Missional Leadership

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”),
“where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”


Over three months in 2017 I visited and discussed missional leadership with a range of practitioners. This included parish clergy, theological educators, pioneers, and network leaders (including archdeacons and bishops).

To each I asked two primary questions:
  1. What biblical models of leadership contribute to an individual's approach to ministry?
  2. How do we live within Jesus' rabbinical model - and how does that relate to apostolic, prophet-evangelist and pastor-teacher modes?
Practitioners answers to the first question tended in four directions
  1. That of Jesus' ministry
  2. That of Paul's structure (Ephesians 4)
  3. That of Old Testament characters
  4. That of broader theological themes
This question was not intended to produce statistically significant results (only a small number of theological educators where interviewed). However a tendency can be be seen where Pioneers tend towards Jesus (or other individuals) and Network leaders tend towards structural and theological models:

The second question aimed to integrate these two approaches. In particular to explore the relationship between our understanding of Jesus' ministry and practice and a Pauline understanding of church order.

In a range of church traditions the expectation is that presidency, pastoral care and teaching ministry work together in one key expression of leadership. The conversations from my research have not brought into question the pastor-teacher / presbyterial relationship, but rather challenged the core understanding of the meaning of pastor-teacher.

Jesus as Pioneer Rabbi

Leadership structures of the early church developed organically out of Jesus’ ministry, and the rabbinical model that Jesus followed.

Not everyone is familiar with understanding Jesus' ministry in this context, yet:
  • He trained as a rabbi within the structures of the C1st , for example sitting at the feet of teachers in the temple. After this initiation he would have undergone formation in the local synagogue:
“they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:45) 
  • At 30 years old he was given authority through John as a witness with the Holy Spirit, which would mark the 'ordination' or beginning of rabbinical ministry:
"Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:32-33) 
  • He called and ‘taught’ 12 disciples and a wider circle, both settled and itinerant:
"Jesus called His twelve followers to Him. He gave them power to put out demons and to heal all kinds of sickness and disease." (Matthew 10:1) 
  • Jesus was recognised as a rabbi or teacher within the synagogues and the temple. One does not simply walk into the synagogue and preach:
“He then went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and according to his custom on the Sabbath day, he entered the synagogue and stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16)  
  • He himself then gave particular authority and ‘ordination’ to the 11 as apostles, sent out with his witness and the witness of the holy Spirit.
“And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.”” (John 20:22) 
Jesus' rabbinical ministry was within the structures of C1st Judaism but clearly not limited by it. He challenged and reshaped that ministry, interacting with people and places outside the establishment.
When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." (Matthew 9:11-12)
In engaging with those on the edges of C1st life and faith, the unclean, Samaritans and gentiles, Jesus models what we now understand as pioneer ministry.

The New Testament Church

Jesus' model of ministry continued into the apostolic era, with the replacement of Judas (Acts 1:20) and the establishment of ministry in Jerusalem. However the apostles exercised ministry beyond that of the rabbi - there was a growing understanding of a fulfilment of the priestly ministry of the Temple and Tabernacle.

Priestly Presidency

The understanding of presidency in the New Testament church is developing. However:
  • It was to the 12 that Jesus gave the command ‘do (or offer) this’ at the Last Supper. 
  • Peter presents a continuity of understanding between Jewish and Christian priesthood as he quotes Exodus 19:6:
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9)
  • Paul uses the language of sacrifice whilst discussing the eucharist:
“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?" (1 Corinthians 10:16-18)
  • The book of Revelation outlines a rich eucharistic shape of worship, involving elements from temple worship (incense, robes, altar, bowing, etc.) but in an revealed and open form. Within this the elders/presbyters have a particular liturgical role.
Modern liturgical spaces reflect the pattern of Revelation.

  • Paul understood ministry to be priestly:
"He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:16)
  • Late C1st Christian writings used sacrificial language to refer to eucharist:
"On the Lord's own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarrelling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: 'In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations.'" (Didache - Ch 14)
The final quote for the Didache illustrates an early understanding that Christian worship was a fulfilment and continuation of the sacrificial worship of the tabernacle and temple (Malachi 1:11). The leading of Christian worship, in particular the Eucharist, is Priestly is character.

Deacons & Presbyters

As the new church community grew in Jerusalem the need to recognise broader non-apostolic ministry was acknowledged, and the first Deacons were ordered (Acts 6). Far from being mere administrators Stephen and Phillip stand as examples of prophetic and evangelistic ministry.

Although the role of deacons in Acts is framed in practical terms the ministry of table and distribution has Eucharistic overtones. In Jerusalem a pattern of apostolic presidency and diaconal distribution would seem a natural reading.

Whilst the Church was centred in Jerusalem the two orders of apostles and deacons enabled effective ministry. As the church grew however local leadership and ultimately presidency was required. The term elder (presbyter) is used, again drawing from Jewish usage and this role developed into one that was appointed and recognised. Meanwhile the term deacon is still used to designate a different ministry.

It is essential that rather than being hierarchical, both deacons and presbyters have their own unique relationship with the apostles and the apostolic.

Pauline Understanding

Paul in his apostolic ministry in the wider church identifies a progression of ministry gifts.
“And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts …” (1 Corinthians 12:28)
In Ephesians 4:11 Paul outlines a more detailed list:
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.”
But earlier in Ephesians 2:19-20 Paul simplifies the order further:
“Members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”
The order and meaning of these list has been interpreted diversely. However a simple interpretation would be that Paul’s ordering represents a timeline of development of New Testament ministry.

First Apostles, then Prophets & Evangelists and then Pastors and Teachers. 
First the Apostolic, then the Diaconal and then the Presbyteral.

There is then no conflict between Jesus' rabbinical model, Paul's model and the threefold order that had developed by the end of the C1st.

Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons

By Ignatius the term apostle has been superseded by that of bishop or overseer, which may originally have been used as an alternative to presbyter. Writing less than 100 years after Jesus we find the threefold order fully developed.:
“You must all follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the apostles; reverence the deacons as you would God's commandment.”
Bishop's ministry is already identified with the parenthood in God, to follow the bishop places the expectation on bishops that they will act as mothers and fathers. The presbyterial ministry is apostolic, to follow them as apostles places the expectation of presbyters that they will behave as apostles. The diaconal ministry is associated with the action of God's word, to reverence deacons places the expectation on deacons that they will live and speak God's word as evangelists and prophets.

The prophetic and the evangelistic are closely related. One way of seeing this is: 

The evangelist shares with the world what God is doing in the church. 
The prophet shares with the church what God is doing in the world. 

It is unsurprising that prophets are often evangelistic and evangelists are often prophetic. Both prophet and evangelist have concern for social justice and practical service as well as the speaking and hearing of the gospel.

I suspect that whilst lay gifts were practised in early church (and expressed liturgically) the wider idea of ordered lay ministry would have been alien. If people were ‘in ministry’ and were not presbyters then they would be deacons - prophets and evangelists. 


The Church has inherited different models of pastoral and teaching ministry from culture and our own tradition. Yet for the new testament church those two terms can only have been rooted in the ministry of Jesus as they were used to describe Jesus.

Firstly that of shepherd:
  • One who leads:
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”(John 10:27) 
  • One who pioneers:
Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? (Luke 15:4) 
  • One who sacrifices:
"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.(John 10:11)” 
  • One who discerns:
As a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-32) 
  • One who feeds & cares
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17)
This understanding of pastor is very different to the contemporary view of ‘pastoral counselling’. Jesus can be seen exercising ‘pastoral ministry’, but not in the way we may expect - for example in the encounter with the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21 or the Samaritan woman in John 4.

Secondly that of teacher, or rabbi. To summarise the points from our first section:
  • One who is trained 
  • One who is ordained 
  • One who disciples others intensively 
  • One who presides & preaches 
  • One who releases the Holy Spirit and enables ministry 
In conclusion this Jesus shaped model of the presbyter is a challenge to established modes of parochial ministry - both reformed and catholic. The idea of the parson visiting the people and writing sermons is certainly part of Jesus’ ministry but I would suggest it is not the core.

Rather it is the pioneering and discipling shepherd-rabbi.

It is also a model that applies in different contexts and levels to both presbyters and bishops. Both are pastor-teachers, and both are apostolic. The role of the presbyter is to be the local apostle.

Jesus Shaped Church

There is one final guide to be taken from Jesus’ ministry as pastor-teacher. The size of His church. We may be aware that Jesus had circles of ministry, the 3, the 12, the 72, and many other followers.

Yet before Pentecost we read:
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) (Acts 1:15)
If a church of 120 was all that Jesus could ‘manage’ then it seems unreasonable to expect a single presbyter to 'manage' anything greater in a healthy way. Following Pentecost, the church grew substantially - suggesting a model of large church. However the organising of the early church around peoples homes echoes the smaller size, suggesting a congregation that could meet in the courtyard of large house of that period. The focus was still local rather rather than gathered. Jerusalem could be thought of as more a deanery than a mega church.

It can also be argued that the overall focus of the church in Jerusalem ultimately restricted the spread of the Gospel rather than enabled it.

Hierarchy and oversight are inescapable (and such order is a part of Jesus' ministry) yet the model Jesus leaves us with is one of local empowerment and engagement rather than a traditional pyramid structure.

The reality would be more complex than the diagram, with different combinations of deacons and priests in each congregation. However both diaconal and priestly ministries have their own unique relationship to oversight whilst recognising their different roles within their context. Whilst priests may have local oversight, the diaconal ministries have their own identity alongside priestly ministry.

This size of church is not just about numbers but about default culture and model for church. These congregations of 120 would seek to grow through multiplication and fostering vocation rather than simple numerical increase, as Jesus' ministry grew and enabled the disciples. This is in contrast to a model of a larger church as the ideal which smaller churches then seek to mirror.

One way of thinking about this is the difference between growth and scale:

Growing means you are adding resources at the same rate that you're adding revenue. ... On the other hand, scaling is about adding revenue at an exponential rate while only adding resources at an incremental rate. (Ref)

In business the desire is for scale rather than growth. The equivalent for church would be that numbers are increased without the same increase in ministry resources, this being achieved through programmes and large-church management.

However this isn't the model we see Jesus using. Instead he earliest action after his 'ordination' is beginning the process of replicating his own ministry in others - the calling of the disciples. This is not a traditional growth process either, Jesus doesn't wait until the crowds start to follow him to expand his team. Rather he focuses on vocation first and then growth follows.

The structure of Mark 1 demonstrates this pattern:

  • Jesus calls disciples (Vv 14-20)
  • Jesus ministers in the synagogue (Vv 21-27)
  • The crowds come to Jesus (Vv 28-34)
  • Jesus retreats (Vv 35-39)
  • Jesus pioneers (Vv 40-45)

There is a huge amount further that can drawn from the template of starting ministry Mark outlines for Jesus, but more important is how our church structure reflect's Jesus' priorities. Do we start with nurturing vocation? Do we pursue growth or does growth pursue us and we spiritually engage and retreat from it? Do we make as much space for pioneering as Jesus did?

Contemporary Reflections

I am aware that this understanding is a shot across the bow of some newer charismatic understandings of ministry order - an almost hierarchical reading of Ephesians 4. This reading of Paul isn't new, it is rooted in the new churches of the 1970s. However it has a number of key problems.

Firstly it requires a significant historical disconnect between the church of the apostles and the church of the disciples of the apostles. It requires that between 60 AD and 100 AD the church completely distorted the understanding of apostolic order. The alternative (and simpler) explanation is that threefold order is already reflected in Paul's teaching.

Secondly it places unreasonable expectations on the ministry of evangelist and prophet, seeing them as roles of oversight rather than diaconal roles without presidency responsibility.

Thirdly, whilst the intention to restore apostolic forms of ministry is sound, we cannot accept an inherited understanding of pastor-teachers that is not shaped by Jesus' ministry as a shepherd-rabbi.

Priests and bishops in the Church of England are not necessarily trained to be pioneering shepherds and discipling rabbis. To rediscover Jesus shaped ministry will mean a refocusing of our understanding of local ministry.

Equally questions need to be raised about smaller and larger churches if we are to rediscover the Jesus sized church of 120 as our ideal rather than looking to 'cathedrals' of what ever tradition. Especially if larger churches restrict rather than enable mission.

As pressing is the role of deacons as prophets and evangelists. Anglicans have a small permanent diaconate, but many people who live the diaconal role: Readers, pioneers, evangelists, youth workers. Although in church life and liturgically we may recognise these people as deacons my research suggested many would be open to a refreshed permanent diaconate in line with a New Testament model.

Finally there is the question of what church looks like as these forms are adopted. This is explored further in Portfolio Emanant Church.