A few years ago, I completed my doctoral project by constructing a seminary course on the subject of missional leadership. In the course of my project paper, I did an overview of the motif of sending throughout the Scriptures. In this section, I offer a brief description of how it appears in the Gospels.
The sending within the four Gospels is centered on the incarnation of God. John the Baptist is sent to prepare the way, and Jesus begins his public ministry having been sent by God (John 3:16). The life of Jesus stands at the heart of God’s sending activity. DuBose wrote, “It cannot be overemphasized how deeply the sending concept relates to Jesus’ identity. Almost every page of the Fourth Gospel breathes with a passage in which Jesus expressed who he is in terms of his sense of being sent, his sense of mission.” DuBose rightly highlights the strong emphasis found in the Gospel of John. The idea of Jesus’ sentness is shown repeatedly (4:34; 5:30; 7:16–18; 9:4). Further, John’s Gospel links the sending of Jesus with the sending of his followers in 17:18 and 20:21. Additionally, in John, Jesus speaks on the sent nature of the Holy Spirit, as well to facilitate the mission of God (14:26; 15:26).
The Synoptic Gospels refer to the use of the language of “sentness” to a lesser degree, but still reference the theme in relation to Jesus in verses such as Matthew 15:24, Mark 9:37, and Luke 9:48. DuBose highlighted the Lukan passage in chapter four, in which Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61 while in the synagogue. DuBose wrote, “Of all the Old Testament passages he could have chosen, he selected this one as the platform for his life and work. It became the manifesto of his ministry. We noted earlier in commenting on Isa 61 how all the activities of the Servant of God proceeded from the sending.” With their primary emphasis on the life of Jesus, the four Gospels provide a compelling portrait of how the Son was sent by the Father for the work of redemption. Christ was sent to minister, die, and rise again as a particular work that cannot and need not be duplicated. In doing so, he also provided teaching about and the reality of a new covenant under which the church would be sent into the world.
The last year has caused me to reflect a great deal on bivocational ministry. In my own church, I serve as a part-time minister, but know that I must dedicate energy to the strategy for our church. Here are a few of the ideas that I’ve been dwelling on to help me lead better.
Drop the buzzwords. Modern leaders in the church are just like ancient leaders in the church – we love our buzzwords. For the first century, it was the Gnostics talking about their secret knowledge. Today, we have made words like postmodern, Gen X, mission, and missional into junk-drawer terms. They mean everything and nothing at the same time. Don’t use hollow terms. Learn the vocabulary of your church and use it wisely.
Know the context. You are likely the only leader in your church that has done self-training to think missiologically. It is the default of most people to simply address a small circle of needs around them. Become a cultural expert about your city, your state, and the world. I know that I’m asking you to know a lot. But no one else is going to do it. I suggest you to make it a regular part of your teaching. Help your church to think about the application of biblical truths not just to their lives but to the life of their community and city.
See farther. In order to tell a better story, see you have to develop the discipline of seeing farther than others. It does not mean that you have to be prophetic in an Old Testament kind of way. As a leader, you need to find time for prayer and then planning that helps the church to see what they will do next, how they will minister going forward.
Seeing farther is not a normal skill possessed by most people in leadership. For those of us in bivocational work, it will require – like so much else – extra time. There are plenty of books and resources out there to help you with the process of setting the vision, putting together the strategy, and seeing farther. Let me give you a few practical suggestions to get the work done.
Set the pace. Don’t ever just point in a direction for your church and say, “Go!” Go first and bring everyone with you. You simply cannot lead strategically without putting yourself into the strategy. The moment strategy degrades to just an assignment for others, you have lost your footing as a leader.
In his book Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer included a poetical series in the introduction entitled “Stations of the Way to Freedom.” The poems included themes of self-discipline, action, suffering, and death. Though all four sections are written in such a way to demand a response, there is something about the second section that has always drawn me in. It reads:
Do and dare what is right, not swayed by the whim of the moment.
Bravely take hold of the real, not dallying now with what might be.
Not in the flight of ideas but only in action is freedom.
Make up your mind and come out into the tempest of living.
God’s command is enough and your faith in him to sustain you.
Then at last freedom will welcome your spirit amid great rejoicing.
The phrase “come out into the tempest of living” captures my imagination. We work so hard at making life easy when it never is. And the moment that it is easy, then we have likely stepped into no man’s land where meaning and purpose are lost for us. It does not mean that every day is a decision to leave hearth and home for a wild, safari-like adventure. Rather, we should see life as a series of dares and whims and bravely taken steps. Otherwise, what is the point?
As you go about work and chores and the occasional adventure, remember that it is in the storms of life that we can catch the wind and experience God’s pleasure in our days. The moment that you feel as if control as slipped from your grasp, rejoice. It is likely the moment that you are in that great tempest that brings joy.
Robert was a regular guy suddenly confronted with the needs of children in his city. What is someone supposed to do with that feeling? He decided to go the difficult way… change their lives.
Working as the editor of the local newspaper, Robert regularly helped families forced to live in “workhouses” and visited people in prisons. One day he discovered that young boys were being forced into labor at local mills. The country’s laws were no help. The best scenario was that the number of hours a child could legally work was limited to 12. They suffered through deplorable conditions and under tyrannical bosses. It is a hopeless scenario we expect to see in the worst of Third World conditions.
Robert saw the outcome of the equation.
Children + illiteracy + slums + unyielding labor = poverty, hopelessness, death
With no hope of escape and no chance of education for the children, he decided that something had to be done.
With only one day of the week that the boys were not allowed to work, Robert asked a friend to open her home to a group of them. He had access to only one book to use as a textbook – the Bible. So, once a week, the boys would gather in the morning to learn reading and writing. In the afternoon, they attended a worship service. Some of the boys even began learning the catechism from Robert’s church. By some miracle, many of their parents began attending the group as well. Robert’s vision to help boys from the slums began to make a difference.
He was changing the equation.
Children + love + small group + gospel = Hope
Changing the variables was changing their lives.
The small group Robert began for the poor, disenfranchised children began to grow. Not just in size but in vision. Others heard about the simple and focused idea. Help the poor in your city. Invite them into your home. Educate them for a better life. Introduce them to the hope of the gospel. According to one historian, within four years, over 250,000 people were attending these small groups.
There is a power to investing in the people around you. It is the key element of leadership to which we must all give time. Without relationships with those who have little, we’re just Monday-morning quarterbacks screaming from the cheap seats. Leadership means getting your hands dirty. No… messy. Better yet… grimy with the people of your city.
Robert’s story happened in Gloucester, England, a city 100 miles west of London. It was the late 1700s. Many refer to it as the birth of Sunday School. The man who started it all was Robert Raikes.
You’ll not be surprised that some of the other leaders in church and culture did not like the idea. After all, these were the undesirables of the city. He was mocked and the movement was called “Raikes’ Ragged School.” Why would a respectable man with a nice job bother other nice people to care for the street rats of the city?
Because relationships matter. Especially, relationships with those who have no hope.
I think that our small group ministries could use a large dose of Robert Raikes’ passion again. Why do I think this? Because I serve a local church part-time and I work for publishing house full-time. Every week, I see the effect that a church could have and that many do have when the decision is made to connect with the needy among us. The Scripture tells us to care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien within the gates of our city. God’s clear objective is that those who have hope should care for those who have none.
In my latest work, we are trying to hold up three ideas as to what a small group should do. They are summarized in nine words: Connect the unconnected – Strengthen families – Disciple people with wisdom. Brilliant, right? Not really. A newspaper editor thought about it over 200 years ago. Before that, Timothy was sitting at his grandmother’s feet learning about it a couple thousand years ago (2 Timothy 1:5). About 6,000 years ago, God told the Hebrews to make sure they cared for the youngest in their families by constantly recounting the works of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
Our small groups are not a new idea but the best of the older ideas. It is the time where connections are made, lives are mended, and eternal hope is transferred. Leadership begins and ends with a relationship that meets needs; both immediate and eternal.
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.