leadership missional community

Caring 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:


Caring for Leaders

I’ll be the first to admit that this is an area of struggle in the missional church, and also in my own life.  In leadership, I want to intentionally keep the gospel as the foundation, the mission in front of our people, but I also need to check the engine light and occasionally get a tune up.  Our leaders need it too!

I’ve found there are two forms of care to consider when creating a leadership development system – proactive and reactive care. Both need to be planned for in maintaining a healthy system that continues to make disciples and develop leaders.

Proactive Care

On the proactive side, you consistently need to fight for organizational health and quality relationships.  Most leaders on mission struggle from time to time, and often the most basic form of care is knowing that someone is checking in.  There are two primary ways we do proactive care at The Austin Stone – coaching and celebration.

Coaching and Assessment

The axiom of “what you measure is what you value” is generally true, but certainly needs to be thoughtfully applied when it comes to people.  No one wants to be a statistic, but everyone wants to be valued.  Part of proactive care is valuing people as people, but also showing you value your vision by checking up on it.

Especially when you’re leading a larger number of communities on mission, it’s easy to slide into a depersonalized, metrics-based form of leadership because you don’t have relationships with every leader.  I’ve found that it’s crucially important to foster relationships where leaders are pursued, and we do this in the form of coaching.

In addition to coaching though, we want our leaders to know that we care about what is happening and the practices we have taught them.  We reinforce our care for them as people by gently reminding them of our values and practices.  We’re on a mission to make disciples, and we need some accountability toward that end.

The basic rhythms of coaching and assessment help foster a culture of proactive care, showing leaders you value them and what they are doing.


Sometimes I can get caught looking forward to so often that I completely lose sight of all that God has accomplished.  Another means of caring for leaders is continuing to share stories of God’s faithfulness and looking backwards.  We do this through a few different avenues:

  • Gathering as leaders to simply tell stories and share a meal
  • Thoughtfully recognizing leaders both publicly and privately
  • Capturing and telling stories of transformation through our Story Team
We naturally celebrate the things that we value, and part of proactive care is celebrating the people who are leading the charge for God’s greater glory in our cities.

Reactive Care

There are always circumstances in leadership that no one really plans for.  What happens when a crisis emerges?

Perhaps it’s a marital infidelity, severe medical trauma, the loss of a job, or the death of a close relationship – whatever the circumstance, you need to be prepared to give care.  I’ve also found that people who are uniquely gifted in leadership are often not well suited for times where presence and deep soul care is needed.  I certainly am in that category, although by God’s grace I am growing.

Systemically, then, we need to ensure that in times of crisis, our leaders are well cared for, which often requires identifying uniquely gifted people toward that end, and ensuring they are available to give the time and emotional energy that crisis care requires.

Our campus elder teams are primarily responsible for the reactive care of the saints.  We intentionally do NOT load them up with strategic leadership and organizational ownership so they can be faithfully present in times of great need and care for the saints.

For us, we want each leader to be one phone call away from and elder, and to have someone at their bedside or in the middle of the crisis within the span of a few hours.  There are two critical pieces to making this effective:

  • Having called, qualified, trained elders who primarily care for the needs of the saints
  • Having a clear means of communication between the leader and their elder

For the first point, we are clear in articulating the call to eldership at The Austin Stone means that we are going to shepherd the flock of God entrusted to us, and this means being available to those sheep who are hurting and need care.  For the second, we have our elder teams present at a local campus, and strive to keep them visibly in front of the body and our leaders so they are known and available.

In all circumstances, we operate as a plurality of elders, but there is a point leader who ensures that the proper care is being administered to the person in question over time.  With available leaders to give care and a team to support them in that role, by God’s grace we hope to provide care in times of great trial.

What else should I be considering when it comes to leader care?

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?

leadership missional community

Basic Training for Missional Communities

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:


Basic Training for Missional Communities

As we have been working out missional communities at The Austin Stone for the last 5 years, we have tried a number of different training methods – sermons with integrated group study materials, practical skill training, theological teaching, on the job training, digital media resourcing, cohort-based adult learning, and case study driven discussion.  Pretty much you name it, and we’ve tried it.

Through the process of experimentation, we’ve found that it’s important to have a consistent basic training that everyone participates in.  The primary objective in this training is three-fold:

  • Create a compelling desire for missional community, rooted in the gospel
  • Deconstruct predominant paradigms that people have about community
  • Introduce basic rhythms and practices of missional community life
Early on, we trained leaders together with this material, but often found they struggled to communicate it to their groups.  From this, we arrived at a very helpful solution:
Train the whole community, not just the leader

Training the community together is helpful for two reasons – it allows the leader to focus on specific application of concepts into their community, and secondly, the whole community is exposed to the whole vision.

Below is an overview of the concepts we work through:

The Roadmap

In leading communities towards a movement of multiplying disciples, we have had to be explicit about how the practices we commit to are rooted in our values, which are based on our motivations that flow from the gospel.  The MC Roadmap below presents a visual representation of how our training fits together – the gospel foundation, gospel motivations, missional community values, and missional community practices.

Having this visual tool helps people we are training see the whole picture – how our theology leads us to healthy practice.  We spend 4 weeks, 2.5 hours per session and focus on each area theologically, philosophically and practically.

Practically, all of our training is done through a combination of teaching, processing activities, group discussion, and integrated homework.

MC Roadmap

The Gospel

In our first session together, we focus our time exclusively on the gospel of Jesus.  As church leaders, we often have the tendency to assume the gospel and move beyond it into practical application, but we have found within our body only about 20% of people can give a spontaneous, biblical answer to the question “what is the gospel?”

In an effort to always be explicit, we teach the gospel through two different lenses:

  • The biblical content of the gospel of Jesus Christ from 1 Corinthians 15:1-7
  • A framework for the gospel using the rubric “God, Man, Christ, Response”
Lastly, we flesh out how the gospel forms the foundation of the Christian life and the worldview for the believer.

Gospel Motivations

In our second session, we work through how the gospel changes us in our hearts affections.  Because of the work of Christ, we now are able to fulfill the Great Commandment to love God and love our neighbor.  We have a new motivation based on our new identity in Christ.

Practically, we work through our identity as brothers and sisters in Christ, and that our community is to be inclusive of those who are far from God.  Our love for one another in the body of Christ is grown by our consistent involvement in God’s mission to the lost.

Missional Community Values

Based on God’s work in Christ on our behalf and our new identity in Him, our community has a set of values that are derived from our identity and motivations.  Because we love God, we love His Word and prayer.  Because we love people, we demonstrate the gospel and declare the gospel.  These values infuse our life together – they are present in all areas of our life.

On a practical note, we work through specifically how these new values demand that we think differently about community, particularly using an exercise we call “Who is the Missionary?”

Missional Community Practices

Lastly, we spend time working through the healthy practices of missional communities, share stories of the ways it has worked out in real life, and answer practical questions that folks have.

We also provide tangible next steps for each community in clarifying their mission, and their next steps as a community.  We try to keep this session light on didactic teaching, and very heavy on dialogue and Q&A.


Although we don’t cover every detail of missional community life in this training, we have found that it gives most people a degree of understanding, and more importantly a desire for gospel-centered community on mission.  This training has been an effective tool in changing the culture of community at The Austin Stone, and forms the bedrock for our life together in the years to come.

What have you found to be helpful in training communities?

leadership missional community

The Basic Qualifications for Leadership

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:


The Basic Qualifications for Leadership

Once you’ve figured out how to identify leaders have a handle on the questions you need to consider, the next step is figuring out what the basic qualifications for leadership.  By no means are we perfect, but below I unpack each aspect of qualification and why.

Participate in Basic Training

The first qualification for leadership is that the individual has participated in our 4 week Missional Community Training.  We take 2.5 hours in each session, and focus on four primary topics:

  • The Gospel
  • Gospel Motivations
  • Missional Community Values
  • Missional Community Practices

We make this training freely available to anyone who would like to join us. We’ve had former elders and pastors, church planters, all the way down to the certifiably insane, unrepentant individuals under discipline, and those who are not even believers participate.

We’ll train anyone in the basics of the DNA because it is almost entirely centered on the gospel, and a basic theology of church life. Simply attending a training does not qualify someone for leadership though!

Share Your Story WIth Us

The next step for those interested in leadership is to have a face-to-face conversation with one of our elders or deacons.  In this conversation, we are looking for evidence of conversion, a clear understanding of the gospel, and a clear desire to lead.

A Defined Mission

We ask everyone who wants to lead to have a clear understanding of who they want to reach and what they want to do. We’re not looking for a church planters prospectus, but minimally a clear sense of mission and some ability to identify a direction for a group of people.

This does a good job of eliminating the unmotivated, as well as helps us redirect those who are interested in leadership but shouldn’t be leading. We give honest feedback, and practical and tangible steps for those we don’t think should be leading.

Recruit a Core Team

Simply expressing desire to lead doesn’t actually mean someone is a leader.  Leaders have people who follow them!  The first step for anyone is to gather 3 or 4 core team members to the vision they desire to pursue.  The best indicator of the future success of a leader is if they can rally a core to their mission.

We won’t help connect people to a leader until they have a core on board with their vision.


Sometimes leaders don’t really need to have another group of people join them after their core, it’ll just slow it down. For those that still desire to, however, we give them tools and help individuals find their newly formed community.

We don’t have a doctrinal exam for leaders other than simple knowledge of the gospel, we don’t have a laundry list of commitments other than participate in our coaching and ongoing training, we don’t have covenants, although they can be useful.

We’ve tried to find a balance that allows for a somewhat lower barrier of entry into leadership, while creating a desire for ongoing training.

What would you add to this list?

leadership missional community

Questions to Ask When Considering a Leader

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:


How do you help those who self-identify and discern whether or not they are a good fit for leadership?

First, I think you need to ask some questions about your ministry if you’re going to do an effective job of self-identification while maintaining a healthy ministry.

Here’s a set of questions that I think are important to answer:

1. What is our vision, philosophy, and practicals of our ministry?

As a leader, I think it is critical to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to accomplish.  A vision should be clear and succinct, but deep enough for extended conversation and reflection.  Our vision is to cultivate disciple-making movement through missional communities, and we unpack that in our Missional Community Roadmap.

2. What am I asking of a leader?

You’ll need a clear understanding of what you are expecting.  What is a win? What is off the mark? I don’t think you need a huge laundry list, but some basic high points would be helpful.  For us, a leader is someone who is championing the mission of a community to a pocket of people, and cultivating healthy practices of missional community.

3. What does the individual who desires leadership want to do?

Part of creating a healthy leadership development system is listening to the vision of the individual leader.  You need to assess where the person is coming from! Most people with a desire to lead bring a set of convictions and preconceived notions about ministry with them.  Understanding them is a key point of whether or not you place a person in a position of leadership.

4. Are your vision and the potential leader’s vision compatible?

Do they have an entirely different understanding of ministry than you? Will they be willing to submit themselves to your vision, or do they only have interest in pursuing theirs? It won’t be a good partnership if there is miscommunication here.

In my experience, getting the distinctions out in the open can ruffle some feathers, but in the long run reduces conflict and minimizes more difficult future conversations.  On a very practical note, simply because someone doesn’t use your language doesn’t mean they don’t have the same desire.  I’ve had to hold my language loosely, but my theology and philosophy of ministry tightly.

5. How do we move forward?

After you have answered the questions above, it’s time to clearly outline next steps.  If there is a clear incompatibility, then you need to be clear that the individual should not be leading, and articulate the reason why.

For those you want to move forward with, having a clearly designated pathway is very important. Answering these questions to varying degrees of specificity should help you design the system that you need for your ministry.

I’ll spend the next post unpacking our “next steps”.  

Which of these questions do you need to spend time thinking about?