Missional Eldership – Leading a Transformational Community

traditional-eldership.gif Traditional/Centralized forms of church government destroy a church's mission.  At Kaleo Church we continue to re-think the form of our church and our church's ecclesiology for the sake of the gospel. As we do, we must also consider how we ought to lead, in light of a move from being a 'traditional, Constantinian Church' to a church designed to transform San Diego.

First, here are the reasons why we must re-consider traditional 'CEO' mentality churches shaped by Western ideas.  As a note this includes both CEO/Sr. Pastor churches as well as those who lead as a plurality of elders.  Traditional/Central led churches will… (see Traditional Church Leadership diagram)

1. be limited by it's leadership to be on mission.  This is because of the top down leadership which is a vote/control/power position.  The church creates a bottleneck where all decisions must go to the center to be processed by the few in order for action to take place.  The church will be limited by the leaders ability to make timely decisions on a frequent basis.  The overall organization is limited in scope based on what the leaders can support. 

2. significantly impair discipleship of their people.  The church creates a substantial 'pastor/leader' and 'laity' distinction where the people are trained to function as second-tier Christians.  Knowledge is centralized rather than teaching and sending people to make decisions and apply the gospel to diff't situations.  For example, one local church I know of would not let several young men who were passionate about starting a college ministry do so, because they were not seminary trained.  This church may be a great 'teaching' church but their people will not be discipled to apply this knowledge on mission to change their city.

3. have natural resistance to reach the margins of society.  Being the beautiful mess taxes the leadership because they will take on the counseling load or other challenges brought on by being missional.  It is easier to create a great family atmosphere where everyone is ok than invite broken people into the Kingdom.

4. cultivate consumeristic programs rather than equip people for transformation.  Ministry must be program driven because Christians are not freed to apply the gospel to transform the city.  Programs can only deal with problems, people on mission can transform a city.  

Side Note on Plurality of Elders:  I believe there is rock-solid Biblical case for the plurality of elders. (Suggested Reading: Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership) I don't see how a Sr. Pastor led church can ever overcome the above problems (much less the below suggestions), unless the church functions as a plurality of elders.  Elders have the privilege of being the under-shepherds of the church.  (Jesus it the one true shepherd.)   For some, this role of shepherding creates a picture of sitting around 'watching the flock' only. The elder should be responsible for leading the flock on mission, teaching them theology to deal with the paths difficulties and praying, counseling, watching out for those who are having troubles.  But all of this is done with the emphasis on mission.

missional-eldership.gifWhat does it look like to have a decentralized plurality of elders leading a triperspectival church?  How can we raise the bar of discipleship and create a sent people who are adaptive and on mission to transform a community?  Here are a few thoughts: (see Leading as a Missional Eldership diagram )

The leadership needs to view the church triperspectivally, meaning the church is a Cause (Normative), Community (Existential) and Corporation (Situational).   It is in this way the eldership will make decisions that are centralized, de-centralized and delegated to people on mission.  These are how these decisions might be made:

Corporation:  Elders should make central decisions about issues of doctrine, vision and values. It is critical they are united in their stand on principle issues of doctrine/theology.  This is like Paul gathering with other early church leaders in Galatians to ensure there was unity on the gospel.  Central decision making on vision and values will be heavily influenced by the elders involvement in the body and the goal is to install elders who have been raised up in the church and confirmed they understand the churches vision/values. 

Community: Elders should delegate and disciple the community to handle the bulk of the counseling, gospeling of believers and the function of mission.  If a community comes to a problem they can't handle, they can involve a community leader and escalate it up to the Missional Community Leader and eventually to an elder.  The goal is to push the active life of the church into the community.  This is like Jethro's counsel to Moses but also viewed in NT church life.

Cause: Particular elders (or leaders such as deacons) will lead people out on mission on causes.  These leaders may be particularly acute at mercy ministry, evangelism, apologetics, teaching, etc.  These leaders should be actively creating disciples in a systemic leadership development process so that decisions are made at the fringe of the community as those involved in a cause encounter difficulty.  It is only when the run into problems that they cannot handle or that impacts the entire corporation that they escalate problems inward.

The goal of all of this is to create a highly adaptable church body that provides flexible leadership decision-making at the appropriate level and creates a culture of people on mission.  This certainly is going to require great trust and a willingness to let people fail.  It also will require letting go of some of the control and trusting that the Holy Spirit that is in the leadership is also in the entire church body. 

CREDITS: A lot of this is triggered by Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways and The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk as well as conversations with David Fairchild & Harbor Presbyterian.

  • Derek

    May 12, 2007, 8:48 pm

    What a great post, Drew. You hit the nail on the head.

  • Bill Kinnon

    May 13, 2007, 12:20 pm

    I’m enjoying your blog and have added you to my Google Reader.

    Think you might like some of the missional resources at Allelon.org. Al Roxburgh’s Roxburgh Journal has some great conversations, including one with Mike Goheen. There’s some interesting missional conversation video as well with people like Eddie Gibbs, Ryan Bolger, Pat Keifert and Craig Van Gelder.

    Al’s June 1st Roxburgh Journal will be a conversation with TSK, Andrew Jones. (BTW, I’ve dubbed you the Tall Thin Californian on my blog.) I produce the video and audio resources for Allelon. The Roxburgh Journal can be subscribed to through iTunes.

  • D. Goodmanson

    May 13, 2007, 3:58 pm

    Bill – Thanks for the encouragement. I agree, have had a chance to read (and had a couple articles published) at Allelon, including the Goheen article, so great tips! As for TSC, I had a chance to hang out with the TSK, he edged me by an inch.

  • zane anderson

    May 13, 2007, 11:05 pm

    So fine to see something substantial occuring in the area of ecclesiology – something positve that is (and biblical). So much of what is coming out on the subject these days is little more than an attack on the status quo with nothing to substitute it with. Godspeed.

  • Sam Paschall

    May 15, 2007, 10:30 am

    Because of experiences within the framework of a traditional CEO/senior pastor model, I can certainly say that there is a need for a wise, and thoughtful critique of this model, and the need for new solutions to be put on the table. As I read your entry I found one such critique and solution. I am grateful for my time in the more traditional model, yet seeing its weakness has led me to search for something that is more effective. It seems to me you need an army to fight a war, and the traditional model consolidates too much power at the upper levels and minimizes the impact a local body can have on its community for the reasons you stated. Thanks for your thoughts, they are both wise and provocative.

  • Tim Filston

    September 27, 2007, 11:45 am


    Nice summary and contrast. Good application of John Frame’s theology. One challenge to the ideal of decentralizing is the fact that laity, however invested, must sometimes put their own full-time work ahead of their church leadership commitments. Time and again, my attempts to decentralize break down on this point. At critical times, even some of our most invested elders simply punt to staff. Certainly, if staff provides a stop gap each time, elders are trained to rely and even rest in this safety net. If we agree that staff is not to rescue where laity drops the ball, it might elevate the value of lay leadership. But it feels a little utopic that busy professionals would expect that level of commitment of each other. I want it, they want it. But it often seems that only retired and extremely guilt-ridden people are willing to take on levels of responsibility usually assigned to staff. I’d love to hear how you or others have progressed (stages?) from a centralized staff-elder paradigm to the fractile model you propose.



  • D. Goodmanson

    September 30, 2007, 5:04 pm


    Good question. I’ll work on a post to answer that this week, since it’s something I’m thinking through a bit anyway.