You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.
—2 Timothy 2:2
St. Paul was a “church planter.” He was aware of what it took to plant a new faith community in a changing context. He probably knew that planting the new faith communities of the Christian movement would not be according to “the way that it had always been done before.” And I would assume that he knew that he would not be able to do it for the rest of eternity. However, there were some basic values and principles that anchored his ministry and the ministry of many of the leaders that he raised as he traveled starting new faith communities.
No wonder that in his advice to the younger pastor Timothy, St. Paul starts by saying: “You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Two basic dimensions are clear in the development of a new leader: Timothy’s next level of leadership would find strength only in the grace of God that is in in Christ Jesus, and in the experience and wisdom of other Christians that passed onto him.
The Journey Begins
For those of us on synod staff, it became clear that doing the same thing expecting different results would not be the way to address the pressing challenges of the synod with respect to starting new faith communities. And it would take more than the good ideas of a bishop and a Director for Evangelical Mission. The context and the challenges in the synod called for an intentional engagement with the realities of the twenty-first century.
Alan Hirsch, in the book On the Verge, reminds us that unless the paradigm at the heart of the culture is changed there can be no lasting change. That change needs to come from within the paradigm. If that is not the case, change will simply be external and cosmetic. It was along these lines that we were asking some questions. And because we, as synod staff, would not be able to answer them, we believed that we would need the voices of many other witnesses and the power of the Spirit to gain a better understanding of how God is calling us all to join God’s mission in the place we call the Metropolitan Chicago Synod (MCS).
In 2011 we invited a number of pastors and lay leaders to a group called New Witnessing Communities Table. For a number of months we gathered to explore new ideas, share dreams, discuss issues, and discern in prayer how new witnessing communities in our synod could be developed within a broader context of declining patterns of membership.
The Table came to the conclusion that lay and ordained leadership is essential in the development of new witnessing communities—a discovery that connects directly to St. Paul’s recommendation to Timothy. Bishop Miller calls it “rediscovering the vocational dimension of leadership.”
As conversations continued among leaders, one of our pastors who has a great passion for leadership development introduced Bishop Miller and I to the Intentional Impact consulting group. For several weeks we talked about the vision to create a process to develop reproducing leaders and to start shifting the paradigm of leadership in our synod, from recruiting people to investing in people.
Toward the Next Level of Leadership
The input generated through the conversations provided a new approach to leadership that would generate change from deep inside in an organic and relational way, rather that in a top-to-bottom manner.
One of the most influential ideas that helped me to envision a new paradigm in reproducing leadership was the idea of “launching pregnant.” I heard the phrase at one of the staff meetings of Community Christian Church in Naperville (a nondenominational, multi-site congregation). One of the church planters shared the story of their ministry, recounting that their campus only six months after launching weekly worship was already planning to plant a new church. It was then when he said, “We launched pregnant!” In essence, that is what we are envisioning happening in our synod: leaders that start investing in others with the potential to become mentor-leaders for still others; congregations that launch ministries that are themselves pregnant; and congregations that may have been pregnant for a long time blessed and coached along to give birth to other congregations.
Here is where leadership as vocation is crucial. Leaders are to be evangelists and stewards in order to reproduce and take the gospel beyond the walls of the church. In response to the high invitation and high challenge placed on our hearts by the Spirit the Synod Council opted for investing in people who would learn the process of becoming reproducing leaders for reproducing congregations.
Since 2011, the Intentional Impact process has been taking lay and ordained leaders in the synod through a process toward becoming reproducing leaders. So far, thirty-five people—three groups—have finished the training. Currently a fourth group is in training. That will make over fifty people who have been trained and entrusted to teach others the ministry of reproducing leaders.
Intentional Impact is not a program, and we are doing our best to avoid falling into the trap of institutionalizing it. We hope that the training will lead to a movement and a new culture of reproducing leadership. This process leads us into new patterns of leadership and self-discipline that reflect our identity as disciples of the Lord.
This process is slow but we are already seeing the fruits of it. Some of the leaders who have gone through the process are now putting into practice what they have learned with the leaders of their congregations, coaching and challenging them in turn to invest in new future leaders. Others have been led by the Spirit beyond the congregation and now they are either planning or starting new ministries beyond their congregations.
We are not clear where the Spirit is leading us, but we are sure the Spirit has been stirring the lives and ministries in our synod. Hans Küng, in his book The Church as the People of God, says:
A church which pitches its tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling.… [We must] play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, and live by improvisation and experiment.
It is my prayer that we will be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.