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Philip Nation

  • Defining Missional Leadership

    The subjects of the terms missional and leadership could, and have, filled up books for many years. Over the most recent century, the terms have been paired in multiple books, articles, and conference settings as a topic or theme. However, an authoritative definition for the phrase missional leadership does not seem to appear. After the analysis necessary for my doctoral research, and the perceived need for a stronger leadership of this type for the church, I worked to develop a definition. The definition served as the launching point for the course that was developed as a result of the study associated with my project.

    My definition is: “Missional leadership is living according to and speaking comprehensively about the mission of God as first revealed in the scriptures and the life of Jesus Christ so as to guide others to surrender to and participate in the mission of God on a personal and community level.”

    The definition, as with any definition, has several parts that can be explained further. First, though not the first words of the definition, is the subject matter of the mission of God. It has been said that “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”[1] It is an accurate statement for leadership in the church. In order for the church to do its work, it must know the centerpiece of the work to which it is assigned. In the arena of missional church ministry or methodology, obviously then, the mission of God is the center of a congregation’s work and the believer’s life. Throughout my research, I observed that one of the missing elements in many definitions, or in the literature around leadership, is the lack of direction given. To answer that missing element, this definition states that the point of missional leadership is the mission of God. Any attempt to teach on the subject, however, will require theological and practical definitions for the meaning of the phrase mission of God.

    Second, leadership is about both living and speaking. In the case of missional leadership, it must be personal to the leader before it can become personal for the follower. In essence, both communication and action are parts of leadership, neither of which should be diminished by the other. In fact, they should mutually complement and strengthen. Thus, my definition indicates that the leader should be able to speak about the mission of God and personally live out its implications. The dual impact rises from the biblical passages that offer the qualifications necessary for people to serve in the capacity of elders or pastors in the church. Though these passages should not prescriptively be applied to any leader in the church, they do serve as a warning and as a guide for what is required from the character of those who serve as leaders in the church.

    Additionally, leaders must be able to communicate information thoroughly about the mission of God. Though in some cases this will include preaching or some other type of systematic instruction, “speaking comprehensively” can also include simple conversations. Leaders of any sort in the church should be able to describe for their followers what the goal of the work is in which they are leading. For leadership to be most effective in moving people toward the mission of God, leaders must understand and be engaged with it as well.

    Third, leaders must take the Scriptures as their primary source of authority and information in leading people into God’s mission. Though a certain amount of knowledge about God can be gleaned from general revelation, his special revelation through the Bible gives believers and the church specific instructions for actions. In particular, the church is to look to Christ as her head to understand how to live and what to do. Through his life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, humanity is offered redemption. Through the life and work of Christ, believers are also given his life and teachings to follow as the specific manner in which to engage in God’s mission. Leaders in the church should point believers to the Bible and the life of Christ as the primary sources for understanding the mission of God.

    Next, missional leadership should “guide others to surrender to and participate in the mission of God.” Leadership involves mobilizing followers into action. In politics, business, and even family structures, leaders have goals to which they move followers to engage. Success is often measured by the metrics of goals met or missed. For the church, leaders should work to move people to engage in the mission of God. The words “surrender” and “participate” are chosen in order to signal the seriousness of attitude the church should have to the mission of God. The mission of God should be the overarching priority and the primary activity in the life of the Christian.

    Finally, the definition emphasizes the idea that the mission of God is engaged on both private and public levels. Throughout my literature review, the work of God’s mission is posited as something the church does as a community of faith. However, the church is not a mechanical entity, but rather a relational community of Christian people. Thus, both individuals and congregations should embrace God’s mission. It is a work that was given by Christ to believers (Matthew 28:18–20) and is assigned to the church (Ephesians 3:10). Since leadership in the church occurs at both the individual and corporate level, then missional leadership must be focused on both levels as well.

    The definition is one that will certainly come under scrutiny—and rightfully so, as it is meant to represent the study associated with one doctoral project. It is my hope that it will provoke others to sincerely consider how and where they are leading the church.

    [1] This quote is attributed to George Orwell. It is most associated, or a variation of it, to George Orwell, with an introduction by Peter Stone, review of Power: A New Social Analysis by Bertand Russell Bertrand Russell Society Quarterly nos. 130–31(May/August 2006).

    Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

  • 5 Mistakes We Make in Our Sermons

    There are a multitude of mistakes that can be made in the delivery of a sermon. We can proof-text an idea or completely miss the point of a passage altogether. For the purpose of this post, I will not address the content of your expository work. Instead, I want to address the stuff that surrounds it and can help people hear the core of your message better. Here are five mistakes that we make and some encouragement about how to fix them.

    1. Not preparing the introduction. A common mistake is to craft a great message and a great conclusion but stumble to get it all started. Oftentimes, we want to leave room to transition the congregation from the worship music we’ve been singing into the sermon. It is a good idea, so work with your worship leader to plan it out. Many of us have a standard opening that the church is accustomed to hearing and that works as well. Whatever is your comfort level, plan out something so that you are not fumbling with notes and searching for a transition in the moment.

    2. Poorly planned illustrations. An illustration is only as great as its delivery. We’ve all found a great story or illustration, thought about it for a few moments, and written it into our notes. The problem is that we never thought about it again until the moment it needed to be said out loud in the sermon. With every illustration, you need to practice the delivery. Illustrations normally have a pivot point where you take people from the illustration to how it helps them apply the scriptural truth to their lives. Make sure you verbally work your way through it in your preparation.

    3. Allowing your voice to fry. Recently, I had my voice go out on me about two-thirds of the way through my sermon. It is awful. I felt it coming on, and there was nothing I could do about it. But there is a way around it. Warm up your voice before the service. Don’t strain your voice while singing. And, for me, a significant key is to begin my message with a conversational tone. Whenever I start out with an uptight, overly-excitable, on-the-verge-of-shouting tone, then my voice is not going to make it. So… calm down.

    4. Uh. Well. You see. If filler words and phrases are not the lowest form of communication, then they are in a close second to grunting. As you review your messages (and you should review the audio of them each week), discover why you tend to use filler sounds like uh, umm, and well. Make sure you mentally prepare for the transitions between points so you are not forced to make a grunt while searching for a transitional statement. It will also help if you will limit the number of last-minute edits you make to your notes. If you will finalize your notes in time to do a verbal run-through during the week, it will limit your filler words. Finally, don’t be afraid of a moment of silence. You don’t want it to be awkward, but there is also no need to create a continuous onslaught of sound with no audio break for the entire message.

    5. Asking insulting rhetorical questions. Any time a speaker says “Do you hear what I’m saying?” or “Do you understand what I mean?” then the fault is most likely with the speaker. Of course they hear you. You’re standing right there talking. Of course they understand what you are saying. They are reasonably intelligent people. As speakers, we normally use such phrases when we are not getting the feedback we’re hoping to receive. It is more of a sign of insecurity than anything. To counteract it, plan out your statements and rhetorical questions that will draw the church into discovery rather than push them toward a defensive posture.

    I am sure that there are many of verbal miscues that we make while delivering our messages. As I stated earlier, take time to listen to your messages each week. If your church does not record them, then use an app on your smart phone or a digital recorder. Preaching is a sacred and spiritual endeavor but that does not limit us from being disciplined in honing our craft.

    Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

  • Leading Well

    Currently, I am preaching through a series of messages about leadership in the church. In the last message, I taught on the qualifications necessary for someone to serve as an elder in the church by summing it up to three characteristics: mature, loving, and discerning (my teaching notes are below). Whether you lead or not, I hope the message will encourage you.


    • The quality of leadership is always determined by the character of the leaders who offer it.
    • Leadership is a constant exercise of killing your ego.
    • Only the gospel can change our character.
    • 3 characteristics of elders:

    Mature = transformed by the gospel

    • Witness to Christ’s sufferings
    • Participant in the glory to be revealed

    A) Prioritize the work of the gospel above the good works of people

    • Guardians of doctrinal faithfulness
    • We want to lead the church & our community to know Christ; not our cool programming.

    B) Being an example to the flock

    • Constant spiritual growth is required for those who hope to lead the rest of us into God’s mission.
    • Signs of spiritual growth: Relational, Personal walk with Christ, Kindness
    • When based in gospel transformation, leadership empowers everyone.

    Loving = engaged in strong relationships

    • Shepherd the flock = Leading through love
    • When leadership is God’s will then it must be done freely and not by compulsion.
    • “Among the people”
    • Leadership without love is a dictatorship.
    • Love without leadership is chaos.
    • Our goal is to: Empower others to serve
    • Leadership combined with strong relationships produces empowered people ready to engage gospel transformation.

    Discerning = seeing and leading the mission

    • View everything in light of eternity
    • Aware of accountability
    • Church life run amuck :: brooms
    • See around corners
    • Viewing leadership in light of eternity focuses us on the need to live out the effects of the gospel.
    • Why? Because it is the only thing that transforms us personally, connects us as a church, and can give boundaries to our mission.

    We must all apply these three principles to our lives. Mature – Loving – Discerning

    Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.

  • 5 Changes to Become a “Going” Church

    The Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28 is familiar. Too familiar. With its familiarity, we face the temptation of it losing its impact. Let me remind us what it says,

    Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    Recently, I shared with our church five changes and one empowering reminder that we need to keep in mind if we are to follow Christ’s commission to us.

    Change #1: Move from working as campus chaplains to advancing as kingdom missionaries

    • Churches are not to hide on campuses.
    • We are told to “go” or “as you are going.”
    • Wherever people are is where we are to be.
    • The church campus and gatherings serve as launching pads, not as a monastery.

    Change #2: Move from participating in religious programs to becoming lifestyle disciple-makers

    • Programs are the paths of least resistance because disciple making is mess.
    • Programmatic growth is the last vestige for sterile ministries.
    • We want relationships that result in eternal transformations.

    Change #3: Move from a perceived home field to active global engagement

    • The mission of God includes our community but does not end with our community.
    • God calls the church to the world.
    • God calls our church to be a global sending center.
    • God calls every believer to be a global missionary.

    Change #4: Move from creating consumers of religion to community builders of the church

    • Baptism is the public declaration that you have surrendered your life before God’s sovereignty.
    • It is secondarily a public alignment with the church family.

    Change #5: Move from being knowledge junkies to Jesus followers

    • Too often, our knowledge has outpaced our obedience.
    • It is easier to desire behavior modification from masters of biblical trivial pursuit. But that is not discipleship.
    • “The gospel of sin management has produced vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else.” – Dallas Willard
    • Jesus wants followers. He began the apostles’ work with “Come” and ended his training with “Go.”
    • The gospel gives us the beautiful potential to be people who imitate Jesus.

     One Empowering Reminder: The authority and presence of Jesus is what makes all of this a reality.

    • Jesus has all of the authority and promised to never desert us.
    • None of the five changes are possible by our own wit and self-determination. Jesus, however, loves to do the impossible.
  • About Philip Nation

    Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. He earned a master of divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a doctor of ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as teaching pastor for the The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville, Tennessee.

    His works include Compelled: Living the Mission of God and Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow. He is also the general editor of The Mission of God Study Bible. Along the way, he has written the  small-group studies Compelled by Love: The Journey to Missional Living and Live in the Word, plus contributed to The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Lifetime.