Leadership in the mainstream church will need to be just as innovative as leadership at the edge.

Edward Vaughan - Arrow 2 and Arrow Facilitator
Rector - St John's Anglican Church Sydney


Part One 

The Church is broken.

The key leaders in the Australian church at the moment are keenly aware that something is wrong with the Church. The paradigms and models that we have inherited for our churches and organisations are not sufficient to take us into the 21st century. Within the Arrow community itself, there is an acceptance that the Church will need to be significantly different if we are going to effectively engage in the mission Christ has given us.

Realising the challenge is one thing. Knowing what the future Church (and by this I mean both our congregations and organisations) will look like is much harder.

The Emergent Church movement highlighted the problem, but appears to have failed in providing a solution. It is hard to point to an example of an Emergent Church that has embedded itself into Australian culture and become genuinely missional.

Contemporary expressions of Christianity like Hillsong and C3 are the fastest growing in Australia, and have provided fascinating models of what large evangelistically driven, leadership intensive churches can be like. The question remains as to whether they provide a viable model for the future or are the last gasp of the mega-church movement that seems to be flagging in the USA.

Amongst mainstream churches there is a developing interest in church planting. Even denominations that have operated out of a liberal theology in recent decades have begun conversations about starting new congregations, driven as much by fear of extinction as theological conviction. In more evangelical settings enormous energy and many resources are being directed at new church start-ups. Time will tell if they prove to be able to genuinely reach new people for Christ, or if they simply attract transfer growth. While the retention of young people in our churches is an important issue, the future needs more than just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

No one knows what the future will look like. Certainly as we seek to reach a pluralist, multi-cultural and diverse Australia, there will be multiple answers, and multiple ways forward.

In all of this, my current concern is with the existing Church. While leaders like us may live with a sense of frustration about the change resistant nature of our current institutions, and a deep anxiety about our own roles and performance in leadership, one thing is certain. The existing mainstream church needs renewal, and no vision of the future can exclude the possibility of existing denominations and organisations that are becoming reinvigorated and refreshed with missional possibilities.

I have been in ordained ministry for over 25 years. The first half of my ministry was focused on church planting. In more recent years, I have been working with existing churches and seeking to lead them into mission. What I have noticed is that the leadership repertoire required to engage in both of those tasks is increasingly similar. Even leadership in our most established denominations and organisations needs to be apostolic and prophetic. As we face into an increasingly post-Christendom future, all leadership needs to be aimed at maximising our missional potential. Leadership in the mainstream will need to be just as innovative as leadership at the edge.

For the last five years, my wife, Jane, and I have found ourselves engaged in the most challenging and difficult ministry of our lives. We were convinced of the call of God on our lives to step into leadership in an inner city church that has a long and complicated history of brokenness, darkness and discouragement. 

An older Christian leader challenged me recently to document the experience. As I reflected on his challenge, it occurred to me that the challenges my wife and I face are really the same as anyone who is seeking to bring renewal to an existing church or organisation. 

So what follows is seven observations about innovative leadership that seeks to renew the Church. My aim is to locate some principles that might help us, whether we find ourselves leading the suburban mainstream congregation, or the missionary organisation seeking to evangelise the third world. What should guide our steps in innovative leadership for renewal?


“The Church that you build in the world can never be greater than the Church that you build in your heart”. I heard a Christian leader named Don Cousins say that over two decades ago, and I am convinced that he is right.

As we seek to engage in leadership that leads to renewal we must begin with  the on-going renewal of our souls. This has always been true, but the difficulty of our current task, and the challenges of leadership in the 21st century make it even more imperative. Attending to our hearts and cultivating rich and deep patterns of worship in our lives is not self-indulgence or an optional extra. It is the non-negotiable first step in innovative leadership.

The cultivation of our character will emerge from the daily deposits that we make in our spiritual disciplines and devotions. For the activist leader, this is a difficult challenge! But who we are in public is inextricably linked with who we are in our quiet moments before the Lord 

In 1 Samuel 30, David and his companions return to Ziklag to see the smoking ruins of their base camp, having been raided by the Amalekites. All their families had been taken hostage, and they ‘wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep’. In anger and frustration, David’s men discuss stoning him to death, as the bitterness of their grief eats away at them.

This is one of the greatest crises of David’s life (although by no means the last one!). So how does he react at the point of failure and defeat? Verse 6 says ‘David found strength in the Lord his God’. Perhaps David cried out to the Lord in words similar to those in Psalm 70:

Hasten O God, to save me

O Lord come quickly to help me

May those who seek my life be put to shame and confusion…

You are my help and deliverer, O Lord, do not delay

When David’s life is at its lowest point, he turns to God and ‘found strength in the Lord his God’. Jane and I have had plenty of ‘Ziklag’ moments in the last five years, that have challenged our confidence and taken us to low places. However we are committed to a series of disciplines which renew our souls and enable us to continue to meet the challenges. Some of our disciplines are deeply spiritual- Bible meditation, journaling, prayer. Some are physical, like exercise and relaxation. Some are just fun, like making sure that we actually laugh from time to time. We have been convinced that we need to tend to our souls if we are going to survive in the ministry to which we have been called.

The challenges of leadership in the Church are immense at this time. We will not be able to engage in renewing the Church unless we are engaged in renewing our soul.


But as we face into the challenges, where do we begin? What we inherit from the past is often a complicated mess of great opportunity and deep brokenness. How do we find the place to start?

The most powerful first step can be to simply change the physical environment. This might sound simplistic and superficial, but we are affected by our physical surroundings. The easiest way to proclaim a new day has come can often be to make a relatively small, but symbolic statement by improving the way things look.

This probably should not be a major building project. It may simply be a fresh coat of paint. Throw out the junk! Reorganise the office! Change the bulletin- print in colour! Reformat the newsletter or the brochure! Paint the hall! Tidy up the furniture in the church!

In the first months of our time in Darlinghurst, I really had no idea where to start. So I found walls I could paint, messes I could tidy up, gardens we could plant flowers in. When we changed the physical environment, people started saying ‘Hey, things are starting to be different around here!’ I didn't let them in on the secret: actually nothing had changed, it was just painted a different colour! But it felt different, and people began to develop an expectation of change and excitement.

Making things look different will make people think things are different

And then they may start to be!


Superficial changes can make a good start but they can only get you so far. For genuine renewal to take place, there needs to be a discernment of the leading of the Holy Spirit for this time and place.

Graham Cray, who has superintended the ‘Fresh Expressions’ movement in the Church of England, argues that missional leadership is about creating the right environment which will allow the church community to identify the potential for mission that the Spirit has already been developing. (1)

It takes time to know where to go. The directions that lead to the future unfold slowly and unpredictably. Yet in the first phase of new leadership, the question is constantly asked ‘Where are we going?’, and we do not want to dissipate that energy.

Innovative leaders are able to lead their communities into the discipline of waiting and listening to the Lord. Waiting on God is not a passive or empty process. It is not like waiting for a bus, a frustrating and wasted passage of time. It is the process of surrendering our will to the Lord, and asking in humility that he would shape us and equip us for the future.

So missional leaders invite the community into discernment. They pray. Look. Listen.

One of the first steps we took in Darlinghurst was to declare ‘A Year of Discernment’. We pledged that for our first year we would wait and ask God to direct us. Paul prayed for the Ephesian church that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened that they might know more fully the power of Christ’s resurrection. We prayed that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened that we might know how to be Christ’s people in this place.

One moment became defining for us. I invited people to a prayer meeting for discernment. I sent people out in pairs, asking each pair to walk to a different

place in our local community. I asked them to walk in silence, and to listen and look and smell. As we left, we prayed that God would open the eyes of our hearts.

On their return, people reported back. We experienced the sights and sounds and smells of pleasure. Great food in restaurants, people laughing as they sat outside pubs, fit young people hurrying off to the gym.

And we were also confronted by the pain of our community. The smell of urine where someone had relieved themselves on the footpath. The sound of people begging, and the sight of people who were ravaged by addiction.

This became a key theme in our discernment- that the story of our area can be told through the interplay between freedom and addiction. People come to Kings Cross seeking freedom, defined by the absence of restraint and indulgence in pleasure. But often what they experience is slavery and addiction.

As we turned back to the Scriptures we discovered so much about freedom and slavery. In fact the Gospel story itself is the story of freedom. If we hear Christ’s words we will be free indeed! It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!

As a community we began to discern our vocation. We are to live in this place as a people of freedom. This has become a powerful understanding of who we are as the people of God, and who we are in this place.

The power of our Year of Discernment came from the fact that it wasn’t me telling people what they should do. It was me inviting people into a process of listening to God as a whole community. To be honest, it felt incredibly liberating to be able to say ‘I really don’t know what the end point of this process will look like’. The vocation that emerged from that process doesn’t belong to me, it is owned by our whole church.

Renewal can only come about as we wait upon the Lord and discern his calling.

 (1) Graham Cray Discerning Leadership: Cooperating with the Go-Between God Grove Books 2010