him.
I guess what I am saying is that this is my starting point and because I am convinced by God’s character I find it difficult to side step that nagging urgency to tell others. Without such conviction of God’s missional passion my own motivation to reach out to others and lead a church to do so would be severely stunted.
If the first stream of theological motivation is outside of myself in who God is, I guess the second stream could be described as a stream that flows from inside of me and the position of my heart. The two are not disconnected and one might argue that the second is fed and transformed by the first. Yet it is worth considering the stream that flows from inside for a moment. I might be convinced that God is a missional God, yet part of my missional motivation surely must be a deep concern for the individual who does not know Jesus. Being motivated by duty, service and obedience is well and good but a deeper passion comes when these are joined by love.
This takes us back to the question “Do I really care?” I have always been struck by the record of Jesus’ compassion and how he is emotionally moved by people. Do I look into missional opportunities and allow myself to be filled with compassion for those individuals and communities? Am I moved to tears in the way Jesus was?
I think good missional leaders allow both streams to flow. A theological stream that flows into their hearts and a personal stream that flows out into the world.
Yet my experience is that both these streams need to be maintained. The problem is that all the ‘stuff’ of church life eats missional passion for breakfast! Sermon preparation, deacons’ meetings, worship rotas, small group notes, leadership training, music practice, church meetings, etc. together will squeeze out our own passion for the lost.
In December of 2013 Cyclone Dirk hit the UK and caused comprehensive flooding to parts of western England. Apparently, one of the main reasons was due to a lack of dredging of the rivers and drainage channels. Streams, rivers and channels need maintenance. They will begin to silt up and overgrow unless intentional work is done to ensure the channel is maintained. This is true of spiritual streams. To succeed as a missional leader I have regularly had to return to both my theological conviction and my personal passion. Needless to say, regular prayer and study in this area has helped with the theological channel. Returning to scripture, the cross and resurrection and Christ’s commission helps me to return to the character of God is and my calling to be his witness.
Maintaining my passion for the individual however has looked different. I have found my passion for the individual has been maintained by working with them. It is the privilege and joy of journey with someone into faith that reignites my passion. Through gritted discipline and determination, I have sought to step over all the barriers and excuses not to find time to be with the lost to ensure that once again I personally am being infected by their journey into faith.
When I first arrived at Eastleigh Baptist Church in 2009, I discovered what I could only describe as ‘Alpha fatigue’. Although the church knew that it should be missional and was trying to reach out into its community it was worn out by doing Alpha. Although I had a membership of over 200 people very few wanted to cook meals and only a small handful were passionate about being available to help run the sessions. The church had run out of passion for the lost. Reaching the lost is demanding. It is hard work and the rejection by others can be soul destroying. It doesn’t take long for a congregation to feel worn out, defeated and guilty about being missional. If we as the leaders aren’t passionate about the lost we can’t be surprised when our congregation feels the same. Our passion needs to be infectious, but we must be intentional rather than accidental.
I offer three thoughts for infecting passion. Firstly, find those who are also passionate about the lost and equip and empower them in mission. These are the very people who should be at the centre of any missional strategy and activity of a church and possibly sharing in church leadership. Secondly, encourage individuals on the missional journey. Take them to a place where there is an opportunity to be missional. For me this has included shared community missional initiatives and short-term mission trips abroad. Lastly, confront any anti-bodies that are against mission. An established church that has functioned within a maintenance model will struggle to transform itself into being missional. Language must change, programmes adjusted, financial resources redirected, initiatives closed and new initiatives promoted.
Back to the Mirror
However uncomfortable or even painful it might have been to take a good long looking in the missional mirror and asking, “Do I care about the lost?” I have found it to be essential to rediscover, maintain and to be infected again with a passion for the lost.
However, there is no point spending all day looking in the mirror! Now it is time to turn around and start leading!
 Luke 15v1-2
 Matt 9v36, 14v14, 15v32, 20v34, Mark 6v34, 8v2, Luke 15v20
 More about this in article 4