Wanted – Missional Pastors

We like our pastors to champion evangelism don’t we? Very few of us disagree when they urge us to live missionaly within our community and workplaces. However, problems do arise when pastors practice what they preach. Quite often, there is a not so subtle pressure to look after the flock rather than reach the lost sheep. That after all is what evangelists are for, we pay our pastors to look after ‘us’ and not ‘them’, don’t we?

Despite our enthusiasm for evangelism as a church, often pastors find it difficult to combine a missional dimension to their ministry as well as looking after the congregation and making sure our services are running well. The days of outsourcing evangelism to para-church organizations are over, and churches are embracing mission like never before. Mission is now firmly understood as being as much in our local community as it is on the other side of the world.

Everybody is missional these days – or are they?


The word ‘missional’ first dates back to 1883 and appears in a book by C.E Bourne. Usage of the word has only become part of popular parlance in church circles since the late 90’s, Some feel that the word has become hijacked and can mean just about anything.

In his book ‘The Missional Leader’, Alan Roxburgh contends that most pastors are not equipped in their training to lead missional churches. “They were trained to pastor and teach in an existing church context to the satisfaction of its members. Our training models are conditioned by the Christendom mindset and the agendas of the academy. As a consequence, we neglect the three other areas of ministry listed first in Ephesians 4, all of which are of crucial importance to the missional church: the gifts of apostle, prophet, and evangelist. To break out of such a shrinking, we need the entrepreneurial leader who can birth new faith communities.”

Leslie Newbiggin views that “ministerial training as currently conceived is still far too much training for the pastoral care of existing congregations and far too little oriented toward the missionary calling to claim the whole part of public life for Christ and his kingdom.”

John Kaiser wrote that “if you believe that mission happens naturally in congregations through business as usual, then the only kind of pastoral leadership you need is operational leadership: someone to preach the Word, conduct services, oversee programs, and keep the campers happy.”

Increasingly, churches are developing a strong culture of mission, and business as usual is not on the agenda. There is an urgency to be faithful to the Great Commission.

But is it possible to be a missional church without missional leaders? Is it possible for pastors to minister within the church but also have a significant missional reach into the community?

I believe there are some key issues that need to be resolved in churches in order to set the right context for missional pastors to minister:

1. Permission for pastors.

Pastors need to be given ‘permission’ or freedom to pursue misisonal engagement that takes them beyond the walls of the church without this being used against them. I know the pain of this full well. Most of the people in any given church will be more than happy that their pastors are missionaly engaged but there is a defiant few who may make pastors pay a heavy price. Pastors with a significant missional engagement are marked down when it comes to assessments about their levels of care.

To a degree the typical established church may well be inherently selfish because so much ministry focus has historically been concentrated on looking after the ‘found’ and not connecting with the ‘lost’. When this balance changes be prepared to be bitten. I’ve always felt that before I can engage in the war I first have to win a battle. That battle is to have permission to legitimately engage outside the walls of the church.

2. Expectation of pastors.

There should be a reasonable expectation that pastors put their money where their mouth is with regard to missional engagement. Pastors are very good at talking it up but not so good at escaping the bubble of church and leading from the front in terms of connecting with people who do not normally come within the orbit of churches. It’s no use urging a congregation to ‘reach the lost’ when all you ever do is encourage them to go and don’t engage yourself. Churches have become very good at spending a lot of time developing mission, purpose and vision statements. It’s harder to get out there and roll your sleeves up than it is to busy yourself inside the bubble.

Pastors should have a good reason for not living by example. “Do as I do” is the most effective form of teaching when it comes to discipleship and missional engagement.