As my wife and I were preparing to have our first son, Eli, we had to make decisions about our vehicles. The plan was to sell the ’96 red Ford Mustang she had purchased in high school and to purchase a mom-mobile sedan and keep our Nissan Xterra I had been driving since college. Unfortunately, the Xterra was totaled when a Fast & Furious race on the highway ended up hitting our car and eventually fled the scene. We were fine, but the Xterra was done and we replaced it with the mom-mobile sedan.
This meant that I inherited the ’96 Ford Mustang, every young professional’s dream. Unfortunately the Mustang wasn’t in the best shape being as old as it was. The tires consistently wore out quickly and had to be replaced, the battery connections rendered multiple batteries useless, the radiator tapped out over time, and the odometer stopped working at 95,789 miles.
One of the major problems it had was an alignment problem. When I would take my hands off the wheel it would veer away from the direction I was traveling. This started off as a small issue, I only had to over-correct on the wheel slightly, but it kept getting worse. This not only affected driving straight, it caused the tires to wear out even quicker and became a costly repair.
I’ve seen this same type of alignment issues and affects inside communities and organizations that I’ve led and seen others lead. The leader may have a clear direction of where the community or organization is supposed to go, but if the entire community is not aligned it could eventually be a costly fix to re-align.
Leading well in missional communities or in organizations requires that there is clear alignment and direction through the life of the community.
Align at the Start through Vision Casting & Collaboration
Every Ford Mustang was supposed to built with accurate alignment to drive straight when the wheel was straight and to adjust as the wheel directed. There can always be a design or direction for anything at the start. If there is no vision or direction in a community or organization it will falter from the beginning since it lacks a purpose.
For every new leader, we ask them to think through how their community will embody their vision. Their first official meeting as a community is centered on casting this vision and forming it with the rest of the group.
The unique nature of a missional community that seeks to share leadership is that the leader both casts vision and collaborates on vision.
The leader spends time considering their neighborhood and the people in the community to see how this group will truly embody the core values. This allows the leader to cast vision for what they sense needs to happen as a community. As they cast the vision to the community, they seek input from the rest of the group in order to solidify the vision.
This type of collaboration enables every person in the community to take ownership as they form a unified vision. The leader casts the vision based on the community values and the community forms the vision into practicals that shape how the community will function in seeking to accomplish the vision.
Alignment is most easily set at the beginning, as this enables you to identify when things are in need of realignment. When the community is drifting away from the aims that have been set. Realignment assumes there has been initial direction and alignment.
Just as every car has regular check-ups to make sure it is functioning appropriately and that includes the car alignment, each community will need regular alignment checks. A leader has the responsibility to assess each new idea or activity to see if it is in line with the direction set by the community.
A community group will certainly evolve over time, but the principle aims for the a gospel-centered community on mission do not shift much. The practicals can either reinforce the alignment or begin to take the community off course.
I had a meal recently with leaders who were discussing the future of their community and identifying the current state of their community. The leaders recognized the health of the community in their care for one another, but also saw the need for the future to be more about extending their gracious community to other people. It was so encouraging to hear these leaders recognize their long-term aims, to celebrate where the community was meeting them, but also to humbly recognize and hopefully seek the change the group needed.
This type of reflection is essential for leaders in maintaining alignment.
In a functioning community, there will be some level of disagreement along the way. Some people in the group will only be around for aspects of the community life, but will avoid others. There will be some people who completely disagree and don’t like the community’s direction.
As beautiful as it would be for the dissident to come and discuss their disagreements, in nearly every circumstance it is up to the leader to initiate these conversations. The leader has the responsibility to pursue those in the community who only participate partially and to pursue those in obvious disagreement.
Leadership cannot be passive because the gospel of Jesus Christ is not passive. God is actively seeking and pursuing people to align with His ways. A leader impacted and guided by the gospel moves toward those in need of realignment, they do not simply tolerate them.
These conversations need to happen privately with the aim of winning the person and not the argument. This requires a leader that loves well by listening. This could be a huge opportunity for the community to change and the person in disagreement may have specific gifts that reveal where the community is lacking a full gospel understanding.
When it’s time to sell the car
Over the life cycle of a missional community, it may grow to a point where there are significant differences in alignment throughout the group. It may mean realignment is needed or it may be time to move on altogether. A leader will need to discern if the community is developing multiple directions that would lead to a healthy and beneficial multiplication.
In these instances attempting to maintain alignment will actually be destructive and hinder the mission of God through your community. A handful of the community could develop a passion to display the gospel through mission in a different way that isn’t a complete departure from the aims, but will be expressed differently. Multiplying the community into new expressions will be the best way to start over with new alignment and direction to pursue a healthy community on a healthy mission for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Aligning well as a leader is not an easy task, but leading well requires that every lead identify and seek to maintain the direction and vision of the community. The best leaders won’t simply have the best vision, but will have the clearest community vision. This vision is based on the direction of God from His scriptures to embody the gospel through a loving community faced outward to the world. This gospel-centered vision is worth the effort to seek collective alignment to join in God’s loving mission.