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Ministry in Context

Developing Practical Wisdom: A Reflection on Systems Theory

In the third semester of our Christian Public Leader course for Master of Arts students in the professional degree pathway, we focus on Developing Practical Wisdom while serving in context. Our guide this semester has been the book, Leading Change in the Congregation: Spiritual and Organizational Tools for Leaders by Gilbert Rendle (Alban Institute, 1998).

In our most recent preceptorial for this class, we considered a story coming out of the chapter on general systems theory. It caused us to think about language and its power within the systems in which we live out our calls. Rendle writes:

“Ideas and language provide a focus and framework for our understanding. They also prevent us from seeing beyond that same focus and framework. The power of ideas and of language to help us to understand or to limit our understanding or to limit our understanding should not be underestimated.

Language and the assumptions carried by the images we use are surprisingly powerful and surprisingly limiting, because they define the way in which we will think about our world. We cannot assume that our own culture, which we might look at as more developed or more sophisticated than others, is any less focused, controlled, or limited by the language, images, and ideas we use to understand it.”

Language and the assumptions carried by the images we use are surprisingly powerful and surprisingly limiting, because they define the way in which we will think about our world. I wonder if you have considered the language used in your setting, and whether it is used intentionally or unintentionally?

Some communities refuse to use the word “member” and prefer “disciple” or something else to describe followers of Jesus. To many, the word “member” has connotations of gathering with like minds, a club, or a closed group that may expect benefits (of some sort) and simply does not grasp the missional identity of Christians in the world today.

Think about the language in your community. Perhaps there are some words that could use some redefining for a new day!

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Blog editor: Lisa Carpenter
Administrative Coordinator
lcarpenter001@luthersem.edu

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Authors

Luther Seminary
Contextual Learning Coordinator
Luther Seminary
Deployed Associate
Luther Seminary
Pastor
Edmonds Lutheran Church & Luther Seminary