I just finished reading another book by Alan Roxburgh, Missional Map-Making: Skills For Leading In Time of Transition (affiliate link).
What The Book Is About:
The central premise of this book is that you can’t lead in the same way as before, because we’re living in drastically different times. In the past, and mostly still today, pastors lead based upon a very modernistic framework. It’s an understanding that, if we just know what the problem is, we can figure out the solution. He says, “This longing for absolute clarity reveals just how much the church has been shaped by modernity. Modernity is all about control, clarity, and certainty” (p. 24).
And so, as a result, churches have taken from the business world concepts of “strategic planning” to begin a process; let’s come up with a purpose (what problem are we trying to solve) and then let’s come up with the needed steps to solve it through planning (how are we going to solve it). In fact, I just read an article this morning from Fast Company titled “How Willow Creek Is Leading Evangelicals By Learning From the Business World.” This is a pretty good example of the anti-thesis of Roxburgh’s book. Roxburgh says that too many churches operate from a business-world mentality, instead of attempting to be truly biblical.
“Leaders tend to believe that their maps of church and leadership are based primarily on theological convictions based in Scripture. Look, for example, at all the books on church structure and leadership that begin with the claim that the author’s perspective is the one that is biblical. At a basic level, this is how different denominations justify their organizational structures and ecclesiologies; each makes the claim that its type of church form is drawn directly from Scripture. Like fish in water, we often fail to see the extent to which our metaphors, images, and beliefs are determined by the cultural maps of our time rather than some set of pure ideas from the Bible” (p. 56).
The danger with having a modernistic framework for church life is that the church becomes a machine. People become solutions to problems. So I’ll develop a ministry to feed the homeless, and I’ll evaluate the success of that ministry based upon how many homeless end up coming to church and become baptized. If it’s not working, the program is cut because, after all, it’s not accomplishing “the mission” of the church. This mindset forgets the fact that Jesus healed people for the sake of making them whole, not on the condition that they would later follow.
After spending some time deconstructing this modern framework for strategic planning and doing church, and presenting eight challenges that we face, he begins to break down a process for doing missional planning.
Step 1: Assess how the environment has changed in your context
Time must be spent discussing how the context in a local church has changed. How have things changed in the last twenty years in a church? In the community? In the city? How have people changed?
Step 2: Focus on redeveloping a core identity
He says, “one of the most critical leadership skills is the capacity to cultivate an environment that enables the re-forming of Christian life around the core identity of the Christian narrative” (P. 136). This involves the people rediscovering practices and habits of Christian formation. Once the people are taught how to listen and hear from God, they are freed to listed to what God wants them to do in a community. “It will be among the ordinary people of God that the ability to discern what needs to take place in their neighborhoods and communities must emerge. The new maps come from among the people” (p. 137).
So the gist of this point is that we have to find ways to lead people to spiritual practices so they can listen to God and discern where God wants to lead them. Before this step is begun, though, he mentions that a leader first has to develop trust amongst the people. Key to building this trust is a pastor, not doing anything revolutionary, but seemingly doing what is expected–preaching well, visiting, and attending to the needs of the people. In the meantime, the pastor is trying to cultivate the soil and actively lead the people in practicing spiritual disciplines.
Step 3: Create a Parallel Culture
Key to this next step is the developing of a counter culture. He uses the metaphor of developing a monastic community to help us understand this.
He says, “Life among the early Chrsitians involved such practices of formation as giving hospitality to others, pledging to keep the marriage covenant, caring for widows or the dying, and sharing with people in need” (p. 145). The common question would be, “how do we make this happen?” He suggests having systems of accountability so that these habits can take hold deeply.
Step 4: Form partnerships with the surrounding neighborhoods and communities
The first steps involve developing the people in spiritual habits and practices so they can learn to discern God’s voice. This step involves being more intentional about being in the community. There is no strategy yet. There is no specific plan. Just practicing presence in the community. He gives the example of a pastor that began to set aside time each week to connect with people in a coffee shop. By doing this he began to learn some of the stories and narratives that shaped that particular community. Once a group is learning about the needs of the community in such a way, and are influenced by the Spirit of God, social experimentations can be made. As major needs are discovered in the community, forms of strategic planning can be used to guide the experimentations.
He gives the example of a church that, after going through such a process, became convinced that God wanted them to start a day care for the poor. Another church “it wanted to create an experiment in developing transitional housing for women in the neighborhood” (p. 181).
Bottom Line Of the Book:
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was a ‘tad wordy, though. I’m the kind that wants to get to the nuts and bolts quickly. I figure he could have said all he wanted in about 100 less pages, but he does present a good outline for learning to lead missionaly. So if you want to be a missionary in your local context, these are some solid and biblical principles to follow.
[image by Chuck Coker]