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Beyond the Box Leadership
By: Bill Easum

At a time when many churches are just beginning to try to think outside the box, the rapidly changing, emerging world is requiring 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. Concepts like "Incarnational," "Emergent," "Attractional," "Missional," and "Organic." However, to those who are able to see beyond the box, these ministries appear to be a natural response to the Scriptures and open up many new vistas of hope and possibility for ministry.

What follows is a quick list of the beyond the box ministries that are emerging at the moment. It is my opinion that what follows is closer to a New Testament understanding of Christianity than we have seen throughout the last 1,600 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 of a denomination, but their focus is on transforming the city and the world more than supporting the denomination. They are totally beyond parochialism and are driven by helping to fulfill the Great Commission. Some examples are Mission Houston, Mission Arlington, and Somebody Cares America.

Beyond church membership to discipleship
These leaders know that membership isn't the goal. They may or may not practice some form of church membership because their goal is discipleship rather than membership.  Getting people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and into mission is more important than getting them on the role. Some examples of churches without membership are Pinnacle Church in Amarillo, Texas, or Westwinds Church in Jackson, Michigan.

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 are seeing 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 25 years, multiple site congregations were the norm. Some examples are Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois, Upper Arlington Lutheran Church in Columbus, Ohio, North Coast Church in Vista, California, and the totally property free Evergreen Church in the Twin Cities area.
Beyond church planting into a church planting movement
At the time when many denominations and churches are struggling with planting a church, these leaders are developing strategies to plant multiple churches. Some churches are planting dozens 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, Northwoods Church in Keller, Texas, and New Hope Community Fellowship in Honolulu.

Beyond personal leadership into team-based leadership
Shared ministry is replacing the heroic model of leadership. Catalyzing a team vision is replacing simply casting personal vision. Although these leaders are incredibly ambitious, it is not for themselves, but for the mission. Often, this type of leader is not well-known. A good example is the unpretentious, retired pastor Jim Wessel, pastor of Upper Arlington Church. Other examples of team-based leadership include what is developing at The Vineyard of Cincinnati and Evergreen Community Church in the Twin Cities area.
Beyond one race and homogeneity to the multi-racial, 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, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, and Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco.

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 the church keeps thriving is to add different forms of worship that are more indigenous to the community than the European form in their hymnal. Often, this means having an indigenous service around 10:00 on Sunday morning at the same time as Sunday School. Examples of multi tracking are legion but two exceptional examples are Cokesbury UJMC in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Community Lutheran Church in Las Vegas .

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?" These churches do not have a mission and may not have a missions committee; instead, mission is their essence. These leaders understand that not to be missional is not to be 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 missionary. To be a Christian is to be a backyard missionary to the neighborhood. 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 opinions and preferences more than the Great Commission.

Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.

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