Leadership – for Jungle Mission

’I do not offer pay, provisions, housing

but hunger, thirst, marching, battles, death.

But if you love your country, not just with your lips, follow me’

Garibaldi               

                                                          ******

One of the most notable things of the Victorian era in Britain was the development of the great missionary movements emanating from western countries, notably Britain and America. These were energised by a zealous drive to take the Gospel to the far flung parts of the earth where it had never previously been heard. Perhaps the most famous figure epitomising those movements was the Scottish missionary David Livingstone who journeyed into the jungles of the interior of the African continent, into areas where westerners had never reached. One hundred and fifty or so years later, the results of those courageous endeavours of Livingstone and others can be clearly seen in the burgeoning African church.

The 19th century, with its ‘Mission Africa’ and others, is of course a world away from our world in almost every respect, except perhaps in one. This is in regard to some of the essential characteristics of mission, particularly in the area of missional leadership, an area in which I believe we can learn a great deal from Livingstone and his contemporaries.

The missionary penetration of Livingstone into the jungles of Africa provides an important paradigm for our own ’Mission Africa’ i.e. ‘Mission Australia’. He had to take the Gospel into a jungle occupied by many Pagan tribes; so do we for that is Australian society today. To do it he had to ‘Go’ and leave his comfortable  Christianized society and church-going lifestyle; so do we. He had to learn to understand and penetrate a range of different cultures totally alien to the one he had grown up in; so do we. He had to face difficulty and hostility; so do we. He had to persevere and ‘stay’ in the alien cultural mosaic; so do we. He had to learn the language of the pagan tribes and how they thought in order to communicate with them; so do we, for in our time ‘the natives’ do not understand church-speak or bible-speak.

What has this to do with Leadership we might ask? The answer to that question is, that for the re-evangelisation of Australia to take place, the urgent need is for leaders who will lead missionary expeditions into the contemporary ‘cultural jungles’ now comprising 21st century Australia. To be effective they will need to demonstrate of the same characteristics and have the same attitude to ‘Jungle mission’ as Livingstone and other 19th century missionaries.

However, unfortunately this is not generally what we see.

The Leadership we largely see

While it must be acknowledged that there are wonderful exceptions for which we must praise God, sadly, when I think about leadership in the contemporary church I am reminded of the Vinyl Gramophone record, once more in fashion, where the stylus is stuck in a groove which slowly but inevitably draws it closer to the ‘hole in the middle’.

Tragically, and without any pleasure in the saying of it, I think this serves in large part as an analogy for contemporary church leaderships. For what we commonly see are leaders who (while mostly godly, faithful and hard-working) are trapped like a gramophone stylus in the ‘Sunday-Centric, In-Drag (attempting to get people into Sunday church), Christendom-form’ ( SIC) church, ‘More and Better’ (of what we have always done) groove, meandering around in ever decreasing circles, apparently oblivious to, or choosing to ignore, the looming ‘hole in the middle’. That is the hole through which, without a ‘Quantum Leap’ in missional strategy, the standard church in Australia is well on course to disappear. (If the reader does not believe this I would encourage them to examine and project forward the attendance trends over the last 20 to 30 years.)

I do not say this with any pleasure or without great sympathy for those leading congregations, quite the contrary in fact, for I have been there done that, and have fully experienced the enormous challenges leading a local church presents. This is part of the reason for my desire that leaders are released, ‘Unbound’, from the ‘weekly grind’ of ‘making (SIC) church happen’ for largely mission-apathetic congregations, and that they be set free to use their gifts, abilities and resources in much more Kingdom-fruitful ways. For the reality is that the ‘weekly grind’ in missional terms is largely futile, as all the statistics on church attendance and membership have been screaming out for over 20 years.

A major difficulty that church leaderships face is that they have to create enthusiasm for local mission in congregations that contain a large proportion of ‘Christianity-Lite members.  Christianity-Lite is a ‘Me-Church’ faith where the church ‘exists for ME’, to provide the religious and social services I and MY family perceive WE need, when, where and how WE want them. That is, it is a consumerist faith, one where if a church fails to meet MY current requirements, I’ll move on to the next church that does. Such faith has no real interest in being involved in local Mission.

In such congregations, when the missional dimension of the church is pushed with its requirements for sacrifice, discomfort, inconvenience and cost, some Christianity-Lite members will create great opposition, most will be at best apathetic, and some if pushed too far will just move to another church, one that doesn’t challenge them too much with this ‘Mission thing’.

Tom Frame sums up the issue in ‘Losing My Religion’ when he writes-

“the culturally compliant strain of Christianity promoted in Australia does not . . . oblige (people) to embrace lifestyle choices that might involve discomfort.”

Strong opposition to leaders, both passive and active, by the people of God is not of course a new phenomenon, for we see it as far back as the Israelites in the wilderness in Exodus 16:2,3. Not long after God had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt they complained about the leaders, Moses and Aaron, who were leading them on God’s mission to the promised land. Their complaint was that it was all too hard, for they alleged that following Moses would mean they would starve to death, and that it would be better if they returned to Egypt where at least they would have enough food to eat.

However, opposition does not provide leaders with an excuse. For the very future of the Gospel in Australia depends on leaders who, in the face of inevitable opposition, will lead cohorts of those Christians who are willing to go on ‘Jungle Mission’, which is admittedly extremely hard.

Tragically, yet a very relevant factor when diagnosing reasons for the decades-long missional failure, such leadership is currently not very common, but truly effective mission will not happen until we get the –

Leadership we need for Jungle Mission

As Alan Roxburgh wrote a few years ago

What the church urgently needs are men and women capable of leading others toward missional transformation for a future church which has not yet been imagined.’   

To which I would add that the reason that the future church ‘has not yet been imagined’ is because current leaderships generally have not made much effort to grasp the reality of the ‘futures’ to come. I say ‘futures’ plural because the present rapid rate of change in the mosaic of cultures comprising western society shows no sign of slowing. This will result in an ever-morphing series of cultural contexts such that the ‘church-not-yet-imagined’ will need to be capable of regularly being ‘re-imagined’. The leadership required for this re-imagining will similarly need to be able to reinvent itself in a way that current leaderships selected, gifted and trained for the quite rigid current ‘SIC’ church model, with limited exceptions, rarely are 

What the mission of the Gospel needs is leaders who, Livingstone-like, are capable of leading those who will follow into the harsh realities of the Pagan jungle- a mosaic of alien socio-spiritual cultures, who speak different languages, and think very differently from ‘church people’, where Truth is what you want it to be and words mean what you want them to mean, and one in which the ‘natives’ are increasingly not friendly.

Leaders for the ‘church-not-yet-imagined’ also need to understand that as L.P Hartley wrote

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

To expand on that, the Christianized, western society of former centuries, in which, and for which, the standard (SIC) church model developed is now a ‘foreign country’  where they ‘did things differently’ . Leadership must grasp the fact that they are not in that ‘foreign country’ anymore and act accordingly.

A further role of Leadership is to recruit Christians for the missional task and this includes the, rarely exercised, need to spell out the serious demands of ‘Jungle Mission’, similar to the way famous leaders of the past have done when recruiting for their mission. Some examples are, the recruitment approach of Garibaldi the Italian patriot-

’I do not offer pay, provisions, housing

but hunger, thirst, marching, battles, death.

But if you love your country, not just with your lips, follow me’

Or that of Earnest Shackleton the explorer who recruited for his Antarctic mission using the following advertisement-

‘Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success’

Jesus was similarly brutally honest when telling would-be disciple-maker recruits (Matthew 28:19); that the journey would be anything but comfortable, and it would require total dedication to the cause, putting it even before family responsibilities (Luke 9:57-62); it would likely result in opposition from family members (Luke 12:49-53); and it requires self-denial and sacrifice (Mathew 16:24,25). 

                                                          ******

                              ‘Proistamenos Romans 12:8

                           One who has the spiritual gift of leadership

The Bible tells us that God gives the spiritual gift of leadership to certain of His people so that they may fulfill His commission of Mission. One can assume that God expects leaders to be lead by the Spirit in that task which is ‘Jungle Mission’.

The missional penetration of Livingstone into the jungles of Africa provides an important paradigm for our own ’Mission Africa’ i.e. ‘Mission Australia’. For mission into 21st century Australian society to be effective in the pagan jungle requires a completely different type of leader with characteristics significantly different to those required for running 20th century type standard ‘SIC’ churches and the associated missional strategies that continue to fail. Such leaders must be able and willing-

‘to lead Christians in taking the Gospel into a jungle occupied by many Pagan tribes; to ‘Go’ and leave their comfortable Sunday-centric church-going lifestyle; to learn to understand and penetrate a range of different ever-fluid cultures that are totally alien to the one most have grown up in; to face difficulty and hostility; to persevere and ‘stay’ in the alien cultural mosaic; to learn the language of the pagan tribes and how their ‘Mindset’ in order to communicate with them, for they do not understand church-speak or bible-speak.

For a leader to be effective in such a task requires a high level of Cultural Intelligence, high levels of commitment, perseverance in adversity, an ability to imagine the ‘Church- not-yet-imagined’ and then to re-imagine it again. But mostly thay must have a great passion to see the lost come to know Jesus and also have a complete dependence on the Holy Spirit.

This is the Leadership required for what is now ‘Jungle Mission’.

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