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Chaplains and Missional Leaders

Chaplains and Missional Leaders

 It was for pastoral care that I first felt called into ministry.  And after five quarters of clinical pastoral education, the role of chaplain pretty much dominated my self-understanding as a minister.  Meeting people in the hospital – and then in the congregation – at the point of their need with Christ’s presence and love and with the spiritual resources of the church was also deeply rewarding for me.  Didn’t Jesus say that being a caring community is the telltale sign of His authentic followers?  "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13: 34-35)  But gradually I realized, as many congregational leaders were also coming to realize, that today’s congregations need something more from both their lay and ordained leaders.  That something more is missional leadership

The church now finds itself in the wilderness, where many forces in our cultural context are at odds with who and what Christ calls his followers to be and do.  Like the Hebrew children wandering in the wilderness, the Christian community today needs pastoral care as they struggle with the challenges of everyday life in a hostile environment.  However, the Hebrew children also needed Moses and Aaron to help them know who they were as God’s People and then to act in ways that were authentic to that identity.  Likewise, congregations today need clergy and lay leadership to help them remember their identity as followers of Jesus and to fulfill the mission to which He calls us.  That takes something more than pastoral care; that takes missional leadership.

Missional leaders – and please hear that I am talking about both clergy and laity -- assist congregations in two vital ways: in faithfully following Jesus and in fruitfully joining him in mission. 

Faithfulness: missional leaders ask questions regarding the identity and mission given us by Jesus.  Who does Jesus call us to be?  And what does Jesus call us to do?  As people become increasingly clear about the identity and mission given us by Jesus, missional leaders must constantly call people to grapple with what it means to be authentic in their present context.  Given who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ, called to join Him in Kingdom mission, who should we be together and what should we be doing in the world?   What does having integrity as followers of Jesus mean for us?  Missional leaders constantly call the congregation’s attention back to these identity-defining questions.

Fruitfulness: You would have to be asleep like Ichabob Crane in Sleepy Hollow not to recognize that our culture and communities have radically changed over the last fifty years.   Because of our changing context for ministry, missional leaders raise questions about the continued effectiveness of past practices and call people to explore more fruitful ways of carrying out their mission in the new situation.   Jesus talked about the need for new wine to be poured into new wineskins (Matthew 9:17).  It seems to be human nature that we tend to fall in love with the wineskins from which we first drank the new wine of faith ourselves.  Missional leaders constantly raise the effectiveness question: what new wine skins will work better in serving up the new wine of faith to the people now living in our community and to the next generation? 

So what I have grown to acknowledge is that both the pastoral care and missional leadership roles are critical for congregations today.  Chaplaincy without missional leadership leads to self-absorbed declining congregations who have forgotten that Jesus calls his followers to join him on mission in the world.  Missional leadership without chaplaincy ministry results in congregations that fly apart over being “forced” to adapt new wineskins without pastoral sensitivity.  Chaplains attend to the stability and continuity of a congregation’s life together.  Missional leaders attend to the integrity and effectiveness of a congregation’s ministry.  Both functions are essential in a healthy congregation. 

As you think about your own congregation and your own leadership, is the balance tipped toward pastoral care or missional leadership?  What would it take for your congregation to be better balanced in its overall leadership?  Assuming that Christ provides what His Body needs, are there some voices that need to be listened to more carefully and given more credibility in your congregation’s life and ministry?

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
Office of Congregational Transformation