MISSIO DEI & A Holistic Definition

The missio Dei is God’s mission to reintroduce himself and restore fellowship with his wayward offspring. – Whitesel

by Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D., 2011.

Because the millennial leader is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need as well as the multifaceted challenges of leadership … the millennial leader knows she or he needs help beyond what humans can provide. The emerging leader seeks divine stamina, insight, power, travel companions and even miracles to accomplish the task. But what exactly is this divine and enormous task? It can be summed up in the Latin: missio Dei, the mission of God.[i]

The missio Dei is God’s mission to reintroduce himself and restore fellowship with his wayward offspring. It emphasizes that “mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God.”[ii] John Flett explains, “the Father sent his Son and Spirit into the word, and this act reveals his ‘sending’ being. He remains active today in reconciling the world to himself and sends his community to participate in the mission.”[iii] William Willimon concludes,

“It is the nature of this God to reach out … A chief defining content of this good news of God (1 Thess. 2:1, 8, 9; Rom. 1:1) is this sort of relentless reach. This God has a gregarious determination to draw all things unto God’s self (John 12:23) … The church exists not for itself, but rather to sign, signal , and embody God’s intentions for the whole world. God is going to get back what belongs to God. God’s primary means of accomplishing this is through the church.”[iv]

Specifically because the missio Dei is God’s work, it is presumptuous and incorrect to say humans have this mission. Only God has such a grand mission, because only he can accomplish it. Yet he enlists human participation in the task, as Jesus emphasizes, “My food … is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Thus, it is best to say humans “participate” in the missio Dei, assisting God as he calls and equips us for his extraordinary task.

Therefore, because of the magnitude of the mission and because of whose mission it is (God’s), a “theta” (Q) will be this chapter’s icon. Q is the first letter of the Greek word for God (theos) and can be created by adding a “dash” to the middle of the “O.” Though subsequent chapters will have only one meaning each, this chapter’s symbol (Q) is a completion of the Chapter 1 icon: “O.” This is because an understanding and solidarity with the needs of others will drive a person to God, for only God can supply the strength needed for the task. Millennial leaders are recognizing that without divine intervention, she or he will be able to meet tomorrow’s burgeoning needs. This is not to say that humans create God to help them with their needs, but rather that God has placed in his creation a divine spark of compassion, and when that spark begins to grow the leader recognizes that only in their creator will they find the source and power behind that flame.

[i] Missio Dei was first used in this sense by missiologist Karl Hartenstein to describe God’s mission in contrast to Karl Barth’s emphasis upon God’s action (the actio Dei). For an overview of these terms, their history and their implication for the millennial leader see John Flett’s The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010).

[ii] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 19910, p. 390.

[iii] John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community, p. 5.

[iv] William H. Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), pp. 239-240.

Excerpted from ©Bob Whitesel, ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church, Abingdon Press, 2011), pp. 9-10.

Speaking hashtags: #Kingswood2018

LEADERSHIP & How to Write a Course Around William Willimon’s Rules of Transformative Leadership

In the final chapters of William Willimon’s book, Pastor: The theology and practice of ordained ministry (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), he borrows Anthony Robinson’s “rules of leadership” and changes them to “Rules of Transformative Leadership.” (Willimon 2002:279-280).

(If you can’t remember the difference between “transactional leadership” and “transformative leadership” see Willimon 2002:279-280).

I wrote an entire course (LEAD 600: Congregational Leadership) around these ten (10) leadership areas.  If you are currently in that course, have taken it in the past or are considering taking it in the future, the “Rules of Leadership” are a good way to review and summarize the course’s content.

To help you visualize this at the end of this article is a CHART with  the topics covered in LEAD 600 each week followed by the corresponding “rule.”

And, here is how Robinson originally codified his “Rules of Leadership.” (Robinson, Anthony B. [1999], “Leadership That Matters,” Christian Century, Dec. 15, 1228-31.):

“Rules of Leadership”

  1. Give responsibility back
  2. Expect trouble
  3. Value small steps
  4. Plan
  5. Identify the vital few
  6. Don’t overvalue consensus
  7. Count the yes votes
  8. Create new working groups for a new job
  9. Change by addition, not subtraction
  10. Be persistent

How I wrote a course around these rules (chart below with focus of each week followed by a short explanation and which “rule” each week addressed).

Robinson + Willimon Leadership Rules in LEAD 600 1

Robinson + Willimon Leadership Rules in LEAD 600 2

THEOLOGY & A Theology of Ecclesial Change

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/22/06.


An earlier ethnographic survey of 12 Christian congregations that were largely led, staffed and populated with adults between the ages of 22 and 35, was designed to uncover synergies and strategies that might inform further research among our master and doctoral students in the College of Graduate Studies at Indiana Wesleyan University regarding how efficacious change was implemented in these environs.

This monolith appropriates Van de Ven and Poole’s four-force model of change (Van de Ven and Poole 1995; Poole and Van de Ven 2004) and applies it to changes the early church underwent in the Acts of the Apostles as it grappled with the assimilation of Gentile converts. A five stage process-model for organizational change is proposed with an accompanying suggestion for a theology of ecclesial organizational change.

Greek Designations For a Theology of Ecclesial Organizational Change

A Scriptural predilection for personal behavioral and cognitive change largely overshadows most investigations into the organizational change that a Pharisaic and Diasporic Judaism was undergoing in a transformation into an in situ Messianic community. Laubach points out that this emphasis upon behavioral and cognitive change is evidenced in both Greek and New Testament authors in their proclivity to employ strepho, hapostrepho and strepho in contexts which suggest cognitive and behavioral changes of philosophic and moral perspectives (Laubach 1967:354-355).

A study of Greek literature suggests that morphe might be helpful. Greek writers debated the dynamic “twilight” between reality and form (Plato 1941), and in doing so they employed morphe to emphasize the outward appearance of inner change (Braumann 1967:705-706). Yet, Braumann’s Scriptural examination suggests organizational change is not encompassed in this word’s New Testament usage either (ibid.)

Metanoia might be the most well known word for change, yet it appears rarely in classical Greek literature (Goetzmann 1967:357). This leaves its focus at the mercy of the Septuagint and New Testament writers, where it too carries the force of personal rather than corporate turn in direction (Behm 1964-1974).

However, one word does come into our view carrying the connotation of outward change in appearance with an emphasis upon the form the change evolves through and into (Braumann 1967:709-710). This word, a cognate of schema, is meteschematizo and occurs five times in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians and once in his writings to the Philippians. Let us look at each, the later first.

In Philippians 3:21 the import of meteschematizo is an eschatological outward change in humankind’s appearance, or as Braumann describes “real participation in the glorified body of Christ (Braumann 1967:709). Synergy with outward organizational change is not fostered here, but rather an emphasis upon eventual and outward personal change (Ladd 1981:563-564).

In 1 Corinthians 4:6 Paul warns his skeptics that he applies (meteschematisa) certain constrictions to his outward teachings, because of his desire to be a faithful and trustful servant of Christ’s message (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). Braumann points out this connotes a thoroughness in transformation (Braumann 1967:709), while Scheider suggests here also lies an emphasis upon an outward appearance that is not the “expected or customary form” (Schneider 1964-1974:958). While this is closer to a description of organizational transformation into an unexpected form, meteschematisa here is applied personally and not corporately. Yet, the use of the term to describe unexpected or uncustomary outward changes in appearance that are due to inner enthuses will be suggested later to describe organizational change in the New Testament.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 contains the remaining instances of meteschematizo where the word is employed by Paul to describe a fallacious appearance of false apostles. The NIV describes this as a “masquerade,” while the NASB and RSV employ the less animated “disguise.” Yet, the usage here retains an external emphasis based upon an inner adjustment, but again applies it personally rather than corporately.

A scouring of theological summaries provides limited analysis of organizational change beyond the above understandings. And thus we find tantalizingly useful words, but not applied to the organizational transformations we seek to discuss in this monolith. Subsequently, an analysis of New Testament history, especially as reflected in Luke’s writings of the Acts of the Apostles (an intentional delimitation to ensure this discussion is not unwieldy), can provide an understanding of the forces for change and resultant processes employed under the unction of the Holy Spirit within the early church to organizationally transition from a Jewish sect into a widespread force for altruism, faith and change.

Scholarly Discussion of a Theology of Ecclesial Organizational Change

A Scriptural focus upon personal change may have resulted in ecclesial organizational change receiving less than adequate analysis among theologians. A search of American Theological Library Association (ATLA) databases provides less than a handful of journal articles on a theology of change. And, most investigate the personal, cognitive and behavioral change that humans undergo, rather than corporate change. A few however, bear mentioning.

Ellen Charry posits an interesting contribution to her reflections upon Jurgen Moltmann’s work, titled “Reviving Theology in a Time of Change” (Charry 1996). Though designed to address the task of theology in the elastic world of postmodernity, she none-the-less argues for new workings in theology while hinting at the importance of studying the dynamic tension between theology and changing contexts. Charry opens the door for more study on the synergies created when contextual change intersects theology. She leaves the reader standing with the door ajar, perhaps wishing her reader or students to cross the threshold. However, her contribution is not just in the observation that contextual change is a force unfairly neglected in theology inquiry, but also in her conclusion that postmodern generations eschew broad systemizations in favor of fluid and elastic understandings where change serves as a force to be reacted to and embraced (Charry:118)

In a similar vein, Martyn Percy pens a hopeful “A Theology of Change for the Church” in his contribution to a book on Anglican ecclesial management (Percy 2000). However, the result is a less than satisfying theological apologetic for Anglican polity and practices as responses to change (2000:177-178). A theology of how ecclesial organizational change occurs is not evident, overshadowed by a defense of denominational polity and actions. Nor does a Biblical theology emerge from this discussion, rather Percy tenders an apologetic for Episcopal-based structures and hierarchical controls (2000:177). Not unexpectedly, the result is better labeled a theology of changing (see my upcoming explanation), and still bears greater resemblance to a theology of leadership, with sub-sets of control and administration.

However, it is de Jongh van Arkel who hints at the potential for a theology of change in his insightful article “Understanding Change as Practical Theologian” (De Jongh van Arkel 2001). Though discussing a theology of personal change, he observes that “in theology we often talk about change as if there were little to explain or understand” (2001:31). This tendency to avoid what on the surface seems pedestrian and self-explanatory may also be the malady of any investigation of theology and its relationship to ecclesial organizational change. De Jongh van Arkel argues that “religious change …. is still an open field for research” with a potential to result in a more complex, yet holistic view of humankind and its actions (2001:58). He thus sees a requisite duty of theologians to analyze this theological step-child to elicit “a more informal understanding and theory of change (that) would become part of our basic theories in practical theology” (2001:31). While de Jongh van Arkel is making his arguments largely targeted at crafting a more holistic theology of personal change, the same should be true of the construction of a theology of ecclesial organizational change; where both are subsets of a practical theology.

A contributing factor to what de Jongh van Arkel describes as a modernist neglect of a theology of change, may be because change is a messy, uncharted and muddled arena. It has been observered that a modernist Christendom likes to have its concepts tidy and neatly packaged (Dockery 1995:14-15; Oden 1995:27-31; Grenz 1996:71-81). Yet, postmodernity seems to have no apprehension toward tackling the shadowy-side, of Christian life and community (Whitesel 2006:108-123). Mike Yaconelli penned a book popular among postmodernal young people that eschewed Christianity as a nice, codified set of principles, and rather acknowledged it as unclear, ambiguous and even sometimes hazardous to personal mental peace (Yaconelli 2002). Brian McLaren’s summative title, A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/protestant, Liberal/conservative, Mystical/poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-Yet Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished Christian (McLaren 2004) alludes to this multiplicity. Hermann Hesse’s protagonist may have said it best, when he insinuates modernist man longs for the regimentation of the Middle Ages, by stating “a man of the Middle Ages would detest the whole mode of our present-day life as something far more than horrible, far more than barbarous. Every age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and ugliness; accepts certain sufferings as matter of course, puts up patiently with certain evils” (Hesse 1957:22).

Subsequently, there may be little hesitation for postmodernal thinkers to closely examine and conjecture on the relationships between change, theology and organizational behavior. De Jongh van Arkel’s avoidance hypothesis, is hopefully no longer required by a generation that sees and welcomes both beauty and ugliness in God’s creation, including the church and its theology.

Even over a quarter century ago these tensions were shaping the mind of Michael Ryan (Ryan 1975). While contributing to a volume he edited on The Contemporary Explosion in Theology, Ryan suggests that life-cycle forces are causing a reevaluation of modernist institutions and their beliefs by younger generations (1975:1). Though embracing a postmodernist viewpoint, Ryan does not utilize the term postmodern. Instead he prefers to call for the contemporary theologians bursting upon the scene to contemplate the dynamic tensions inherent in change and craft an understanding (1975:10-16). Due to its inevitability, Ryan encourages that change be embraced by the church, because there are “vital forces and new institutions around them demanding that they change, that they adapt to new conditions of life” (1975:1).

Toward this cultural and theological demand, the remainder of this monolith will seek to inaugurate a discussion. While theologians such as Percy, de Jongh van Arkel, Ryan and others have scratched the surface, it is the hope that this present study will release creative new ideas for theological inquiry, and will enlarge research of ecclesial organizational change and a theology that might inform it.

 Historical Evidence of a Theology of Ecclesial Organizational Change

Download the rest of the article HERE: ARTICLE ©Whitesel – Toward a Theology of Ecclesial Change PhD

MISS 600 LEAD 600 LEAD 558

STUDENT SUCCESS & A Schedule to Pace Yourself for Maximum Online Learning

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10/16/15.

It began about two decades ago, when a new friend (Russ Gunsalus) and I were trained to teach online IWU courses. And over that time the most important lesson I’ve learned has been to pace yourself.

If you are an online student you may initially get overwhelmed at the many postings and comments that keep appearing on the online interface.  But, don’t get overwhelmed.  No one is expecting you to respond to all postings.  Rather, as professors we are looking to see that you understand the concepts we are studying, and that you are helping each other apply them to your unique situation.

Thus, don’t try to comment on everything other students say.  But rather, add to the conversation with good ideas, further insights, or germane experiences.

Also, here is a typical schedule I see many students utilizing (you don’t have to use this if it does not work for you, but I have found it very beneficial to take two days off each week 🙂

Friday: read material, answer one question in each forum from the downloadable syllabus.

Saturday: off

Sunday: off

Monday: Read other posts and reply (bringing in 2-3 textbooks and 3-5 outside sources per forum for maximum points).

Tuesday: Read other posts and reply, begin working on your paper that is due Thursday at midnight.

Wednesday:  Less posting and more writing on your paper.

Thursday: Very little posting and mostly working on the paper that is due at midnight

Friday: start again.

I’ve used this schedule and I find it very helpful. In fact in the decades I’ve been teaching online I’ve discovered that I am a better teacher if I take off Saturday and Sunday to recharge (and that is also when I conduct a lot of my research). Thus, I will not be online on Saturdays and Sundays … but will be back with you Monday morning. If there is an emergency you can always email me on the weekend and I will respond.  But if not, just know that I will connect with you again on Monday.

And, very soon you too will get into the rhythm of online education  and what works best for you (just like you did in college).  Though you are in graduate school now, you will soon find that navigating this online interface will be easier, you will know how to organize your online comments/schedule and you will be whisked away to more fruitful ministry in the company of some very good online friends

CONVERSION & John Wesley’s view of Conversion #Podcast


by @heathmullikin and @jeremysummers, GroundSwell, http://www.missionaldiscipleship.com.

Today’s conversation is with Dr. Bob Whitesel.  He is a founding professor of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University and current Professor of Missional Leadership.  He has two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary where he was awarded the Donald McGavran Award for “Outstanding Scholarship in Church Growth” by the faculty.  Dr. Whitesel is the  author of 11 books, including the award-winning series on evangelism titled, “Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey”  He is married to his college sweetheart Rebecca and they have four daughters and four grandchildren.  Today, we talk with Dr. Whitesel about John Wesley’s view of conversion and discipleship. We would love your feedback by commenting on the blog, joining our Facebook group, or tweeting us @heathmullikin and @jeremysummers using the hashtag #groundswell. For more information on the Spiritual Formation Department of the Wesleyan Church click here.

Dr. Whitesel’s website at bobwhitesel.com.

Great church resources at churchhealthwiki.com.

Join Dr. Whitesel on wesleytours.com.

ATTENDANCE & A List of Principles That Break the 1,000 & 1,500 Barriers #ElmerTowns #GaryMcIntosh

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “I often ask student-researchers in my Missional Church MISS 600 course to research and compile a list of strategies and tactics to break through different church size barriers.  Below is a list complied by students in churches facing 1,000 and 1,500 size barriers (with their commentary on their perception of the relevance of each strategies/tactics).”

Kenny G. said:

Towns (1998) has suggested 8 issues that churches around 1,000 begin to deal with.

1.     Uncharted Waters – in this section he notes that it is at this point that pastors and boards typically begin to enter areas of leadership that they do not understand and they have trouble spotting the troublesome issues (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para. 6).j

2.     Growth itself as a barrier – here he notes that the increased number of people leads to more problems because there are more people with more problems which adds layers of complexity (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para8).

3.     Lack of cohesion in critical mass – At this level, Towns, Wagner, and Rainer (1998) notes that the things that hold the group together begin to become less noticeable and thus, there is a lack of cohesion (Chapter 7, para. 9).

4.     Platform for growth without personal bonding – the church grows because of its platform and not because of personal relationships. This leads to a bit of the revolving door syndrome which keeps new people coming in but not staying (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer 1998, Chapter 7, para. 10).

5.     Space limitation – this one sort of speaks for itself; the church runs out of room for new people (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para. 13). Park Chapel is dealing with this issue right now.

6.     Change in leadership style – at this level the leadership must shift to a more executive style (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para. 20).

7.     Limited pastoral leadership – the senior/lead/head pastor must shift his/her focus from ministry directly to the congregation to equipping/training those who will serve the ministries (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para. 23).

8.     Projection of needs onto the congregation – pastors must look to the diversity of needs in the growing congregation instead of the one or two things that got them to this point (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para. 29).

Gary McIntosh (2009) offers things that a church must do to get beyond the 1,500 mark.

1.     Adjusting roles of board and staff – the board (in PC’s case, elders) must step out of everyday decision-making and let that be handled by the staff. The board functions as the policy forming, overall budgeting, values, and long-range planning issues (McIntosh, 2009, p. 165)

2.     Adjust staff organization – the senior pastor must change how he/she functions either to more executive-type leadership or to a team of leaders (McIntosh, 2009, p. 166).

3.     Team Building – staff members must shift from being “practitioners” to “team-builders” because the numbers necessitate more hands on ministry than they themselves can provide (McIntosh, 2009, p. 166).

4.     Be a church of small groups – the church must shift from having small groups to be a church of small groups (McIntosh, 2009, p. 167). This allows the congregants to continue to experience the cohesion that is necessary for them to stick around and develop more intimate relationships.

5.     Think beyond the local church – must have a globally minded board (and ministers) because the church’s impact with stretch beyond their local context (McIntosh, 2009, p. 167).

As can be seen, many of these suggestions in McIntosh address the issues raised by Towns, Wagner, and Rainer. This is the best I could come up with – and I apologize for potentially causing my fellow classmates more work.

McIntosh, G. L. (2009). Taking your church to the next level: What go you here won’t get you there [Google Books version]. Retrieved from books.google.com

Towns, E., Wagner, C. P., & T. S. (1998). The everychurch guide to growth: How any plateaued church can grow [Lifeway Reader version]. Retrieved from reader.lifeway.com