10 Vital Tips for Missional Leaders From 10 Years

By June 23, 2014Leadership

Ten years ago we left England, arriving in the United States in response to God calling us on a new adventure. It was incredibly costly to say goodbye to the world we knew, our friends and family, a lovely new home and our fantastic church community. It was costly to let go of the path we expected our lives to take, knowing that we would not return to this path again. And yet there was excitement and passion, there was a community of fellow travelers responding to a missional call.

I’m ten years older than the day I boarded the plane. And I hope (please God!) I’m wiser. Over the past ten years we’ve explored what it means to be missional in many contexts. Urban and suburban churches. Large and small congregations. Shiny newly-built communities and historic neighborhoods where relationships have spanned generations. In no particular order, these are some of the vital lessons for missional leaders we’ve learned over the last 10 years!

1) Embrace the season you are in

So important to fully embrace the season you are in, whatever it is! Understand its limitations. Observe and engage with its opportunities and let go of your assumptions.

When I arrived in the US I was a newlywed. We had lots of time and energy to invest in each other and the people around us. Then we had two beautiful bundles of life in the space of 17 months (in other words, children!). Our world suddenly, radically changed. I was limited in some ways, but new opportunities for relationships and community engagement opened up at the same time. When I let my focus linger on what I used to be able to do, I felt disappointed and confused. But when I simply embraced the season I was in, I discovered unexpected open doors and a new world of opportunities.

2) Keep Learning

I didn’t think I knew everything about missional stuff when I landed in the US, but I was pretty sure I knew a lot. I’d visited America many times and felt confident I understood the world I was entering. It didn’t take long to realize that there was a lot I didn’t know! (Is it just me, for example, or is the US actually 7 countries really?) I needed to keep learning about my new context. I had to resist the temptation to unduly rely on my past experience. Yesterday’s experiences arm me with faith for the future, but I need to be present for today. I need to walk with God today. I need to learn the hopes and longing of my city. I need to consider what missional living looks like in my everyday world. I need to look and see what the Father is doing (John 5:19) and respond. And most of the time it takes awhile to really dig into these things.

In every area of my life, I’ve found its important to remember I’m a lifelong learner. After all, that’s really what the word disciple means!

3) Don’t wait for someone else to ask you to get your heart healed

Broken people do broken things. That’s a maxim I’ve mulled over a lot over the past 10 years. In recent years, I’ve added the phrase ‘even me’. In leadership and in life we don’t just bring our stories or our skills to the table; we also bring our hurts and wounds, our anxieties and fears, our competing and comparing, our agendas and our anger. We can spend so much energy trying to fix everything and everyone else that we don’t realize that sometimes they need fixing because we did the breaking. Stop. Take a long look in the mirror. Don’t wait for someone else to ask you to get your heart healed.

4) Be a ridiculous forgiver

My last conversation with my father before his death in 2008 was the culmination of a 20-year journey of forgiveness and reconciliation. I heard myself freely say words I never expected to hear myself say: “The past is forgotten, Dad. It’s OK. I’m OK.”

He didn’t win the battle for his health, but we experienced a God-given victory of an altogether miraculous kind: forgiveness and reconciliation. I decided then that in life I would keep my heart open to God and I’d learn to forgive like crazy. Forgive ridiculously, even if it took years to get there.

You WILL need to forgive someone at some point. Small things and BIG THINGS. Can you be a ridiculous forgiver?

5) Listen to kids giggling

It really is good for you. Go on, try it.

6) Pay attention to your relationships

The people who matter most to you – spouse, children, key friendships. need to matter not just in your intentions and in your conversations, but in how you spend your life. Your team is more than a task force, but yes, an extended family on mission. My last 10 years charts the value of date nights and family days, time with friends and team time. These years chart the time “wasted’ on building community – shared lives , shared laughs, shared tears. These years also chart the moments when relationships were stretched and strained and torn; we lost something along the way and the loneliness cost us deeply. I’ve concluded what I have always known; your relationships matter. Dig deep into them again.

7) Pay attention to your health

I’ve learned that at some point your metabolism slows down and you realize you can’t eat what you want without it making a difference.

At some point your body wants more than the burnt embers of your energy and vitality.
At some point your body tells you that you’ve not slept enough, that you’re not rested enough.
At some point you realize you’re fragile and merely mortal.

All your decisions cry out for someone who has the energy to respond to the call God’s placed on your life. Are you taking care of your health?

8) Remember it’s about the Great Commission, silly

Is it me, or is it really easy to get distracted? To think this missional conversation was supposed to end with just talking? To think that the metrics of my success are found in a book deal or an speaking invitation, or a viral blog post, a twitter following, for my voice to be heard? I blink and I see I have no friends who do not know Jesus, because I didn’t invest in any relationships. I pondered my passions and forgot I already had a commission. I’ve learned to reflect on the Great Commission often. Because if I’m not involved in making disciples like Jesus commissioned me to, then what am I doing?

9) Remember faithfulness IS success

Some things we’ve done over the past 10 years have seen amazing fruit. Others have been hard and arduous, others have not gone well at all. We’ve seen breakthroughs and battles, frustrations and yes failure (I’m allowed to say that, right?).
Over the last decade I’ve seen both my expectations dashed and my mind blown. We’ve lived in the valley shadows, we’ve gasped for water in the wilderness. We’ve stood on the mountaintop. And honestly, in the whispers of a night like this the question emerges:

Was it all worth it, has it ‘worked’?

How do you define success?
The word I keep returning to is faithfulness. Am I faithful to what the Lord called me to be and do? Am I obedient to the words He’s spoken?
Am I faithful to the community He’s called to me be a part of – accountable and engaged, willing to learn and change and grow?

If I can say honestly yes to these things, I can leave the results in His hands. Because:

10) Remember it really is ALL about Jesus

What are some lessons that you’ve learned from the last 10 years?

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  • Claire says:

    Thank you for your honesty about the journey you have been on. It is so refreshing to hear about your highs and lows and the wisdom you have gained along the way. I am sure many of the readers of this blog will relate to what you have shared and the deep questions that are raised when we are quiet and still.

  • Jonathan says:

    One thing I’ve learned in the last 2 months is that living as a missionary is not supposed to be done alone or even as a one single family. There’s a principle that people don’t follow the mushroom eating leaders but they do follow the first followers. Already having friends along for the ride helps with the need for praying together, laughing and talking needed to help with the loneliness in the beginning of community. It helps and I think now, is necessary for discipleship.

  • Cory Kuhn says:

    Wise words, Jo! Thanks for taking the time to write, share, & be real. Your transparency during all the ups & downs of leadership & discipleship is a great example & blessing!

    Was great seeing you in Sheffield. Molly & I are praying for you guys in the new season the Lord has you in. He will show Himself faithful in wonderfully unexpected ways.

  • Tina Hodges says:

    Great to read encouragements from a fellow pioneer. Too many of us focus on where God has called us to instead of with whom. You redress that imbalance.
    It’s an exciting privilege to play with The Lord and journey with the family He both gives us and brings around us. Having journeyed in new ways for 9 years in Sheffield, I am increasingly excited how we, God’s kids, get to play by living out the Great Commission. Life is indeed a journey in increasing faithfulness to who we are called to and Him who calls us. Thanks for sharing.

  • Simon says:

    I work in some very old established churches in Kent, England, and have come to realise that in many ways I am on mission just as much as if I were in a place where no one had heard of God and His Son. Your ten vital tips are so relevant to our situation. We have plenty of lovely, dedicated people to take God’s love into our communities and will use these in our work.

  • Lynda Hewson says:

    Jo, I’m not involved in missional leadership but just read this on a train (still get 3dm stuff). It has really blessed me, feel very moved, especially about the seasons and not looking at what used to be. Thank you for sharing it, much food for thought.
    Lynda Hewson

  • Todd says:

    Really needed this today. I’ve been living this missional life with a group of about 25 for a year and a half now and am at the point where I’m asking, “Is it all worth it?” Thanks for the reminder to embrace the season I’m in and measure faithfulness, not success. I know God will see us through.

  • Hi Jo – Thanks for all the tips but the two that really hit home were #3 and #5. I recently became aware of some toxic relationships in my church that threaten to not just hurt me but the church as a whole. Your reminder that “broken people do broken things” gave me an additional avenue on how to pray over this situation. And it also reminded me to always take a good look in the mirror.

    And listening to children laugh is everyone’s Ode to Joy. Blessings.

  • Grant says:

    Absolute gold! Thanks Jo…

  • Audrey Morrison says:

    Jo, your words are so timely, and I know they have been born in a time of pruning and change. Indeed, many of us are enduring the hand of the Vinedresser right now. Knowing of His great love for the vine and the fruit He desires to see makes it easier to bear. May we all lean into Him during these days of change and challenge. I am so very grateful for your courage and vulnerability and the wisdom that comes through your life and testimony. We have only met once face to face but I am the better for it and the Lord is using you to challenge and encourage me. I lift up you and your family for strength and wisdom for the days ahead as you come to discover His next path for you. May blessings of peace and confidence be yours today and in the days to come!

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