by Bill Easum
“You have heard it said . . . , but I say . . . ”
–Jesus of Nazareth
You have heard it said, “Think outside of the box!” But instead, I ask you to consider this: “It’s time to see beyond the box.”
At a time when many churches are just beginning to try to think outside the box, the rapidly changing, emerging world requires Christian leaders to move beyond the box itself. Not to see around the box or through the box or even outside of the box, but beyond it. To live and lead as if the box doesn’t exist!
A new breed of church and leader is emerging, and as a result new forms of ministry are bubbling up that not only defy conventional wisdom, but also seem off the wall to many church leaders. However, to those who are able to see beyond the box, these ministries appear to be a natural response to the Scriptures. They also open up many new vistas of hope and possibility for ministry.
Over the past fifteen years, I have worked with over 500 congregations. In doing so, it’s been my privilege to dialogue with many of these “beyond the box” leaders. They have taught me so much and for that I am ever grateful. This article is about some of the off-the-wall concepts they have taught me about great leaders. A quick list follows of the beyond-the-box ministries emerging at the moment. In my opinion what follows is closer to a New Testament understanding of Christianity than we have seen throughout the last sixteen hundred years.
Beyond-the-Box Leaders Think:
· Beyond denominationalism to partnering with other Christians to reach the city. These leaders aren‘t against denominations; it’s just not the driving force in their ministry. Many are loyal members, but they focus more on transforming the city and the world than on supporting the denomination. They cooperate with churches of all theological persuasions in ministries beyond their church and denomination if those ministries will impact the greater society. Totally beyond parochialism, they are driven by helping to fulfill the Great Commission. Denominational officials will be wise to support such efforts on behalf of the Kingdom. Examples are Mission Houston at www.missionhouston.org, Mission Arlington at www.missionarlington.org, and Somebody Cares America at www.somebodycares.org.
· Beyond church membership to discipleship. These churches may or may not practice some form of church membership because their goal is discipleship rather than membership. They have learned that movements like Christianity need committed people who will go to the mat for Christ more than they need members on a church roll. Getting people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and into mission is more important than getting them on the roll. Examples of churches without membership are Pinnacle Church in Amarillo, Texas, at www.sayingyes.com;Westwinds Church in Jackson, Michigan, at www.westwinds.org; or most Vineyard congregations.
· Beyond one location to one church in many locations. These leaders don’t allow space and property to determine the scope, quality, or type of their ministry. Neither are they concerned with managing and owning property. To them space is never a limitation. It is only a tool that, if limited, requires innovative strategies. So we see many churches hiving out into several locations: one church in many locations with the same core values, mission, governing unit, staff, treasury, and budget. So many congregations are developing multiple sites that it would not surprise me if in twenty-five years, multiple site congregations were the norm. Examples are Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois, at www.communitychristian.org; Upper Arlington Lutheran Church in Columbus, Ohio, at www.ualc.org; North Coast Church in Vista, California, at www.northcoastchurch.com; and the totally property-free Evergreen Church in the Twin Cities area at www.evergreencc.com.
· Beyond church planting into a church-planting movement. At the time when many denominations and churches struggle with planting a church, these leaders are developing strategies to plant multiple churches. Some churches plant five to ten churches a year and have systems in place to train the future leaders of those congregations and mentor them while planting. They understand the more churches that dot the landscape, the more people will come to know Christ and transform the city. Examples are Spanish River Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Boca Raton, Florida, at www.spanishriver.com; NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, at www.northwoodchurch.org; and New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu at
· Beyond personal leadership into triad leadership. Team-based, shared ministry is replacing the heroic model of leadership. Catalyzing a team vision is replacing simply casting personal vision. These leaders are incredibly ambitious, although not for themselves but for the mission. Often, this type of leader is not well known. A good example is the unpretentious Jim Wessel, retiring pastor of Upper Arlington Church. We see other examples of team-based leadership in what is developing at the Vineyard of Cincinnati at www.cincyvineyard.com; Evergreen Community Church in the Twin Cities area at www.evergreencc.com; and Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, at www.fbclr.org.
· Beyond one race and homogeneity to the multiracial, cross-cultural. These leaders are rediscovering the “all peoples” admonition in the Great Commission. The further we go into the 21st century, the more important this beyond-the-box example will become. Examples are Mosaic in Los Angeles at www.mosaic.org; Lakewood Church in Houston at www.lakewood.cc; and Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco at www.glide.org.
· Beyond institutional education to on-the-job learning. These leaders are discovering the importance of the Jesus model of on-the-job training. It’s not that these leaders don’t believe in education, rather they have discovered that in the emerging world the best education is to learn while doing and being mentored by someone who has done it. Examples: the farm system approach of many church planting churches, what Tom Bandy and I are doing through the online EBA Community forum at www.easumbandy.com, and seminaries that are beginning to form partnerships with churches and parachurch groups to assist pastors already in the field or who have decided not to take the formal educational route to ministry.
· Beyond one track to multi-tracking in order to connect. Leaders in established and traditional mainline churches are discovering that one of the best ways to resurrect a church or to insure that the church keeps thriving is to add different forms of worship more indigenous to the community than the European form in its hymnal. This often means having an indigenous service around 9:30 on Sunday morning at the same time as Sunday school. Examples of multitracking are legion, but two exceptional examples are North Coast Church in Vista, California, with eleven on-site worship options — www.northcoastchurch.com — and Community Lutheran Church in Las Vegas with six on-site worship services — www.communitylutheran.com.
What’s the Common Denominator?
All of these leaders have one thing in common: Mission is the mother of their theology. Everything they do is driven by one question: “If we do this, will it bring more people to faith in Jesus Christ?” They take seriously the Apostle Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 9:22 and are willing to try anything, even if it is illegal or goes against tribal “traditions,” if it will bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. Their churches do not merely have a mission and may not have a missions committee. Mission is their essence rather than a luxury of only the strong, well-heeled congregation. These leaders understand that not being missional means not being the Body of Christ. Mission is not a mere function of the church; it is the natural expression of its life together in Christ. Every leader and every church is a missionary. To be the Church is to be missional. To have theology is to be involved in mission. These leaders feel as if they are part of a divine movement destined to encompass the world.
What makes this beyond-the-box action possible is a belief in the power of the Cross. These leaders have captured the self-emptying nature symbolized in the Cross and actualized in their burial with Christ in baptism. They are able to transcend the cultural and personal biases that cause so many of us to listen to our own opinions and preferences more than the Great Commission.
One thing we can say for sure about the emerging world: It won’t be dull.
It’s time to see beyond the box—to live and lead as if the box doesn’t exist!
These leaders are incredibly ambitious, although not for themselves but for the mission.