leadership missional community

Ongoing Training for Missional Community Leaders

In this series of posts, I am going to unpack the strategy and structure of leadership development we have implemented at The Austin Stone for missional communities.  I’ll be looking at:


Ongoing Training for Leaders

Discipleship is the backbone of any healthy ministry – invest the best of your time energy and talents in a few, modeling and developing them. But what do I do with the rest of the people I can’t disciple personally?  How do I continue to provide opportunities for them to learn, grow, and be faithful to God’s mission?

There are three predominant areas that we need to consider to systemically lead a large number of missional communities:

  • Training – focus primarily on theology and motivations
  • Assessment – focus primarily on values
  • Coaching and Care – focus relationally on practices and skills

I’ve covered Assessment and Coaching in these posts, and will talk about Care in the next post of this series.

With respect to training, practically speaking we need to provide ongoing training for those who are pursuing missional communities. Philosophically, we think the best training is on the job, little by little, topic by topic, over time.  Most practitioners of movements around the globe espouse this particular model of training, and we have found it to be very useful as well.  Systemically, we’ve had to think through how to scale this model up.

As we’ve worked through those ideas, we have found it helpful to have a rhythm of training that fall into three categories:

  • Gospel – providing an understanding of doctrinal issues that may arise in missional community life
  • Community –  training on internally focused leadership and situations that arise inside of believing community
  • Mission – training on externally focused leadership issues that arise when you’re engaging people who don’t know Jesus

We often rotate through these particular topics over time to provide a balanced coverage of necessary training for a broad swath of leaders.


When we focus on the gospel and the core doctrines of our faith, we specifically are answering the question “what issues currently need to be addressed?”  We are paying particular attention to two things:

  • What topics will be covered in our pulpit that leaders may need special equipping in?
  • What topics are currently being discussed in culture that need to be addressed theologically?
If we are going to be covering the doctrine of election in an upcoming sermon, we want to gather our leaders to understand the doctrine well.  Last Fall, we preached on God’s heart for the orphan and called our church to engage the global orphan crisis, so we gathered our leaders and gave some practical equipping on the doctrine of adoption.


When considering the topic of community, we primarily train on issues a leader may face with other Christians within their community.  Great examples of topical training in this category would be general counseling principles, the process for seeking professional help in issues of abuse or addiction, how to handle conflict between group participants, or the practicals of church discipline.

We spend a lot of time in these kind of trainings working through case-studies, doing role-playing, and trying to model what healthy leadership looks like.


Finally, with respect to mission, we are equipping our leaders with practical skills like how to identify a potential leader, how to facilitate healthy missional community practices, the basics of doing an investigative bible study with someone, and multiplying communities.

The Flywheel

We have a systemic method for the ongoing coaching of leaders that is based on a few different ingredients:

Gatherings for Vision and Story-telling – three per year

  • August = Vision
  • January = Stories and Relaunch
  • May = Celebration

Gatherings for Training – three per year

  • October = Gospel
  • March = Community
  • June = Mission

Assessment – Every 6 Months, self-assessment from leaders

  • November
  • April
Coupled with monthly coaching, this system definitely keeps the ball moving, and provides a regular touch point for leaders. It has the added benefit of adding a variety of contexts for doing training, assessment, coaching and care.

A Few Things We’ve Learned

As we’ve been leading and training missional communities, below are a few things that we’ve learned, in no particular order:

  • Leaders need help translating vision into practice. Give them practical next steps, but also explain “why?”
  • Train existing groups together with their leaders. It’s incredibly difficult for group leaders to transition an existing group, therefore pull them together and walk them through a process.
  • The best groups come from people who have watched us do it. Discipleship is the most effective means of leadership training.
  • Curriculum doesn’t do much. At best, it gets people thinking. At worst, it’s just consumed. Focus on removing crutches rather than providing different or better ones.

What have you learned in training people for mission?

By Todd Engstrom

Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth.

God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

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