Vol 4:5 Mission and Leading Christ’s Community

A couple of weeks ago, when I was at AMBS for Pastor’s Week, I had a very brief conversation with Willard Swartley, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at AMBS, about my interest in his book, The Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics. I remarked to him I was interested in gaining insights from him for what I was working on – undoing the violence of leadership in the church.

I noted that my original intent of examining the literature on violence, what it is, how it manifests itself, was not very helpful in expressing what I was seeking to express. However, when I began to explore non-violence and the meaning of non-violence, especially in the essay by Glen Stassen and Michael Westmoreland-White “Defining Violence and Nonviolence” in Teaching Peace: Nonviolence and the Liberal Arts, I began to see a helpful direction. Non-violence is not merely the absence of violence as in what we are not to do – committing violence, diminishing the dignity of those we are called to serve, but it also expresses what we are called to do – cultivating peace, fostering shalom. I stated to Willard Swartley that I was finding fruitful avenues of research in exploring what kind of violence is perpetrated in the church by what is being left undone by the way we have been exercising leadership for the past two to three decades. Leading is indeed a gift to be exercised, but the way we have been leading, neglecting the fostering of shalom in the way we have led, is indeed a doing of violence within the community of Christ that needs to be undone. Though his encouragement was brief, he stated that this kind of focus would indeed be helpful in critiquing our models of leading in the North American church.

I realize from this conversation that before we critique the way we have been leading for almost thirty years in the North American church (see my literature review: What is Pastoral Leadership? A Review of the Relevant Literature on Approaches and Understandings of Pastoral Leadership at the Beginning of the 21st Century), we need to begin by exploring what we seek to bring about my exercising the gift of leading in the church. Is leading to cast vision, to run the church, to shape the ministry, to take charge in directing the community, or is leading to be about walking alongside, walking with, walking among a community in order to disciple, foster shalom, discern the presence and vision of the Spirit among us, attend to God, to see what God sees, to notice where God is active in the world, so that the people of God may participate with God in God’s mission? It is only as we address the purpose of why we lead that we can begin to critique the way we have been leading – and then as we do, to uncover the violence we have been doing as pastors, by not leading in ways which foster the purposes of God in leading the congregations we have been called to serve.

As I reengage exploring how the gift of leading might be exercised within a missional perspective, I hope you will join me in dialogue and in exploration as we seek radically different ways of leading, so that we might be further transformed in the ways we serve the communities we are called to walk among as pastors and church leaders.

Over the next few weeks, I desire to begin exploring the shape, the purpose, the direction our leading is to take as we participate with God in God’s mission. I look forward to your comments and interactions.

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