Leading in A Missional Environment

kinnon —  June 28, 2007 — 9 Comments

A friend of mine and fellow blogger has asked me to publish this, as it might be a little too close to home for the congregation served. This friend, a good person and one I think highly of, would love your advice and response.


Dear Missional Friends,

Recently I have noticed a number of excellent posts in the blogosphere about flat leadership structures, the role of authority in missional church, and the kind of leadership that is necessary in the current cultural landscape. I am more than committed to all of these values. We are attempting to lead a church with nearly a 100 year history in an established denomination toward missional transformation. This is not an easy thing. We have focused on process rather than outcomes. We have sought to level the playing field so that every person can have equal input into the conversations we are having. We are working hard to hear the minority reports and the voices of the poor and brushed aside. All of this has been a challenging but rich experience. New leaders are emerging in this climate and taking up the challenge of leadership in the missional church.

But I am having a serious, recurring problem. Perhaps it is my extreme urban location, maybe it is my denomination which tends toward fundamentalist theologies. Nevertheless, here’s my challenge: into this open and inclusive process has walked some people who have their own very specific agenda, either to convert us to their theological program (in my case this is always fundamentalism with heavy apocalyptic overtones), or take over the church. When I say “take over the church” I literally mean that there is a group which has infiltrated the church and they are attempting to swarm their numbers and take over control of the church.

I have had members and non-members accuse me of being a hypnotist, a Scientologist, an atheist and immoral. Some of these accusations have come as loud outbursts in public worship services. Currently I have a visitor to my group who is passing around 10 and 12 page handwritten documents claiming that our church is part of a vast Satanic plot to destroy God’s people. The ironic thing is that this sort of propaganda gains traction among 10-20% of my church members. Enough to cause a serious problem.

Clearly, I have some thoughts about how to deal with this. And while you might think this is one isolated case, I can assure you that I have had a steady stream of these issues since I became the pastor two years ago. In one case a man was working his way into church leadership (in our open and flat structure) when we discovered, through some concerns raised by members, that he had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from his former church and was now entering into questionable financial relationships with our church. We have had one of our adult Bible teachers enter into a shady financial deal with another member in which the trusting member lost a significant sum.

Two thoughts keep coming to mind in all this, and then I’d like to hear from my missional and emergent friends about how our new approaches to leadership can handle the sickness and (can I say it) downright evil we sometimes witness in the church. The first thing that comes to mind is Alan Kreider’s book, The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom. In this book he discusses the challenges the early church faced in vetting new members. We are seriously considering such an experiment here. This would involve open and “flat” community, but within boundaries. The second thing I remember is that Jesus had Judas along side him all the way to the very end. I take it that Judas was trying to “help” Jesus see the light – set him on the straight and narrow.

What do you say? What kind of things should I be thinking about, because as much as I love the openness and inclusive nature of the new forms of church that are emerging, I’m a little nervous right now.


I look forward to the good people who read this blog helping my friend out. Some important questions are raised.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

9 responses to Leading in A Missional Environment

  1. Dear brother, I feel your pain. Church tends to attract it’s fair amount of wolves and your situation seem consistent with what we see in the New Testament.

    It is my feeling that protecting the flock from those who would lord their authority over others is a high priority. I would be proactive in telling the people that collectively (as a missional, mutually submissive group) you will not put up with those who ram anti-missional messages down your throat.

    I believe standing for mutual-submission and grace is safe. Pick your battles but do fight for it.

    You are in my prayers tonight.

  2. Leading in, and leading towards, a missional environment IS hard. Dr. Dave DeVries has researched this process and part of his work is posted on a wiki at http://www.New-Forms.info. You are invited to join the conversation there, also, as we learn from each other.

  3. Talk2Action has a series on fundamentalist attempts at take overs in the UCC.

    The tactics are the same and John D offers practical advice on how to deal with the agendas.

  4. Dear Friend:
    Just when you think that you’ve heard everything…

    My heart goes out to you. It takes a special kind of evil to attack a church from within like some kind of parasitic worm.

    I wish I had some great insight for you from scripture or history or better yet, personal experience. But I do have some instinct that comes from way too much experience with modernistic organizational structure. I admire your efforts to create a church with flat leadership structures. However, it seems to me that you must set up permeable but secure boundaries. It sounds as if you need to permit anyone to “speak in the church” but not allow anyone new to “speak for the church.” It seems like you need checks and balances on leadership, not at all unlike the idealistic but utterly practical manner the framers applied to our constitutional structure. I think you may be on the right track with your instinct to vet new members. Furthermore, I think that transparency must be a very high value in the community to which you aspire.

    I hope that you’ll continue to share your battles, win or lose, in this and other forums. I sincerely hope that you pervail and pray to God that you are in His will.

  5. The ancient call of the shepherd is still heard today, to protect the flock from the wolves who would tear it apart. Let us not confuse being missional with being weak. The evil one is most interested in destroying missional churches. They will attract the most trouble, division, and satanic opposition. Souonds like you are doing something right!

    But you raise a very important point. Too many of us have identified missional churches with a certain leadership style and structure. Historically, missional movements have had all kinds of structures and styles, from the organic, decentralized Jesus Movement in the late 60’s – early 70’s to highly organized movements of the exact same era, like The Navigators or Campus Crusade for Christ. God used all of them mightily.

    A flat leadership style is not a prerequisite for being missional. In many cases, a flat leadership style helps, and in some cases it hurts. Paul changed his style of leadership depending upon the context. With the Thessalonians, he was encouraging and a coach. With the worldly Corinthians and heretic-leaning Galatians, he pulled rank – but severely. He growled, he pulled no punches, but he protected the sheep and he guarded the gospel.

    When the gospel is at stake, and the health of the church is at stake, and the obedience of the sheep is threatened by wolves, of necessity coaches become cops and shepherds start swinging their staffs, for a season. My church planting coach said that the people you keep away from a young and vulnerable church plant are at least as important as the people you attract.

    Go with God and in much prayer.

  6. missional church leadership requires a range of skills and capacities. flat leadership does not equal anything goes. missional skills include those of discernment and listening to the culture.

    it seems that this situation is made worse by the fact that the body is lacking the maturity to discern well for itself, and is listening to pre-concieved notions of what Christianity is.

    practically in this situation i would be doing things like (a) finding ways to get people to listen to the culture, using Luke 10, rather than existing agendas (b) using dwelling in the Word to shift those with agendas to be listeners to the Word (c) working with smaller groupings like mission action teams, allowing them to model missional church (d)giving those used to speaking roles of “listener” or “recorder” in order to allow the voiceless voice.



  7. Its amazing how much things change.. and how much they remain the same.. πŸ™ First, I’ll be praying for you for courage and wisdom.. you are not wrestling with flesh and blood. Second, it strikes me how fatherly Paul’s language and concern comes across in his letters. The early church scholar Robert Banks has noted that Paul almost never uses the language of power, but always appeals like a father. However, when it comes to matters of gospel truth or covenant integrity, he gets downright directive. I think we can take our cues from him. God does not give us authority so that we can feel good about ourselves or so that we can be top dog or the one who makes decisions.. but in fact gives us authority for the benefit of the work, including its protection. Don’t hesitate to act boldly as a team of stewards and shepherds to confront this action, including exclusion as discipline for the sake of healing.

  8. A thought this morning that an analogy that works for me is parenting in the late stages. My end goal is for the kids to “take over,” to go out and make their own lives in the world- their own lives under Christ and for His kingdom. But even at 18 there are times when I go beyond the coaching role and say to my daughter… this is wrong, don’t do it.

  9. Sadly, this is a reminder that flat leadership structures only work:

    (A) In very small groups that do not intend to “grow” numerically

    (B) In small groups where everyone is good friends and thinks basically the same on most issues and ideas

    (C) In small groups of like-minded people who never engage the larger community (lest some non-flattened ideas may infiltrate)

    As nice as “flat leadership” sounds to some, it simply doesn’t work. Eventually, something comes up (this story is extreme and heart-breaking, but not uncommon) and SOMEBODY has to do something about it.

    And take the fall-out for taking a stand. And justify why they’ve taken this stand. And on what authority. And why their stand should be the right one, for the sake of community.

    Leadership is necessary, but never easy.


What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.