Like many pastors, I have done my share of reading books on leadership and being “on the missional journey.” There are a several choices and definitions about what this subject means and how it relates to the local church. So, I must admit I approached this latest effort from my friend Dr. ircel Harrison with modest anticipation. This has more to do with a poor mindset on my part rather than the contents of what I knew would be a fine work.
Harrison employs the title is “For Such a Time as This: Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry.” He acknowledges that there are already many books on the subject. But, he indicates that there is a great need to redeem the “traditional” church for ministry in the 21st century. In order for this be be effective, the congregation and leadership need to be in sync about what is important and how to go about “doing church.” Rather than detail the particular chapters of this book, I will do my best to point out the “takeaways” that I found to be most valuable and informative.
One of the most important takeaways from Harrison’s effort is his affirmation of the “traditional” church. It seems like many of the leadership conferences I attend only provide me with an opportunity to be discouraged. Those who are presenting the information preside over congregations that are new starts and do not have the organizational structure that exists in many traditional (dare I say ‘institutional’) churches. It is difficult and arguably a poor use of time to undo much of the organizational underpinnings of the traditional church. However, Harrison believes that these kinds of congregations (which comprise a large percentage of our churches) can be re-energized with a fresh vision and awareness that ministry is about people rather than merely maintaining the institution. He also provides help for pastors and other church leaders who find themselves in these kinds of churches, but want to move them forward in engaging their culture with the gospel. I found Harrison’s appreciation for the traditional church refreshing and on point with the reality of an aging church in a changing world.
Another takeaway related to Harrison’s emphasis on the church discovering “who it is” rather than “what it does.” In other words, the church should function from a concept of “being” rather than “doing.” Harrison is optimistic that the local (traditional) church can be an effective influence in a post-modern world. Harrison says, “I believe that the adoption and practice of a missional ecclesiology can have a greater impact on Christian witness than the ’emerging’ or ’emergent’ church movement” (33). He appreciates the lessons that can be learning from the emergent movement as it has helped the church understand a changing social and theological constructs. However, Harrison maintains it is also imperative for the church to re-discover “who we are and what we are about” (33). Rather than jettison our theological and biblical pedigree, the church needs to embrace the truth that it not only has a mission, but is the mission of God in the world. Harrison rightly points out this powerful truth.
A third takeaway is that Harrison draws from several authors in the field of leadership and church life to provide support and clarity for his views. The bibliographical material alone will make For Such a Time as This worth reading. I was familiar wita few of these individuals already, but Harrison uses them to provide organizational structure for his chapters. Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, Reggie McNeal, and Curtiss Paul DeYoung are among those in the church leadership field whom Harrison references. By doing so, Harrison directs the reader to do additional research and seek out those whom have been writing on this subject for some time. Drucker and Collins are not “church” authors necessarily, but their insights have use for the local church. Harrison does well to incorporate them into his presentation.
Harrison’s perspective on leadership provided another helpful takeaway. He believes that leadership must have spiritual and relationship components in order to be relevant (66). There are several applications to this axiom, but the primary one is that a team of leaders may be very talented yet ineffective because they are not “on the same page.” I believe this to be at the heart of where many churches go astray. Some congregations have ample leadership in place but cannot agree on one direction to pursue. Harrison brings in the concept of “alignment” as essential for churches to on mission for God. It is possible to have multiple agendas on a church staff or among lay leadership, and attempting to satisfy these individual desires is an exercise in futility and frustration. Harrison offers a solution to this problem. He states that effective teams must have “mutual commitment to specific values and principles. Team members must have a core around which they can grow, encourage one another, and serve their church and organization” (82). The answer to the problem of “being on the same page” is to have only page to be for the pastor and church leadership.
The last takeaway relates Harrison’s providing questions at the end of each chapter. These questions provide a format for further reflection and are ideal for small groups and church leadership. Harrison raises the important questions for those who serve and love the local (traditional) church. There are those, like myself, who want to be authentic with the people within the church while being effective in reaching those who are not connected to the body of Christ. These questions allow readers to do some introspection and evaluation of their approaches to life, leadership, and ministry within the church.
I highly recommend this work, if for no other reason than Harrison’s appreciation and affection for the traditional church. He affirms those who serve in this context while challenging pastors and laypeople to recognize the tremendous opportunity that exists for sharing the gospel. I think that there is a great deal of similarity between the 21st century church and the 1st century church. Harrison reminds us of that this is the only context we have to live in, and it’s vital that churches “start where we are” in order to make a difference for Christ.