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«A PRACTICAL THEOLOGY OF LEADERSHIP WITH INTERNATIONAL VOICES MARK LAU BRANSON AND JUAN FRANCISCO MARTÍNEZ Abstract: Branson and Martínez have ...»

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A PRACTICAL THEOLOGY OF LEADERSHIP

WITH INTERNATIONAL VOICES

MARK LAU BRANSON AND JUAN FRANCISCO MARTÍNEZ

Abstract: Branson and Martínez have written

elsewhere on matters of church leadership; in this

article, they focus on contributions to this topic by

scholars from other nations. They use the frame of

practical theology to structure their inquiry,

modeling the value of input from social theory, migration studies, various Christian resources, and personal and corporate local narratives. They posit that church leaders need to listen not only to international scholars but also to the international voices in their own church pews and in other churches. In particular, they draw attention to how the growing Latino population in the United States should impact our understanding of leadership.

Introduction In broad terms, leadership is about shaping learning environments and connecting with diverse resources so that a social group can engage in change. Such environments are composed of men and women and their relationships, the habits they inhabit, the memories and knowledge readily available, their shared imaginary concerning identity and agency, their cooperative activities, and how they understand and relate to men and women who are near to or far from their group.

Mark Lau Branson is the Homer Goddard Associate Professor of Ministry of the Laity at Fuller Theological Seminary Juan F. Martínez is Associate Provost at Fuller Theological Seminary and Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies and Pastoral Leadership Branson and Martínez co-authored Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities (IVP Academic, 2011) Journal of Religious Leadership, Vol. 10, No. 2, Fall 2011 28 BRANSON AND MARTÍNEZ In this article, Mark Lau Branson begins with two generic descriptions concerning churches and latemodern approaches to leadership, with apologies for the obvious stereotypes involved. From there he will describe and use a practical theology method to explore leadership praxis. The overall direction is to move from current praxis to new praxis. While steps are presented sequentially, in practice they will loop back on each other, reshaping meanings and surfacing new questions and resources. The overall method serves the discernment of new praxes, but the actual work of shaping the needed imagination and experiments is in step 5. While such a method has numerous sources for reflection, this article will pay special attention to non-U.S. voices. At several points, Juan Martínez provides sections that engage realities and stories related to specific U.S. contexts with a continuing and growing presence of Latinos. Both authors raise the following questions: What are the benefits of our porous borders in regard to churches (Latino and others) in the United States, and how does that situation call for rethinking leadership practices?1 Pentecost: Who matters? Who is an agent? (Branson) The Pentecost event of Acts 2, in addition to being an audio-visual spectacle, focuses on languages, borders, ethnicities, power arrangements, belonging, and agency.

Israel was literally an occupied country; a few weeks prior, Jesus had been crucified by Roman and Jewish rulers. It was unsettling for the authorities that Jesus’ body was missing, that there had been reports of sightings and conversations, and that a modest messianic movement had not abated.

Shavuot (Weeks) is one of the three required Jewish festivals, but unlike Sukkot (Booths) and Pesach (Passover) it was only one or two days long. (God knows that when a farmer begins a grain harvest and leaves

1 Our own experiences have been primarily in the United States, so we write

from and to that context. We believe much of what we write may be useful for our Canadian neighbors to the north.

Journal of Religious Leadership, Vol. 10, No. 2, Fall 2011 BRANSON AND MARTÍNEZ 29 home to sacrifice the first sheath, it is not the time for a week of picnics or liturgies.) Jerusalem likely had pilgrims who could either make the walk or were not tied to agrarian work, but this festival was not a major attraction for international pilgrims. That contextual reality may serve to clarify our reading of the Acts text. After the description of prayerful waiting, a roaring wind, a visual anomaly akin to flames, and a cacophony of diverse

languages, Luke writes (Acts 2:5-11):

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” (CEB) The listed peoples represented a significant geographic spread, far beyond weekend treks. Based on grammar (“living in Jerusalem”) and the shortness of the festival, it is likely that many of these Jews (including proselytes) were senior citizens who had moved to Jerusalem for their retirement years. They brought their ancient languages with them and perhaps set up neighborhoods so they could maintain regional customs and conversations. Like residents of Palestine, they were accustomed to the empire’s language of Greek, and everyone usually functioned in that common language. So it was quite a surprise (“They were all surprised and bewildered”) to hear their regional, parochial languages from these Galileans. Luke credits the entire event to Journal of Religious Leadership, Vol. 10, No. 2, Fall 2011 30 BRANSON AND MARTÍNEZ God’s Spirit, which is consistent with how the Spirit makes concrete the life and mission of God.2 So this transitional and defining event places emphases on (1) the value of international connections;





(2) the importance of culturally diverse groups in a geographic setting; (3) the use of diverse languages even when a dominant language is available; (4) the inclusion and potential agency of senior citizens; (5) the Spirit’s innovative initiatives; (6) the central role of persons who are not in structural authority; and (7) the follow-up work of interpretive leadership (as Peter, using the common tongue, tries to explain everything). As the stories of Acts continue, the role of Antioch becomes notable, and the agencies of non-Palestinians and non-Jews gain prominence. If leadership is to be adequate to the Spirit’s engagements, it needs to attend to what God makes real and possible among the common people – the diverse participants – in every location.

Practical Theology, Leadership, and International Voices (Branson) How can U.S. church leaders benefit from leadership resources beyond our borders? What can churches gain by learning conceptual and practical resources rooted in other contexts? What benefits are available in the resources of academics and pastors from other nations as well as of the voices of immigrant and culturally diverse persons in our own churches? The constant work of relating actions with knowing, of shaping interpretive communities as communities of practice, is work that defines the relationship between church leaders and

Even though some theological perspectives indicate that the Holy Spirit is

primarily ethereal, Craig Van Gelder posits, and we agree, that the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Bible indicates concrete, located, specific activities of God-on-the-ground. This is especially relevant to our topic because a key role of leadership is that of discerning, with a group, how they can participate in God’s initiatives. See The Ministry of the Missional Church, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 23–46.

Journal of Religious Leadership, Vol. 10, No. 2, Fall 2011 BRANSON AND MARTÍNEZ 31 churches. The framework of missional ecclesiology3 creates a nexus that impacts the relationship of a church with its context, leaders with participants, and the whole church with the Trinity. Practical theology serves as a method for connecting diverse methods and resources for this set of topics.

I will outline a basic practical theology method and relate the method to the question of how U.S. churches might benefit from leadership resources available through porous borders, then Martínez will demonstrate that these resources are not just for academically-trained leaders but are also available in and through the everyday Christians in our churches.

The practical theology method that I will use is rooted in Brazilian educator Paulo Freire.4 Among his significant contributions is his approach to praxis, which has its roots in Aristotle. There are two primary traits of praxis for Aristotle: that it is an activity of free persons and that the telos is embedded in the action. Working as an educator in the oppressive environment of Brazilian laborers, Freire sought means for liberation, and he knew this was not just a matter of more or even specialized information. The move toward agency had to be something that people chose, and the telos of freedom had to be embedded in the activities. Strategic plans for democracy committees would not work; education about the technical means of production in modern life was also inadequate. Rather, “This [liberation] can be done only by means of the praxis: reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.”5

3 For some primary books on missional ecclesiology, see Lesslie Newbigin,

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989); Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007);

Darrell Guder (ed.), The Missional Church, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998);

and Alan Roxburgh & M. Scott Boren, Introducing the Missional Church, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), and Alan Roxburgh, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011).

4 Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness (New York: Crossroad, 1974) and Pedagogy for the Oppressed (New York: Seabury, 1970).

5 Freire, Pedagogy, 36.

–  –  –

Freire’s access was that of literacy education, and he leveraged this for something the Brazilian government did not appreciate. The adults who entered into the literacy courses did not just memorize words and definitions and conjugations; they received a new imaginary that they too were creators of culture.

This shift of imagination required another key move.

Epistemology is not fundamentally a matter of amassing data – information – but requires a continuous cycling of action and reflection. An assumed mode of learning, in which people acquire theories that are then applied to life (theory-to-practice, or the banking approach), is rejected in favor of this iterative mode of praxis-theory-praxis. As individuals and as groups, we engage our environment (praxis); then we step back and reflect on ourselves, our environment, and on available theories and information;

then we reengage, based on a new understanding of ourselves and our context. This is learning – this is knowledge – the action-reflection cycle that defines praxis-theory-praxis.

Freire’s basic praxis model is behind the practical theology I have constructed, with appreciation to Journal of Religious Leadership, Vol. 10, No. 2, Fall 2011 BRANSON AND MARTÍNEZ 33 Thomas Groome,6 Ray Anderson,7 and Craig Van Gelder,8 in service of the work of theological reflection and congregational discernment. I understand the role of leaders to be that of attending to the work of a congregation’s praxis in light of these resources. In basic terms: (1) we name and describe our current praxis, (2) we analyze our praxis and context by using cultural resources, (3) we bring our Christian texts into conversation with our praxis, (4) we tell and listen to our own stories regarding our praxis, and (5) we discern and experiment on our way to a new praxis.

With Freire and the practical theology method as means for sorting and discerning, I will engage other non-U.S.

resources and indicate how they might contribute to leadership and discernment in U.S. churches. For convenience I will associate each author with a particular step of the practical theology cycle, but it should be selfevident that each will often overflow into other steps.

This nonlinear, iterative mode is also how the method works in the daily life of a congregation; the categories serve to shape questions, observations, and imaginations, but forced categories would undermine the creative 6 Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1999).

7 Ray Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001).

8 Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church.

–  –  –

Step 1: Name and Describe Current Praxis (Branson) This first step provides a description of current praxis, which in this article is framed by the theme of congregational leadership. This description names activities, actors, context, and forces that may shape praxis. In general terms, church leadership in the United States has been shaped by the historic forces of the Enlightenment and Romanticism as embedded in late modernity. For example, scientific rationalism, rooted in the Enlightenment, led to modern management theory and strategic planning.9 Romanticism, with its fronting of sensuality, affectivity, and expressive individualism, shaped consumer preference and marketing, family systems based in therapeutic models, and a subfield of volunteerism.10 Two common scenarios illustrate how

these social forces show up in churches:

9 For an informed account of history, philosophy, and social theory behind



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