The week before this was quite a good week for finishing books. I like weeks like that, mostly because it frees up more space on my shelf of half-read books! (For those who like my updates in the book saga, there’s a photo here; as you will see, I’ve put those classy new Argos shelves to good use, even if there are another five or six new library books kicking around the floor somewhere else in the house. )
One which I particularly enjoyed reading was Alan Roxburgh‘s Missional Map-Making: Skills for leading in times of transition. I shouldn’t really have chosen to finish that one, as I only started it the same week, so in effect it jumped the book queue. But it was actually that good that I didn’t want to put it down. And there’s not that many non-fiction books of which this is true, after all!
It’s about the kind of leadership which the church needs today, in a time of constant and yet discontinuous change, and is written within the context of the author’s interest in missional church. In fact, you might remember my blogging about another of his books on leadership in 2010; at the time, The Missional Leader had me rethinking things with every page which I read and post that I wrote. So, having got some context on the book, listen to this excerpt from one of the earlier chapters:
Leading well in an environment of complex change depends on leading from a different place than management and control… It’s a lot more reassuring to have a program that promises that you can improve the health of your church if you can identify a certain set of measurables than to face the counterintuitive idea that the imagination for a new future lies among the ordinary people of a church and in the relational networks that exist among them and in the community.
YES!!!! When I read things like this, I don’t feel quite so out on a limb as a church leader from the generation which lives as natives in this new world of complex discontinuous change where relationships are everything.
Now I can’t count the number of church leadership books I read which tell me that I need to get my measurables lined up – the excellent children’s work, the outstanding Sunday morning music, high-quality visuals to illustrate the preach. Command and control, they tell me. That’s what I need as a leader. To get bums on seats, rotas filled, decisions made and ministry performed as excellence.
Yet, in my world, these feel like endless irrelevancies. Has no one noticed that the unchurched don’t come just because our music is great or we keep the children entertained? And please hear me right: I don’t mean to denigrate what the generations before me did. You were faithful to the Spirit in your time. In a world which was relatively churched, in a world where the maps were thoroughly modern, what you did honoured God because it made church an attractive place to which many could return.
But today, the Facebook generation will not come to church just because our music is great. They have YouTube.
And they will not come because we offer great programmes. They have podcasts and personal development courses freely available over the internet.
It has to be something else that draws them. They live by a different paradigm, one where everyone is connected or, at least, reachable by Facebook, twitter or linked in. They live in a world where anyone can have a say, whether by blog or YouTube video, Facebook status or tweet. And so the kind of church which can be achieved by command and control leadership is not attractive to them. They don’t want programme; they want relationship. And they don’t want command and control leadership; they want respect and enabling.
And what if the Spirit wants the same for them? What if the imagination of God today is for the lost to be invited into relationship with his Son not through the delivery of a programme or four step presentation but through honest relationships offered in genuine and open community? And what if that kind of community is also the context in which he wants to grow his people as disciples, a community where leadership has to operate on a basis completely other than command and control? What if…?
Dream about the kind of leadership which might follow. And, though you may not be of the Facebook generation, though you may not use twitter or send thousands of texts each month, though you may have quite liked the security of command and control leadership…still, I say it: dream!
Dream about what new things the Spirit might be doing today.
Pray for the new generation of leaders, those younger ones who need your permission and encouraging to break away from the old measurables, yet who also need your wisdom to guide us when we risk throwing it all away in the naive arrogance of youth. Because we worry sometimes that we are being too naive; we think that maybe we should be judging our ministry by the old measurables and that we are foolish to think otherwise. It’s hard to walk a new path in the midst of those who are asking us the ABC questions (attendance, buildings and cash); it feels crazy to say that we don’t have high numbers under any of those categories and yet we still believe that we are doing a significant work for the One who sent us. So pray that in our innovation we might be humble yet bold, teachable yet unafraid to speak prophetically of this new thing.
Pray that we would learn to lean into the wind of the Spirit, to let go of trying to quantify what he is doing as if from the outside and instead start to live into it as from the inside. Pray that we would learn to draw new maps for leadership, church and mission in the liminal space which is our contemporary experience, maps which honour both Word and Spirit, maps which might re-envision this generation for the work of God in our time.
Pray and dream, because this generation depends on it.
And without your prayers we will founder and fail.