JR Woodward
Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World
IVP Books, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2012

ISBN-13: 9780830836536

"Woodward has convinced me that we need different kinds of leaders, and a polycentric leadership. His argument is that a collaborative approach is healthier and less isolating; better reflects a Trinitarian God of community, consensus and mutual participation; and leaves control with God where it belongs and relegates leaders as under-shepherds who work together..."

Creating a Missional Culture is a timely book on congregational culture and collaborative leadership. There is a growing dissatisfaction with hierarchical models of leadership that major on control, stunt the imagination, silence dissent and are slow to welcome new leaders. That is not just an unfair caricature. 

In my denominational tribe, the Baptist Union of Victoria, the National Church Life Survey shows us we are twice as slow as the national average to welcome newcomers as leaders until they have hung around five years, and we are less likely to appoint younger people as leaders! (See our forthcoming article at http://aejt.com.au). Moreover, for all our talk of teams, almost every church has a solo or senior pastor. Where is our experimentation with other models of leadership, or do we want to limit experimentation to worship styles? 

Polycentric leadership makes more sense than hierarchical leadership, especially in a networked digital age - let alone also postmodern and post-Christendom - when leaders function mutually through collaboration, maintain cohesion through relationship, and rotate leadership functions around a team. In my local context at AuburnLife, we are in exploring how to cooperate with what God is doing in our neighbourhood and how to best reimagine our staffing and leadership. We have things to learn from this book. 

JR Woodward is a church planter who cofounded Kairos Los Angeles (he and a colleague were co-leaders who shared the load) and the Ecclesia Network (a relational network for missional churches to dream together and share resources). Woodward’s writing is far from merely theoretical possibilities – he has experimented with and trialled what he teaches.

The thesis of the book is that church culture is more important than strategies and plans. Edgar Schein suggests that leaders create culture while managers act within culture. Woodward explains you can discern a church’s “cultural web” through its language, rituals, institutions, ethics and narratives. For example, he says a church’s narrative is its guiding story that answers the question “What is God’s calling for our church?” He encourages leaders to reflect on what theology, doctrines and Bible, testimonies and the church’s history are rehearsed, and to evaluate to what extent they are missional. 

The encouragement of the book is to identify and release a team of equippers in a church with different focal concerns. Woodward adds to the small but growing library of books (alongside Alan Hirsch Permanent Revolution and Neil Cole’s Primal Fire) that unpack the potential of the Ephesians 4:11-13 APEST leadership matrix. 

Woodward summarises the different roles as: 

• Apostle (dream awakener), focusing us on living out our calling and cultivating a discipleship ethos;

• Prophet (heart awakener), focusing us on pursuing God’s shalom and calling the church to a new social order and standing with the marginalised;

• Evangelist (story teller), focusing us on incarnating the good news and connecting with people who ache for a better world;

• Pastor (soul healer), focusing us on seeking wholeness and holiness with life-giving spirituality and reconciliation;

• Teacher (light giver), focusing us on inhabiting and being mastered by the sacred text and living out God’s story.

Woodward upholds a high view of the mission of the whole people of God, but also a high view of the need for equippers across this spectrum of APEST roles to help a healthy missional culture; including its thriving environment, liberating environment, welcoming environment, healing environment, and learning environment. 

Jesus embodied each of these aspects of fostering the kingdom of God – as an apostolic sender, prophetic questioner, evangelistic bridge-builder, pastoral mercy-giver, and teacher who applied Scripture to help people love God and people more. I seek to reflect Jesus as a leader in my church, but I am not Jesus. I need others around me who can reflect the breadth of what Jesus wants to do in us. It’s more like a jazz band than a solo performance, or geese who fly in a V but rotate the point position, or bike riders who different riders go forward in line to draft behind them (see Woodward’s interview http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/april/creating-missional-culture-interview-with-jr-woodward.html). 

Woodward has convinced me that we need different kinds of leaders, and a polycentric leadership. His argument is that a collaborative approach is healthier and less isolating; better reflects a Trinitarian God of community, consensus and mutual participation; and leaves control with God where it belongs and relegates leaders as under-shepherds who work together: “If missional leadership is about joining God and helping people and communities to live up to their sacred potential–living lives of daily worship to God, bringing the reality of the kingdom to bear at home, at work, in the neighbourhood and within the congregation - then leading in community, in the round, with God at the centre might be a good way to approach leadership.”

A critique of the book is that although it preaches against the heroic approach to leadership, some of the stories were of apostolic superstars. I would love to read more local and accessible stories of people functioning apostolically and prophetically, and love to read more about Woodward’s application. 

The book includes practical steps for exploring and implementing a polycentric model. Woodward suggests forming “equipper guilds” to gather different types of leaders together (for example, gather the evangelists as a learning community). He suggests creating more co-pastors rather than senior pastors. His advice to leadership teams is to write the senior pastor’s role and discuss how to share those responsibilities rather than presuming they need one person, or rotate them around. Working on some projects together as a team, such as worship and teaching rosters, might create a more balanced and creative liturgical year anyway. There are questionnaires and tables in the appendices that help people discern their best fit; reminding me that sharing leadership means sharing functions, but does not mean that everyone has to preach. The important thing is to release people to do what they do well and to be open to the creativity that may foster. G K Chesterton’s words were helpful: “The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it has established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”

This is an excellent and practical handbook for church leaders and planters, and those responsible for training and consulting them, when they are ready to explore and implement more collaborative approaches to leadership around an APEST model, not just to tinker with organisational restructuring but with the intention of creating missional culture. (Supplementary resources are accessible at http://jrwoodward.net).

This review was originally published in ‘Creating a Missional Culture, by J R Woodward’, Journal of Contemporary Ministry 1 (May 2015), 102-104.

Follow this link to buy this book - Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World.