Church, Leadership and Liminality 5

The third and final chapter (and our final post) of Alan Roxburgh’s book Missionary, Congregation, Leadership and Liminality, is called ‘Toward a Missionary Ecclesiology’

‘By the rivers of Babylon there is no way back to Jerusalem. Liminality requires a different kind of leader if congregations are to be encountered by and encounter our culture with the gospel.’ (57)

This chapter focuses on what type of leaders are needed for our post-Christendom world. Roxburgh suggests three types needed to help create transforming communities:


The pastor not primarily as caregiver but as poet to give voice to experiences of liminality and marginality. To give voice to the desire to experience more of God. To give hope to the church as the pilgrim people of God.

The point I like here is that missional engagement does not begin with rational dissection of theories and ideas but of a re-visioning of the identity of the marginalised church. This is a theological vision NOT a pragmatic business vision of ‘where we want to get to by next year’


Prophecy is the gift of speaking the word of God directly into contemporary historical experiences of the people of God. The prophet directs the people of God towards a vision of God’s purposes for them in the world. This gives voice to the call of the church to exist for the sake of the world. The prophet give hope and vision by focus on the Kingdom of God that calls the church to missional engagement with the world but not on its terms.

Again the point I like here is how the role of the prophet is gospel centred and theologically framed. This is big picture, big story stuff – getting beyond the pragmatic and routine. This is it seems to me, what Paul does repeatedly in his letters to struggling churches.


The Christendom model of leadership is the pastor in the church (caring, preaching, leading worship). But post-Christendom puts the church in a missionary situation and leaders need to be apostles. In a great phrase, Roxburgh suggests that “the gown of the scholar needs to be replaced with the shoes of an apostle.”. So much leadership discussion revolves around roles within the church. From hierarchy to servant model; to team ministry from professional clergy in charge. Yet Roxburgh argues this discussion, while laudable, tends to miss the crucial point – it remains a Christendom mindset where the pastor’s role is entirely within the church. It is an ecclesiocentric model. Roxburgh argues that we need a kingdom focused understanding of God’s saving action in Christ rather than a church focused understanding [I see his point here but am not persuaded by the dichotomy]

Here’s a great quote:

since the apostle is commissioned by Christ,   “we need to move away from the current views of pastors as enculturated professionals hired by congregations to provide religious services”. He continues, “the guild of the ordained will have to be removed”

Leadership in post-Christendom will be team based or with multiple leaders. The task of leadership will be shape the life of the church as the people of God engage in mission.

Some final thoughts: Good writing communicates clearly and succinctly and this book is an excellent example. Obviously in such a short space there is little or no discussion of how the theory outlined might actually work in practice. Many books on missional church have been written since that do this. Roxburgh’s book remains relevant and prophetic as ever. The challenges he describes are unfolding before us. Liminality is our experience. New forms of church, leadership and mission still need to be re-imagined and practiced. Do we do this in a context of desperation, decline and even despair? Or do we see this as a ‘threshold experience’ to a re-shaped missional church?


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