The mission of All Nations is to “make disciples & train leaders to ignite church planting movements among the neglected peoples of the earth.” Practically, our imaginations tend to be drawn to two different aspects of this mission statement intrinsically: discipleship & church planting movements (CPM). The former is the everyday rhythm that drives the exciting, explosive potential of the latter. But if we are going to be successful in seeing CPMs happen in the neglected spaces amongst people that don’t yet know Jesus we can’t neglect the harder middle aspect of our mission statement: training leaders.
Leadership is absolutely vital to movements; without it multiplication is stunted and a movement will never reach its full potential (in truth you will likely struggle to get beyond one or two generations). There are two traps in particular that I’ve seen emerging work fall into which lead directly to neglecting the potential of Christlike leadership development. The first is a natural tendency, particularly where there is a distrust of institution and structure. This tendency is to flatten leadership to the point that there are no clearly defined roles or structures (and with this, no clear vision or sense of purpose). Flat structures like this will never fuel a movement machine as nothing actively gets done and movement becomes a crawl, if not stalling altogether. Another tendency (particularly where outsiders are involved) is to concentrate leadership into a strict hierarchy that turns the focus of the movement inward and stunts the growth of potential emerging leaders.
Some friends experienced this in a movement that threatened to collapse inward when the hierarchy at the top was abruptly cut out of the picture. Unfortunately, as leadership development had not been a priority, there were no leaders ready or willing to step into the sudden vacuum and outsiders were called in to attempt to pick up the pieces. These two examples are by no means the only pitfalls of neglecting leadership development and the mandate to “train leaders” but hopefully they highlight the importance of leadership in the work that we do.
This now leaves us with an important question: what then is necessary? In All Nations, we’ve defined leadership as “influencing others, directly and by example, to serve Jesus in a way that initiates Christ-like communities.” While different from the typical definition you’d find in a dictionary we think this definition speaks directly to the context we find ourselves in: igniting movements of disciples that make disciples forming churches that plant churches. This definition carries in it a grounding in Christ that’s absolutely necessary if we are going to live into this lofty mission.
Jesus is at the core of all movement, starting with our lives as leaders; keeping him there, including in our leadership, allows us to resist the temptation of power that says, “as a leader YOU are at the center.” This allows us to lead from a place of humility, following in the footsteps of Jesus who emptied himself of ego and pride and found his single greatest act of leadership embodied by a cross (cf Phil. 2) and we have the privilege of influencing those around us to step into this same story. And finally, I love that this definition drives us to raise up leaders around us as we focus not just on a singular community but seeing many spring up as the wheels of movement turn. This should create polycentric (more than one center) leadership structures that propel us to lead into community as movement emerges around us.