Early Leadership Lessons from Life as a Mission Developer

My new picture as a congregational mission developer
My new picture as a congregational mission developer

For the past month and a half I have been serving as a half-time mission developer for a local congregation in the Pacific Northwest. In this short time so far, I have learned a lot. I have been reminded of many other things I have learned before, in work, classes, and other settings, and I have had the enjoyable opportunity to experiment and wonder. During this time, I have learned at least seven lessons.

Questions are your friend

In starting any new role, questions are your friend. People are happy to share and to help, if you ask and invite them to. I have known this before, but have found new resonance in this setting. In mission development work it is important to ask questions of people and their stories, but also of research and data. Some of the questions I have been pondering: What brings you here? What are you passionate about? What is changing and growing in this context? What might God be up to?

Listen, listen, listen

As questions are important, it is probably even more important to listen. Listen to people’s stories, answers, and questions. Listen to what the data might be suggesting. Listen to the wisdom of other leaders who have worked in these contexts and have (and continue) to serve faithfully in their roles, lives, and ministry.

Presence is key

In leadership and life, relationships matter. To build relationships, you need to have presence. I have found that between asking the questions and listening, it is also imperative to be present with others- to be part of the community. I have seen this while as a mission developer so far by being in worship, by helping set up for an ecumenical day of community service, and in restocking shelves at a local food bank. To develop anything, takes a willingness to be part of and present in the larger community.

Never underestimate the importance of story

Mission development is also about vision casting. In this it is important to share the story of the mission. In this case, it’s sharing the Good News of the Gospel, and the mission of God and God’s kingdom breaking into the world. Story is part of this, because just as we tell God’s story, we help people see that their own stories are part of God’s on-going story. How has that led to this day and community of faith? Where might this story be leading this faith community into a new way of being and a new day as a community of believers?

The first of my "every member" visits, a goal of mine as mission developer to hear each person's dreams and stories.
The first of my “every member” visits, which is a goal of mine as mission developer to hear each person’s dreams and stories.

Imagination is a beautiful thing

The story and vision, guided by questions and discernment, are also furthered by imagination. What do you see? What do you hope and dream for? Where do you sense the Holy Spirit leading? These are questions that are part of mission development as well, because God’s vision is so much bigger than ours. We can only begin to imagine what God might be up to.

You Need to be able to Overcome a Fear of Failure

When I was in seminary I learned that within congregations at least, about 25% of what you try will succeed. That means that 75% of those “missional experiments” you might try will fail. That could be a sobering statistic that would make a perfectionist cower. But, if you can overcome that fear, it’s an exciting thing. It calls faith leaders, pastors, mission developers, to take risks and be entrepreneurial for the sake of the gospel. As the rate of change has increased exponentially, so has the need to try new things. Lacking a willingness to do so, is perhaps the only long-term failure.

Love matters

After all, this work is not about me. It’s about God, and sharing the news and story of God’s love and promises. If you love God and you love your neighbor, the rest will fall into place.

Well, that’s what I think I have learned so far. I am sure I will learn much more as the year continues, and I am excited to see where that road will lead.

What do you think? What leadership lessons have you learned from your roles and vocations recently? What new questions are you wondering? What experiments are you conducting? And what hopes and dreams do you have today? 

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