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From his column Pressing Onpressing-on-01-15-1

Missional leadership has been a critical topic of conversation throughout the church in recent years. Books, blogs, courses, and conferences seek to define and teach what it means for churches to be “missional.” Pastors share with one another about the struggles and victories that come with seeking to lead their churches to becoming missional.

Being missional is about more than simply engaging in outreach programs or resourcing mission efforts elsewhere. Both are worthwhile and necessary, but neither encompasses the totality of missional living and leadership. Being missional is more than a tactic or program. It begins in the heart of a Triune God whose primary work throughout the Scriptures and history is that of reconciliation and restoration. Missional leaders believe the Church is God’s chosen instrument for carrying out His mission in this world. In other words, the Church does not “have a mission.” Rather, the mission of God “has the Church.”

Missional leadership, then, is about leading local congregations to spend themselves fully for the sake of God’s mission in their world, but my purpose today is not to write another article about missional leadership. I have little new to add. Instead, I am interested in sharing the concept of permissional leadership.

Lanelle is the widow of a pastor. Long after her husband’s untimely death, she continues to serve in a multitude of ways, just like she did beforehand. For decades, Lanelle’s usual spot during worship was at the piano bench on the right hand side of the pulpit. For the majority of her years of service, she faithfully led the congregation in the hymns of the church, straight from the hymnbook. Many would refer to Lanelle, lovingly and respectfully, as a fixture of the church.

Several years ago, we began making transitions to the music in our worship services. We added praise team singers, keyboards, guitars, drums, and bongos. We learned new songs. The volume and the tempo gradually increased. We carefully and slowly transitioned. After a while, our church’s music was radically different than it had been before, that is, except for one thing—Lanelle.

Today, she still finds her place each Sunday morning at the piano bench on the right hand side of the pulpit; although, Lanelle’s piano is no longer the lead instrument. The platform is crowded. The drum set lies behind her, and a couple of guitarists sit immediately to her left. Songs are different and faster. Even hymns have gained a new tempo, she admits that sometimes her fingers have a hard time keeping pace. Nevertheless, Lanelle practices and plays each week, just as she did before. Lanelle is the picture of permissional leadership. She has given her permission for the church to pursue God’s mission and is doing what she can to support the process.

The church needs permissional leaders as much as it needs missional leaders. If the calling of missional leaders is to guide local congregations to spend themselves as agents of God’s mission in the world, then the calling of permissional leaders is to simply be on-board. Permissional leaders are in love with the God of mission and are committed to His mission. Many of them have the prestige and power to be territorial, but refuse to adopt that tactic. Permissional leaders give themselves to facilitating change for the sake of God’s unchanging mission to reconcile and restore a broken world. In a true spirit of humble, holy love, permissional leaders lay down their rights. They do not obstruct. They permit.

But permissional leaders do more than get out of the way. One meaning of the prefix “per” is to do something “in accordance with.” Per-missional leaders are people who live and move in accordance with God’s mission as it is carried out in their local context. Regardless of their personal preferences, they invest themselves in the new things God is doing in their midst. My heart rejoices in board meetings when I hear someone say, “I am not sure about this new direction, but I trust the movement of the Holy Spirit within this group. So I am with you.” Permissional leaders don’t simply allow change. They partner with change for the sake of God’s ongoing mission.

Permissional leaders are true leaders in the sense that they are visible and vocal. Others see them, hear them, and are influenced to get behind them in support. Permissional leaders lead by example. Their presence preaches as loud as any sermon on missional living. Sometimes I labor to paint a picture of radical missional living to my congregation. Maybe the best thing I can do is to simply point at the lady occupying the piano bench on the right hand side of the pulpit.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

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