The is the third article of eight that reflect on the past 25 years of ministry in my attempt to be a missional leader. The first article considered the motivation of a missional leader (Take a Look in the Mirror) and the second was about trying to gain a good understanding of the cultural currents and how they have impacted on church and its ability to be missional (Take a Look Out of the Window). This third article focusses on stepping out of the door and what it looks like to lead others in mission through my own example.
Step Out of the Door (and lead!)
Many words have been said, many books have been written and many conferences attended on the subject of mission. You can talk, listen and write but if you don’t step out of the door and do something I would suggest you are not leading missionally. Ministry is full of ‘stuff’ to do, which I have found often gets in the way of reaching the lost. It isn’t until we both metaphorically and literally step outside of our homes and churches that mission really takes place. If we are the leaders we should therefore be the first to step over the threshold!
I have always found Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 11v1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”, both bold and challenging. Other translations use the words “imitate me”. In my early years of ministry I felt uneasy about this concept. Who was I to suggest that others might imitate me? I was very aware of my failures and I particularly felt ill-equipped to reach people with the gospel. However, over the years I have discovered that if I don’t set the example I cannot expect the church that I pastor to become missional. A good missional leader must be prepared to step forward and say to others, “Come on, follow me!”
A missional disciple
To be fair, Paul’s call upon the Corinthians to “follow him” does come with the caveat, “as I follow Christ”. The words ‘follow me’ should resonate with all Christians because they are the exact words Jesus’ used to call his disciples. The English probably doesn’t do the imperative command justice. Perhaps a better translation would be ‘imitate me’. To ‘follow’ a Rabbi was to sit at his feet and learn his teachings and his ways and then to embody them into your own life. This is exactly what Jesus was calling his disciples to when he said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Although we can easily get the impression that the disciples just followed Jesus aimlessly around Israel, this is far from the truth. It was instead a 3-year discipleship experience that equipped them for the mission of the Kingdom of God. They were learning, be it slowly and poorly, to become Spirit-empowered leaders of Jesus’ new Church.
Any missional leader must first be a missional disciple. Following on from those who followed on from those who followed on from those who followed Jesus. Each step is a lesson of learning to be better equipped to “fish for people”. Strangely, as I reflect back, I never felt that I knew what I was doing and there were certainly plenty of mistakes but in my own learning I have hopefully become a better example for those around me.
I have also found that when I am not learning I am not leading. The humility of learning and recognising that you too are on a journey can be inspirational to those who might follow you. I have found that arrogance or the impression you know it all is a poor motivator!
A missional example
As missional leaders, our following of Jesus should lead to others following us, which means we need to set the example and take the risk. I have found over the years that many ministers want to be perceived as being the ‘expert’ rather than the ‘leader’. What I mean by this is that they tell everyone how to be missional rather than show everyone what being missional looks like. If you choose the latter approach, it means that you have to be immersed in mission yourself. I personally don’t believe you can leave this to the outreach team, or the appointed evangelist or community worker. We as leaders need to be setting an example of befriending those who are not yet disciples. We need to be the first to sign up to a missional event. We need to be prepared to step into the most difficult of missional opportunities. We need to be initiating and inspiring missional activities.
When I arrived at both the churches I have had the privilege of pastoring, I would describe them both as lacking missional confidence. Even the idea of leafleting the local neighbourhood was met with some resistance. I remember ordering 5000 leaflets for my very first Christmas Carol Service as a Baptist minister and delivering the vast majority of them on my own. Many didn’t believe they would effective but I realised that by setting an example change might happen. I’m glad to report that the church was packed with 300 people and the church began to gain missional courage.
A missional teacher
I have intentionally placed this paragraph to follow my reflections on being a missional example. Teaching on mission is not enough unless it is seen in practice but teaching on mission is beneficial and helpful in deepening each person’s understanding on how they might grow in mission. Looking back over my list of sermon series I must admit that very few have been specifically about mission. I believe there is a reason for this, as I would dare to hope that almost all had a relevance in encouraging missional living. Whether it was the wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs, or the example of leadership seen in Moses, or the teaching and parables of Jesus, or the letters of Paul, Peter or John writing to the early church, there was always a missional application with the lost being at the very centre.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the missional leaders in their teaching will be seeking to bring God’s word in order to transform the lives of the listening believer on Sunday for the sake of the unseen unbeliever who might be transformed on Monday.
A missional equipper
However, as I have reflected, I believe there is a fourth step as we step out into missional leadership and that is one of becoming a missional equipper. For me ‘equipping’ is the essence of pastoral ministry. I personally believe that Paul’s emphasis in Ephesian 4v11-13 is not so much on the four- or five-fold roles of ministry but instead that these various ministries are “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” I find it difficult to get over-excited by the debates about what an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher might be. However, I am excited about being involved in equipping the saints for “works of service” and feel free to call me whatever you want!
Of course, being a missional disciple, a missional example and a missional teacher all have aspects of equipping others but my emphasis here is one of understanding the individual, their gifting and calling in God and supporting them in being released in their strengths for His glory.
I want to highlight two initiatives that I personally have found to be effective in helping to equip others in becoming more missional.
The first is short-term overseas missions. I would be the first to agree that doing ‘mission’ is not the same as being ‘missional’ however, if we want our church members to grow in mission, we have to give them opportunities to learn. I have found that personally leading overseas missions particularly can be transformative in giving Christians greater courage in their gifting and in the power of the good news of Jesus. There is something about being in a strange place, outside our comfort zone, that seems to help people to lean on God more, try new things without being overwhelmed with the fear of failure and to learn about their gifts. Also, as a leader, it has given me the time and opportunity to get to know them, see them excel and recognise their particular strengths.
Matt was a 19-year-old who came on a trip Sue and I lead to Moldova in 2011. Following the trip, he applied to BMS Action Teams before going onto London School of Theology and is now working for Arab World Ministry of Pioneers. In his words, “Moldova played a big part in starting me on this journey.”
I have also found there is a huge secondary benefit and that is the impact on the wider church. It raises the prayer life of the church, the missional temperature and begins to spark greater expectation in the lives of others.
The second initiative is one-to-one discipleship mentoring. Nearing the end of my ministry at Eastleigh we established an internal discipleship mentoring network, which we named ‘The Barnabas Network’ after the great encourager and mentor of Paul. We trained up 20 mentors and had over 30 people sign-up to become mentees. The backbone of the mentoring conversation was to consider their spiritual growth, areas of study, works of service and how they would share their faith. Although not every relationship has been a roaring success, this initiative has meant that a good number of people have spent time intentionally talking and prayerfully considering how they can grow missionally and after nearly 4 years the fruit is beginning to show. I only wish I had initiated this much earlier on in my ministry.
My reflection so far then is that personal motivation and cultural reflection are crucial but leadership is essential. A missional leader that is still learning from Christ, who embodies mission, initiates mission and sets a good example for others, who teaches from God’s Word so that the listener is better prepared to share their faith and who takes time to equip the saints for “works of service’ is probably one worth following.
 Matt 4v19 and Mark 1v17
 Mark 1v17