Even a casual study of Scripture makes clear that in order for churches to become missional, they need different kinds of leaders. God called people with different abilities and gifts to lead the church as new opportunities emerged.
What kind of leaders does the missional church need in the 21st century?
1. The church needs apostolic leaders.
When we think about apostolic leadership, our attention usually goes immediately to the Apostle Paul – out there on the cutting edge, starting new faith communities, facing hardships and winning Gentiles to the Way – but there were other apostles as well.
While Paul was penetrating the Gentile world with the gospel, Peter and James stayed in Jerusalem and shared the message of Christ in the center of Jewish influence.
They were confronting an established system with a message of renewal, but their mission was still apostolic.
Both within and outside of the church and its structures, we need apostolic leaders.
Those who function within the church are leaders who realize that just as God is a sending God (sending forth God’s own son), the church is a sending church.
The church should always be looking outward to engage the culture, but someone may have to remind it to do so.
Those who work outside the walls to engage the culture get a lot of attention, but we must not neglect those who work in church and judicatory structures to lead their constituents in the process of becoming missional.
More of us will find ourselves in that role than as missional entrepreneurs.
2. The church needs functional leadership.
In the early church, leadership seems to have been more of a function than a title. In reading about the church at Jerusalem, we learn that a number of people who were “servants” of the church, such as Stephen and Philip, also became gifted spokespersons for the Christian faith.
Barnabas was first recognized for his generosity and sense of caring before he was delegated the job of envoy to the church at Antioch.
While there, other gifts of leadership became evident and led to his role as a missionary.
The early church had a charismatic leadership characterized by a gifting from God for the various functions it needed.
Function was more important than title. As Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 12, there are different functions in the body, but all are necessary and none is more important than any other.
Perhaps we define “leadership” too narrowly. Any person who exercises his or her gifts as a servant of the church is a leader – the greeter as well as the Sunday school teacher; the children’s worker as well as the pastor; the custodian as well as the administrator.
In the final evaluation, the title or the role is not as important as faithfulness to God and God’s people in exercising our gifts. This is servant leadership.
3. Lay leaders are needed in the church.
How are we equipping lay people for church leadership today? In reality, most of our churches are not. I think this is a neglected area in many of our churches. We do a good job of Bible teaching but do little to equip lay leaders.
As we think about this challenge, let me share a few observations about the adults we have the opportunity to equip for ministry:
First, they are well educated. Second, they are digitally connected. Third, they are busy people with many demands on their time.
Fourth, they come from various denominations. Fifth, their family situations vary. Sixth, they are open to new relationships. Seventh, they are seeking spiritual insight for their lives.
Equipping adults as lay leaders for the 21st century church is one of the most significant opportunities open to us today. The task will require our best thinking and ample resources of people, time and money.
4. The church also needs young leaders.
As Christian leaders, we often say that we want to nurture a new generation of leaders and involve them in the life of the church.
On several occasions, however, I have personally observed questioning and criticism of the decisions and leadership of young adults who have been asked to assume responsibilities in the local church.
Although the desire is sincere, too often the reality is that we are too set in our ways, uncomfortable with change and want everything to be “perfect” (according to our standards).
Calling out and empowering young leaders is a painful process, both for the young leaders and the church. They will never be ready unless they try, succeed and sometimes fail.
In “Missional Renaissance,” Reggie McNeal points out that “Jesus deployed his disciples long before they were ready.”
From personal experience, they learned how much more they needed to learn from the master and were motivated to do so.
If we are sincere about wanting younger leaders in our churches and organizations, we must carve out a space for them.
God continues to call gifted and talented men and women for “works of service.” We must be more intentional about helping them find how to perform that service.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is associate professor of ministry praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at BarnabasFile, and you can follow him on Twitter @ircel.
Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Ircel’s book, “For Such at Time as This: Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry,” published by Pinnacle Leadership Press. It is available for purchase in paperback or as an e-book here.