Can Anything be said about Leadership in the Missional Environment without Sounding Like a Pompous Mule? I Don’t Know.

Please, Remember that I am not an Expert in Anything

A friend sent me a request to help his daughter with a college paper on leadership.  I know that there are a lot of people out there who operate under the title of “Leadership Expert”, and I definitely do not fit the criteria for that kind of title.  But I gave it a shot knowing that I really don’t know anything and given that leadership in my environment is a little bit like herding cats – in the best possible way.  I learn from everybody and I am definitely very much a work in progress.  So, please let me know where you think I am being a pompous mule or simply a fool, or just plain wrong.  Believe it or not, I will thank you for setting me straight.  I responded to the request as follows:

I think that rather than say a whole bunch of stuff about leadership, which I am really not qualified to do, I might be able to be more helpful by saying a few things about a few areas of leadership that I have experienced some level of success with and have now got confidence in the veracity of:

1)      Successfully blending authority, responsibility, and accountability:  While I don’t know whether or not it is true in every denomination, in my denomination any notion of institutional or positional authority has long since passed, washed down the river by repeatedly broken trust by leaders, among other reasons. Since the title of “pastor” really carries no freight within the church anymore, in and of itself, finding the means to lead has been a constant challenge.  Since most of ministry now occurs outside the walls of the church in the mission field itself, the total lack of positional authority has required a great deal of innovation in terms of what “leadership” really means in my context.

As a result of these changes, within the church, one of the biggest hurdles I faced early on was a broken relationship between the ascription of authority, the issue of responsibilities, and the role of accountability in all of that.  Our church structure was such that many roles within it were given a lot of authority to make decisions, but their actual responsibilities (what they were actually being asked to do) were vague, and there was no one who held them accountable for results.  In the case of the pastor, they were given kind of huge and overarching and necessarily vague sets of responsibilities (like “make the church grow”, “bring in the youth”, and other institutional hoo-hah), but were given no real decision-making authority over spending or staffing, and were held accountable for things that they were not responsible for and did not have the authority to control.

Now, we are structured so that it is no one’s only job to make decisions that impact other people’s missions and ministries.  Before any authority is given, responsibilities are agreed to.  In other words, clear and measurable goals are set for the team or individual.  Once that is in place, a means of assessment for the accomplishment of those goals are agreed to by all parties. It is understood by all parties that if the mission, ministry, or position is not meeting its goals it will most likely be cut from the budget, or in the case of employees, it will have professional consequences. This sounds like it takes a long time, but it really doesn’t.  People who want to start something new come prepared with a proposal that covers most of this.  Once those two things are agreed to (goals and means of accountability), we figure out what kind of decision-making authority that team or individual needs in order to be successful in accomplishing those goals and they are given that authority.  In other words, they can spend money, hire and fire, re-structure…whatever they need to do within the agreed to authority given to them without their having to get permission for every decision.

So leaders now have the authority they need to be successful, but that authority is no longer simply linked to a title or position.  It is linked to the responsibilities that they have been assigned to carry, and that authority is held accountable to the actual accomplishments of the goals and responsibilities agreed to by all parties.  This structure and methodology applies to me as the pastor, as well.  If I am not meeting goals, there are consequences that affect to me; to include reduction in authority, reduction in pay, and even the loss of my job if I am not accomplishing what I was hired to do.  With greater responsibility comes greater authority.  But with greater authority comes greater and more specific accountability.

2)      Integrity: You can have all the gifts and talents in the world, and they will take you to the top.  But to stay there, you have to have the character not to blow it.  We all lead out of our own character and personhood, and any leadership (ability to influence outcomes) is inextricably linked to our character.  Sometimes it’s a tough reality because we all fall short of the Kingdom of God in this arena of existence.  We all have junk to work out.  On the journey to integrity, no one has arrived yet.  But it is still a reality.  This encompasses a lot of stuff.  Looking out for the good of others even when they aren’t looking and we won’t get credit for it, is a matter of integrity that takes years to establish as a part of our character.  Telling the truth as best we see it even if it costs us everything is a matter of integrity that makes or breaks trust in our character. Perseverance in the face of withering criticism and misunderstanding, and an ability to stay the course even in the midst of doubting is a matter of integrity that takes years to establish.  Our willingness to lead from the front and by example, never asking anyone to do anything we aren’t willing to do ourselves or do with them is a matter of integrity.  Never putting ourselves in a position where we could be seen as “using” someone or “taking from” someone.  These are all matters of integrity, and since there is no positional authority out there anymore in my denomination, it is all we have as pastors and leaders to leverage to influence outcomes.  If you have to have a title to gain people’s respect, when you get that title, you still won’t have their respect.

3)      Have a set of skills and competencies: You have to be good at what you do in order to get people to follow you.  I am sorry, but it is just that way.  As leaders, we must have skills and competencies.  Ministry is terrible place to try to work out your issues and incompetencies.  We have to know some things. And we have to be able to move things from the arena of idea into the realm of reality.

4)      Effective alliance building:  It’s all about networking now.  I don’t have to know how to do everything, but I do need to know someone who knows how to do whatever it is that I need done.  And I have to have established a relationship of trust and mutual benefit with that person so that we can form alliances to accomplish goals.  If I am a person prone to politics, jealousy, personal accolade, or professional advance at the expense of others, I will never be good at this.  And this is how we get things done in my arena and mission field.  You have to lose yourself in order to find yourself.

5)      Gotta really love your people and want the best for them, and be willing to act on their behalf even at personal cost:  Love covers a multitude of sins.  The truth is that if you see your people as the enemy (though at times some of them may be in reality), then it will be very difficult to lead them.  Being a basically warm and hospitable person is a key element of leadership.   Eccentrics and cold people do not fare well in situations where their position alone offers them no authority.  Love your people.  Be willing to put their needs in front of your own always, even if they would not do the same for you.  The accomplishment of the mission supersedes the needs of the people you are trying to lead, but the needs of the people you are trying to lead must always supersede the fulfillment of your own needs.

Okay.  So that’s my two cents.  Keep in mind that I have been flying by the seat of my pants ever since I went into ministry.  I usually have no idea what I’m doing, and almost all of the good that gets done in our missions and ministries is through miraculous intervention on the part of God.  So what the heck do I know? Please, take this with a grain of salt. Peace.



  1. Donna DeSarro-Raynal Said:

    Hey Max,

    I like a lot of what you said here, especially under # 2-5. I find this interesting…
    “Since most of ministry now occurs outside the walls of the church in the mission field itself, the total lack of positional authority has required a great deal of innovation in terms of what “leadership” really means in my context.” — you wrote that under # 1…I don’t know if that’s coming in your particular context, but it’s a bit sad to me that you’d say that “most of ministy occurs outside the walls of church”…I’d want to say that the church itself is part of the mission field too. I sure hope it is. I hope that in in we’re trying to do ministry among our community as much as we are beyond it. In fact, I’d like to think that “emergent/missional” church efforts understand themselves as starting there with those seeking to then be that “light on the hill” for/to others…and I don’t mean as that which others come into, but that from which we go out and work with/serve those who are seeking God/good news, etc. Just an interesting statement that struck me.

    Having said that, I really like your stuff on integrity…one of the key ingredients it seems so missing from many considered (or once-considered) “good leaders” in our society/culture is that very thing, so when they “fall” it’s a hard/fast/difficult fall…because ultimately it is clear they’ve put themselves ahead of the goals/interests of whatever it is/was they were leaders for and with, etc.

    Thanks for sharing it!!
    Hope you and your family are well. Can’t believe your kids can possibly be teenagers 🙂


    • Donna, you raise some great points. I miss being able to talk this stuff through with you in the student union at Union!! I am not qualified to speak universally, so whatever I am speaking about is taken from our context here…which is weird and constantly changing. In my context, care for the community is done by lay people. It’s not primary the responsibility of the pastor. I do show up to visit, but the primary care for the congregation (pastoral care, etc.) is done by people in the congregation. Sometimes they even get mad if I show up too soon or too often because it makes some people feel like I am stealing their thunder or that I don’t trust them enough to do it. We take care of one another, and if we didn’t take care of one another, there wouldn’t be anyone to go out and do mission in the mission field outside our walls (whatever that means).

      We do look at care within our walls as different from what we call “the mission”, but since the Kingdom is everywhere and participation in it is what mission means to us, you have a strong point about the “where”. It is very rare, in our context here, that someone who starts to participate in our community’s worship life is not already a Christ-follower who came into the Kingdom in the mission first. Conversion almost always happens in our mission contexts and by the time they actually come through our doors, they are coming through as growing Christ-followers who already have well-developed friendships with other Christ-followers who worship here that they met and got to know through the mission. We almost never invite people to “church” as a first point of invitation anymore. We invite them to come out and help us give some food away, or blankets to the homeless, or fall in love with some kids downtown in one of our youth missions. Or they come as a part of their recovery from addiction, but even then, the recovery group is the first point of invitation. It’s just what is working here. I don’t know if it fits everywhere. It probably doesn’t fit in a lot places. Here, it’s really hard to distinguish between an ordained person and a lay person unless you’ve been here for awhile. It’s also getting harder and harder to distinguish between what is “inside” our walls and what is “outside” our walls. Great point you make that we need to have an eye and heart for both, though.

      Another great point of conversation that you raise is in the use of the terms “emergent/missional”. I do use the term “missional” a lot, but I/we are about ready to punt it because it gives the false impression that we are trying to do whatever that term means first and foremost. The truth is that we are just trying to follow Christ as best we can given that we are poor, under-resourced, and under-staffed. So we have to do things differently in order to be effective. I don’t really even know what “missional” means anymore. It’s been hijacked by so many groups (including us) that it no longer means the same thing to everyone who is using it. We definitely wouldn’t use the term “emergent” as it is commonly applied. We use it as it relates to leadership (we think leadership emerges more effectively than having it assigned), but not to faith. So…I don’t know what we are except to say that we are really trying hard to follow Christ, as I know most of us in this profession are. God be with you, sister! Thank you for speaking up!! Please, give my love to Clark.

  2. Sam Said:

    As one in this “out of the box” mission field with you, you have once again opened my eyes and my spirit agrees with yours. I really appreciate reading your blogs, they help me to put perspective on my work also.
    I have heard a definition for integrity that I keep close to my heart, mainly because it is Biblical…to do good even when no one is watching, just as the Bible says that “to know to do good and not do it is a sin.”

    Thanks Brother,


    • Sam,

      “To do good even when no one is watching.” Love it! You and Streetscape live out that ethic beautifully.

      Thank YOU! – Peace, Max

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