Published in Evangelical Missions Quarterly; used by permission from Missio Nexus
by Rev. Joseph W. Handley, Jr., Ph.D.
Over the past eight years I have been researching various aspects of leadership to gain a deeper understanding of how to lead mission movements within the globalized ecosystem in which we now live. This article presents a new theory on polycentric leadership to help missional leaders effectively traverse this modern landscape. It is based on research meant to review fresh perspectives on mission leadership in a global era. Given that the Lausanne Movement provided a unique ecosystem in which to conduct the experiment, a study of the history of the movement was made, paying keen attention to the last 15 years of dramatic global shifts.
The primary research for this project revolved around four key authors and researchers, augmented by leadership studies from both the mission and business world. The four sections below coincide with each of these key authors and researchers. Finally, after reviewing these ideas, the study concludes with recommendations toward a new model for effective mission leadership in the global era.
The first step in discerning the impact of leadership in missional movements was to gain a greater appreciation for movement theory, with a particular focus on religious (missional) and church movements. The study began with a look at Ted Esler’s research on Movements and Mission Agencies.1 Esler provided an overview of various aspects of movement theory, looking at social, organizational and religious movements.
As Esler looked at the various types of movement theory, he posited a General Integrated Movement Attribute Model which focuses on resource mobilization.2 He states:
Resource mobilization theory suggests that movement organization is a dominant feature of a movement... Understanding the missionary agency as an organization bent on forming religious movements opens up the possibility that organizational theory can be applied to the study of movements.3
In coming to this model of movement theory, Esler looked first at New Social Movements and Social Movement Organizations. He sought wisdom from these models and theories to better understand how church planting teams could be effective. Esler rightly notes that religious movements don’t necessarily form from a position of unrest. He reviewed missiologists like Roland Allen, Donald McGavran and David Garrison. In doing so, he sees an interesting conflict. The observations cited above point to a multiplicity of leaders for a movement, but Paul Pierson suggests that “breakthroughs, expansion, renewal movements and the like are almost always triggered by a key person.”4 Esler suggests that reconciliation may be in the form of the leader purely as a “catalyst or lightning rod” rather than as the sole leader of the movement.5
Another aspect of Esler’s research relates to organizational or movement structures. Esler highlights the work of Campbell in developing a bricolage6 as a fresh way to form these cooperatives. He points to the work of Zed and Asher who say of coalitions, “The coalition pools resources and coordinates plans, while keeping distinct organizational identities.”7