Friday, February 15, 2013

Creating a Missional Culture by JR Woodward (Book Review)

Every church has a culture, a way of life that defines how things are done and not done. A culture dictates those unspoken norms that no one even knows how to talk about. It’s just the way things are. Just as a fish cannot explain what water is like because the water is the world of the fish, so the culture of a local congregation is the world of that congregation.

So what happens when leaders discover that they need to change the culture of their church? What happens when leaders have their eyes opened to the fact that their congregation is falling short of being on mission with God? What do leaders do in order to reshape the culture so that they can be more than a church that happens to do “missional” things and actually become a new kind of “missional” culture?

Well, first  start with JR Woodward’s book Creating a Missional Culture. This a a great introduction to how culture works within a church setting. JR provides helpful handles that help you get beneath the surface of your culture with simple questions about five different environments. These questions provide ways of talking about what no one has the ability to talk about. (In other words, they help fish understand the water they swim in.)

In addition, his  direction about the way God reshapes the cultural web of a local church gives leaders proactive ways for moving forward. By looking at the four parts of the cultural web, he guides leaders forward to see how they can answer keys questions about how they live and think actually lines up with what they want to be. These four parts of a cultural web include:
  • Narrative—What is God’s calling for our church?
  • Rituals—What are our core practices?
  • Institution—How will we fulfill our calling?
  • Ethics—What does it mean for us to be faithful and fruitful?
For most reading this book, the most challenging aspect will be found in his proposal for polycentric leadership, one that challenges the monocentric view of leadership that has dominated the church for about 1700 years. JR does this through the paradigm of  five-fold leadership principles found Ephesians four. Even though this approach will be new to many readers, it contains great promise for the future of the church. JR writes out of personal experience. From that experience, he offers a model which he developed that is based on this polycentric approach to church leadership. You may not be able to adopt his specific model, but that does not mean you cannot apply his principles to your situation.

JR writes, “As coworkers with God, we create culture and culture reshapes us” (31). He adds later, “Spirit-shaped leaders create missional culture, and our approach to leadership and structure is not neutral” (76). This book advocates for a radical approach to leadership when compared to traditional approaches, one that is neither democratic nor autocratic. It calls for a way of leading that fits the call to mission because it reflects the way God relates as Trinity. It will challenge your assumptions while at the same time providing practical steps forward.

For a more extensive review of this book see Len Hjalmarson's blog.

If you want to learn more about the author, check out JR Woodward's blog.

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