Leading Change

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Churches, Cultures, and Leadership

Sometimes your wife’s seminary education is contagious and you decide to order your own copy of one of her textbooks. Two months ago I started reading Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities (by Dr. Mark Branson and Dr. Juan F. Martinez) to sharpen my leadership chops in the realm of racial and cultural reconciliation. With one chapter to go, I’m pretty sure I never read a seminary textbook more thoroughly, even when I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1999-2000. From the explanations of the praxis cycle (an approach to practical theology described as the cycle of continual movement from experience to reflection and study, and then onto new actions and experiences), the leadership triad (interpretive, relational, and implemental), and significant exploration of social relations and cross-cultural dynamics at play in society and the church, this book covers a LOT of ground yet in an accessible way that is easy to digest (mostly).

Amazon sums it up more eloquently:

As the church continues to hear and heed Christ’s call to reflect the multiethnic character of his people, pastors and lay leaders need to gain skills and competencies to serve in those contexts. The multicultural team of Juan Martinez and Mark Branson has written this book to equip such leaders to create environments that make God’s reconciling initiatives apparent in church life and in our missional engagement with neighborhoods and cities.


Generated by courses they teach at Fuller Theological Seminary, Branson and Martinez take an interdisciplinary approach that integrates biblical and theological study with the disciplines of sociology, cultural anthropology and communications. The result is a rich blend of astute analysis with guidance for practical implementation of a deeper intercultural life for the church.


Case studies, Bible studies and exercises for personal reflection and classroom use connect the real life and everyday challenges that inevitably arise in multi-ethnic contexts. Martinez and Branson offer not static model but a praxis of “paying attention,” reflection and study that can lead to a genuine reconciliation and shared life empowered by the gospel that is personal, interpersonal, cultural and structural.

As I stated, I have one chapter to go so why rush to write this blog post? Well first, the last chapter is very short so…. Just kidding! Throughout chapter 10 which is titled Leading Change, Dr. Branson lists on nearly every page several bulleted lists which he calls “The work of leaders.” I found them so compelling that I wanted to document them in one place for future reflection. The lists are shown grouped as they are in the book.

The work of leaders

  • Prioritize conversations
  • Use a diversity of locations
  • Encourage opportunities to be in homes
  • Ask about personal and family stories
  • Ask about church stories
  • Notice and articulate the strengths and gifts of the church

  • Pay attention to the changing relationships between church and context
  • Note trends with generations, demographics and civic life
  • Learn how the church learns and what influences its imagination

  • Find numerous sources for information on the context
  • Learn from other churches and their leaders
  • Ask leaders and members to join you in research

  • Weave together Bible stories with the stories of the church and community
  • Give participants time to make observations and connections

  • Ask questions that elicit the most life-giving narratives and traits of the church
  • Provide training and opportunities that increase the value of conversations
  • Move from conversations to small-scale experiments shaped by participants

  • Pay attention to relational connections
  • Notice community connections
  • Make new relationships and nurture existing networks

  • See the community through the eyes of others
  • Continue shaping new conversations and explore opportunities
  • Build trust through listening and caring
  • Connect on-the-ground stories with biblical stories
  • Address complex issues by broadening awareness and trying experiments

  • Attend to discomfort — in yourself and others
  • Clarify surface issues
  • Identify perspectives and habits that contribute to the tension

  • Note practices that are rooted in societal and cultural norms
  • Encourage and protect voices that explore change
  • Shape conversations by suggesting autobiographical resources
  • Expand the perspectives of those in discussions about change

  • Encourage experiments
  • Connect intercultural initiatives with other topics needing attention
  • Increase the number of leaders and connect them with each other
  • Shape a community that learns from others
  • Increase intergenerational partnerships

  • Make known cross-cultural experiences among church members
  • Encourage curiosity
  • Engage neighbors in conversations about their work and lives

  • Increase the number of persons thinking about the neighborhoods
  • Use different media to encourage participation
  • Connect conversations about the context with worship and liturgy

  • Shape opportunities for both side-by-side work and face-to-face conversations
  • Encourage more connections between families and households
  • Partner with other churches
  • Evaluate initiatives and discern new opportunities

In the last paragraph, Dr. Branson writes, “leadership is about shaping environments in which the everyday people of the church find that their own imaginations can be engaged by God’s initiatives for them and their neighbors.

May your and my imaginations be engaged by God’s initiatives for us and our neighbors.


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