Change conjures up emotions of love and hate. People love change when it is beneficial; a wife loves when her husband changes and begins to help her around the house. An employee loves when their boss changes his demeanor and becomes nicer. Parents love when their teenager changes and becomes more respectful and responsible. The examples could go on and on.

On the other hand, there are times where people loathe change. It may not be so much as hating change, as it is fear of change. This describes the North American church. With well over the majority of churches (from all denominations) experiencing decline, stagnation, and missional ineffectiveness, change must occur. However, changing paradigms and models causes fear among church people. Some are afraid because “they have never done it that way before.” Others are afraid because it might threaten their tradition and comfort. Still others may be afraid of stepping outside the four walls and becoming vulnerable to the people outside the church. The remedy involves understanding and leadership. Churches must understand the importance of changing in an ever-changing world. This change will require strong missional leaders to navigate such change.

Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, in their book, The Missional Leader, explain the type of leader it takes to lead such change. They present a way of understanding what type of leader is required in navigating through change, as well as a blueprint for how these leaders can form missional congregations. This brief interaction paper will engage three major ideas of Roxburgh and Romanuk— and discuss a possible weakness of their work.

Mindset of the Western Church

Roxburgh and Romanuk believe much confusion still exists in regards to what a missional church actually is. Therefore, prior to even beginning their first chapter, they define a missional church as: “A community of God’s people who live in the imagination that they are, by their very nature, God’s missionary people living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ” (xv). Much of the church today fails to fit within the framework of this definition. Many find themselves in more of a business/entrepreneurial framework, led by an ideology of growth, numbers, and trends (26, 39). Churches like this tend to focus on tactics, programs, and techniques, along with organizational skills, structure, and capacities. Others find themselves being thrown into an unfamiliar cultural milieu, and their reaction is one of survival. Roxburgh and Romanuk describe these two scenarios as “organizational cultures,” which can be either “performative” or “reactive”.  Both exist in most churches in the West, with the “performative” being the dominant zone of the 20th Century.

A third organizational zone described is the “emergent” (43-44). The emergent zone expresses itself in creative, energetic, and new imaginative ways. Churches that are described as emergent strategize as they go. A missional church finds itself placed within this organizational zone. Churches that find themselves as performative and reactive should aim at becoming a church in the emergent zone. In a cultural milieu that is constantly changing, churches that can navigate change with fluidity are ones better equipped to reach those outside the church.

This will require “missional leadership”, which has the ability to navigate a congregation through all the zones: emergent, performative, and reactive (59). In other words, missional leaders have the ability to create a culture adaptive to change and transition, which is in essence contextualization.

The Big Picture: Leading through Narrative

Narrative is the most effective way of providing a system and structure by which a church can operate. Roxburgh and Romanuk write about the importance of narratives in that they shape and form reality, provide understanding, and create a system for social community (67-70). Organizing a church and one’s life by narrative, particularly God’s grand narrative, discourages the bifurcation of private sphere vs. public sphere; rather, it encourages one to view life and a congregation to view ministry in a way that orients all of life through the lens of God’s grand narrative. In other words, rather than using Scripture as a how-to tool for “private use only,” individuals and congregations see themselves immersed and embedded in the narrative of God’s redemption.

This may seem to be small changes in semantics, but as Roxburgh and Romanuk explain, narrative shapes reality. So, rather than inviting and applying God to join the story of individual lives and congregations, individuals and congregations should seek to apply themselves to God’s story and what He is doing. Therefore, “Missional congregations are formed out of the interaction between the Christian narrative in which they live and that has been passed down to them, and their listening interaction with the narratives of the people in their community” (73). Cultivating this type of missional system does not occur in a vacuum or within a Christendom narrative, but in one where missional imagination, creativity, dialogue, and participation are encouraged (76-77).

Leading Through the Missional Change Model (MCM)

Having prepared the reader through the discussion of organizational zones and the importance of narrative and understanding how systems need narrative, Roxburgh and Romanuk then introduce their Missional Change Model (MCM). The MCM is founded on the premise that change is rarely linear, but progressive. Models, according to Stephen Bevans, do not fully capture the reality of the intended subject, but does seek to simplify complex realities that yield a true knowledge of the particular reality. Therefore, Roxburgh and Romanuk’s Missional Change Model presents a model by which they show the simplified reality (or “framework”) of how churches can change to be inclined more towards a missional posture. There are five stages, according to the authors, a local church needs to move through in order to cultivate a missional community (82). Building upon one another, these five stages are: awareness, understand, evaluation, trial, and commit. The five elements are based upon the work of anthropologist, Everett Rogers, whose insights help to understand the key elements in getting change adopted in a system.

The MCM is designed to assist leaders in cultivating an environment of adaptive, emergent zone culture changes in their congregation. After having explained the MCM, Roxburgh and Romanuk devote the second half of the book specifically to leaders and what is needed for them to utilize this model in leading congregations to become more missional in nature. Missional leaders begin with theological foundations rather than pragmatic ones. They are more concerned with the “telos” or end, and that end being Jesus Christ. Working towards the end, missional leaders focus on the formation of a people rather than shaping individual consumeristic spirituality through a Christianized version of Dr. Phil or Oprah. In order to innovate a missional congregation, one that is focused on forming a people, leadership must function within four interconnected areas. Roxburgh and Romanuk dedicate a chapter to each of these areas.

The first area is that of the personal character of the leader, and one that the authors believe is primary. Key factors in a leader’s character include: maturity, conflict management, personal courage, and trustworthiness. A missional leader who desires to navigate congregational change will need to be a person who demonstrates maturity, embraces conflict, displays personal courage, and lives trustworthy. The second area moves from the leader to the people. The key to missional change lies with people, and cultivating them into a missional community. Emerging from the people will be energy and vision for missional life. To achieve this missional community specific skills, according to the authors, are needed to form a missional people: fostering missional imagination, cultivating growth through specific practices, engaging and dialoging with people through the changes, and creating a coalition of people energized to experiment. The third and fourth areas are forming a missional environment and culture, and engaging a local context with a Christian imagination. The fifth area prepares the covenant community to learn, listen, and enter its community.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Overall, Roxburgh and Romanuk provide an accurate description of where most churches in the West reside, which fall into their categories of “performative” and “reactive” organizational culture zones. Given their solid grasp on the state of the Western church, coupled with their solid grasp on what the church should be (missional), they have provided invaluable “how to” insight (specifically the MCM) for leaders wanting to transition their congregations to being more missional. Yet, in order to fully understand their critique of the Western church and their idea of being missional, it would be helpful to read Roxburgh’s book, Introducing the Missional Church, since his engagement of a detailed description of a missional church and critique of “performative” churches is very limited (rightfully so, given the intent of this book).

A weakness of their work rests with their ideas and examples illustrating the move away from “church as usual” to that of being missional. It would have been helpful for them to provide more examples of what missional churches look like compared to “performative” churches. Many times, it is difficult to see the difference between such churches. Thus, it would have been helpful for them to probe a little deeper in differentiating the two. Also, although they write from a very optimistic view, their optimism, in regards to change, is another weakness. While there is nothing wrong with being optimistic about change and leading through change, they tended to stay away from the ugliness of change and people’s refusal to change. When they did address a negative circumstance where the congregation rebelled against change, it was the leader’s fault because he did not do it in a way that would mirror their suggestions (143-44). Even Jesus, along with Paul, could not lead all people to be more missional. There are people and churches that exist that will refuse to change and embrace a missional posture, no matter what model of change one implements with them.


The Missional leader is a valuable resource for the Western church. Any church probing into the sea of transitional change should utilize this book as a resource. Churches in the process of searching for a pastor, specifically to lead through a transition, could find this book very resourceful. Pastors, who know their church must change, could begin that process with forming a small group of leaders to read this book. The church in the West finds itself in a very precarious position. It is ironic, but many churches must decided to either “turn or burn.” While many are heading down the road of burning out, there is still the opportunity and potential to turn, leading to a vibrant missional church. But, this turning will require a new kind of leadership and a new kind of model. May God grant his church and pastors the grace and strength necessary to sail through this sea of change.

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