The Future of the Church, the Gospel and Leadership

by Liam Glover

[5 minute read]

 

Mark McCrindle and his team have once again provided some quality research that should cause those of us who have strategic influence over messaging, finances, culture and or people to consider how we are stewarding our influence towards the cause of the Kingdom.

It certainly did for me! The Report and Forum were on point.

How am I influencing authentic Jesus centred faith communities that:

  • grow missional disciplers;
  • recognise, raise and release leaders; and
  • identify God’s work in the world and join him in Kingdom coming endeavours?

I know it’s a multi-layered question inviting a variety of responses, but the Kingdom of God is not a linear deal.

Through his research, Mark McCrindle suggests...

Even within the church we have started to believe the media’s message that Australians are not open to Christianity. It’s important for church leaders and churchgoers to check their own underlying assumptions about how difficult it is to share the gospel in Australia and ensure this doesn’t become a barrier in itself to evangelism and discipleship.

Our research has shown that during COVID and indeed because of it, Australians are more open to the thinking about their mortality, having spiritual conversations and even praying more than they were last year- and all of this in a so-called secular nation of ‘hard soil’”.

McCrindle’s report explores contemporary issues facing the church in Australia including the relevance and future of church, the opportunities flowing from digital technologies, the “sentness” of the church and the urgent need for now and future leadership.

There are a couple of reflections that jumped into my head as I read the research and engaged in the Forum last week.

Incarnational Gospel

We embody, express and epitomise an incarnational gospel. A life on life, moving into the neighbourhood, dare a I say it, skin on skin, gospel. Absolutely, like Guy identifies in the report (p.27) (and Mark referenced in his City Infield 2020 Forum), we need to harness the strength of contemporary information technologies for God’s glory.

And we need to hang out together.

This idea was the beginning, is the end, and we are somewhere in the middle. God established community in Genesis 1,2 and declares the complete restoration of community between God, ourself and each other in Revelation. (And he invites Jesus followers to participate in this reconciling endeavour – 2 Corinthians 5.) The enduring desire God has placed on every human heart stirs us towards relationship with each other – ever lasting Shalom.

Technology is an absolute enabler for connectedness across the church at times and places that suit individual Jesus followers. Incredible!

And the uniqueness of the church is that we forego personal preferences and priorities in order to be a blessing to the gathered as we gather physically. There’s an otherness in our focus that manifests when we gather.

So I don’t think it is virtual OR physical – they are not mutually exclusive. It’s a bit like the hard and soft taco advertisement, “why can’t we have both?”

That’s the approach we are pursuing at Arrow. To maintain fidelity with incarnationality of the gospel, we are keeping our learning experiences incarnational – in physical proximity to one another. And we are supplementing and complementing these residential learning experiences with virtual learning opportunities.

Leadership

Working for Arrow Leadership I guess you’d expect me to share something on this. At the same time, this is a core conviction of mine.

Arrow has been investing in leaders in Australia for 25 years (more than 30 years internationally).

Mark McCrindle is an Arrow Leader.

Mark shares of his Arrow experience:

“In my life, Arrow did the two things that this research is highlighting our Christian leadership pipeline needs: firstly, it encouraged the development of leadership and ministry skills for use where I was planted - for me this was in a business rather than church vocation. Secondly, through the cohort interactions, readings and residential components, it developed my practical leadership skills rather than just the theoretical ones.

As we state in the report, just as an over-enthusiasm for higher education in Australia has pushed more young people into university courses that are not filling the national need, and leading to trade skills shortages, churches also have championed the singular path of theological degrees at the expense of other ministry development options such as apprenticeship or internship models and indeed programs like Arrow that can develop leaders within their current social and vocational context.”

The driver for Arrow to do what we do is the very thing highlighted by Mark and identified in this report. The need for leaders.

Founder of Arrow, Leighton Ford, brother in law of Billy Graham, recognised that seminarians (as they are called in the US – Bible College graduates) were exiting Bible College with theology under their belt, pastoral and preaching skills and perhaps a bit of knowledge on church history sprinkled in as well.

But they were lacking leadership capability.

To see the great commission fulfilled, to see increasing numbers of people come to life transforming faith in Christ, the church needs to be activated and released into the gospel imperative. And to do this, leadership is required.

Hence Arrow’s focus – To engage, stretch and release leaders to be led more by Jesus, to lead more like Jesus, to lead more to Jesus.

Leadership knowledge is not the answer. An MBA with Bible verses is not what’s required. Arrow seeks to grow leaders who increasingly adopt the leadership patterns of behaviour and practices of Jesus.

The life on life, apprentice type model that Jesus exemplified provides a context in which to practice leadership (and is in some ways an expression of targeted discipleship). Most of the leaders providing commentary in the “Leadership Pipeline” focus of the Report echo this priority. So the goal is that leaders lead differently – transformatively – because of their time in Arrow and other like organisations.

The conversation at the Forum around women in leadership in and around the local church was timely. How do we more accurately reflect in our leadership the church community? I think the answer is more women in places of leadership, which means more women being trained in leadership.

I am so grateful for the Report Mark and his team brought together. I am believing that the future of the church will be different because of the revelation and reminders this report has brought to the minds of leaders and influencers of the local church around Australia.