Tag Archives: adult learning

Initial Interpretation of the Findings

This section will provide provisional interpretation and reflection on specific findings from the data. I said, in chapter three, that this research was done from and for a missional imagination of the church. It is with this perspective in mind that we frame our findings. More specifically, it is with the leadership of the local congregation in mind—both clergy and lay leaders—that we name our findings.

Our specific research question was: How might an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations? Therefore, we must first address the obvious question. Did the increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity have any impact at all on the team’s ideation and praxis of spiritual formation? Then we can address the second, and more complicated question. If it did have an impact, how was it impacted?

Increased Awareness and Understanding

The first question is easy to answer. Yes. Every member of the team reported that they felt changed as a result of the project. This is an expected result. It would be highly unlikely for a group of people who spent twenty-two hours in large group conversation and nine months engaged in action projects to experience no change at all. So, it is not surprising that the process impacted the team.

However, before we move to the question of how the team was impacted, we must first pause and look more closely at the nature of the increased awareness and understanding itself. It is one thing to be aware of something. It is an entirely different thing to understand that thing. We asked how an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity might impact the team. One thing that the team agreed on was that the project definitely increased their awareness of the social Trinity. None of the team members had previously heard the terms social Trinity, relational Trinity, or entangled Trinity. Therefore, the fact that they watched the videos and engaged in the subsequent discussion automatically raised their awareness. This was a success. However, it became painfully obvious that our success in understanding the social Trinity was questionable.

Many team members expressed a sense of confusion, and sometimes frustration, over their struggle to understand the idea of the social Trinity. Sharon’s statement was the strongest critique and serves as a representative of some team member’s thoughts. She said,

I think the instruction suffered. I felt like we needed more instruction to understand the basis, the project, the terminology…There wasn’t a good grasp of social Trinity. I don’t know that everybody was on the same level with what is the Trinity, who is the Holy Spirit, what is that? So, I felt, more instruction, using Bible verses on what is the Holy Spirit. What was his role with the apostles? What were some examples of the Holy Spirit at work after Jesus left the earth, would have been a better foundation to go to the next step.

A critique like this has an initial sting for the teacher. Did we fail? One could argue that the research was not valid because the team did not actually understand the social Trinity. Some of the team felt confused and frustrated by the vagueness of the question and the intention of the project. I must acknowledge the possibility that my chosen method of introducing the social Trinity was inadequate to the task.

I presented the social Trinity in three ways.[1] First, I engaged the team in Dwelling in the Word that was focused on the Upper Room Discourse in the Gospel of John. Second, I created four animated videos which we viewed during session four and to which the team had unlimited access on the website. Third, I presented a narrative during session four of how my encounter with the social Trinity impacted my understanding of spiritual formation. This narrative was followed by a group discussion. I did not choose to present a traditional lecture-style lesson or assign heavy reading to the group. However, the team was aware of the DITB blog and some engaged in my ongoing conversation and writing about the Trinity on their own initiative. I must be open to the possibility that these methods did not help the team increase in its understanding.

However, one could also argue that the fact that the team experienced confusion and frustration was not as much due to the methods I chose to present the social Trinity, but is due to three other factors. The first factor has to do with teaching methods. I stated in chapter two, that I draw upon the theories and methods of Parker Palmer and Stephen Brookfield. Palmer contrasts the expert-teacher-centered model with the subject-centered relational model. The object of study, in the first model, is observed by the expert and is separated from the learners. The expert then turns around and inputs the knowledge of the object to the students, filling them up like empty vessels. The second model that Parker presents is the subject-centered model. Here the topic is not the distant object of observation but is the subject that sits as a conversation partner in the center of the circle of learners. The teacher, in this model, sits among the circle as a participant learner and simply facilitates the dialogical process of interacting with the subject.[2]

Brookfield’s methodology similarly calls for communicative action in the learning environment in which adult learners are allowed the freedom to engage with the subject on their own terms.[3] Perhaps the RT expected the teacher-centered model and equated that model with “further instruction” based upon their experience in modern educational systems. My use of the latter methodologies, and their foreignness to some of the team members, may have contributed to the feelings of fuzziness and frustration.

The second factor that may have contributed to the sense of frustration is related to the topic itself. How can a finite human understand the Trinity? One might argue that we should be more worried about the instructional methods if there was not confusion and frustration. If the team members felt a full confidence that they completely understood the Trinity then that might be evidence that my presentations did not educate the team, but indoctrinated the team by colonizing them with a particular understanding of the Trinity. In other words, an authentic encounter with the Trinity should always leave the student with a certain level of confusion and frustration. This is true regardless of teaching style or the level of education—from catechism lesson to doctoral seminar. We simply cannot fully understand the mystery of Trinity.

The third factor that led to the sense of frustration may be related to the term understanding itself. Is it possible to measure understanding? Perhaps this speaks to the difference between the terms understanding and explanation. The modern mind has a desire for clarity.[4] It seeks to explain things through scientific language. However, there is a distinct, and theological, difference between understanding and explanation. To explain something is to approach the object with a sense of superiority and complete knowledge of the object. To understand something is to approach it as a subject, like another person, whose complexity defies explanation. To understand something is to come into relationship with it and to engage in an ever deepening, experiential knowledge of it. Parker Palmer says that the goal of the educational process is to know as we are known.[5] God knows us, not as an object to be summarized and explained, but as a person to be loved. Perhaps Sharon’s desire for more instruction was more reflective of the modern desire for explanation, than a true critique of our understanding. We, as finite humans, can never explain the Trinity. Her critique begs the question: How much further instruction would have been enough to reach an adequate level of increased understanding? There will always be fuzziness, vagueness, and a frustrating sense of mystery in the study of Trinity.

Heather offered a helpful perspective that brought balance to this question. She said:

In those first weeks, you presented the ideas, and then, whether we examined ourselves, or not, that had to be up to us. You couldn’t have made any of us examine ourselves. And, just by presenting the material, the only logical place to go is to examine your own thoughts to see where it fits. So, I think you presented complex ideas and presented them well, and then, going into projects and things…there was…I’m not exactly sure how to say it…there was a vagueness to that. And I don’t know if you could have done anything different about it. But, sometimes it kind of felt floundering. And if you intersected, then that means we’re not letting the Holy Spirit, do it. In some ways it would have been nice to have more direction, but in other ways…maybe its better if you’re not the one telling us what to do.

Was there an adequate increase in awareness and understanding of the social Trinity for the team to experience an impact on their ideation and praxis of spiritual formation? The completely honest answer is that there is no way to know. However, the data seem to indicate that the RT authentically engaged with the difficult subject of the social/relational/entangled Trinity to the point that it affected the way they think about and approach the practice of spiritual formation.

There is one saving grace in the way the question was presented. We did not set out to gain a complete understanding of the social Trinity. That, as we have already discussed, is impossible. We simply set out to increase the awareness and understanding of the social Trinity. Given the discussion above, it is safe to say that the RT did experience an increase in both awareness and understanding of the social Trinity that led to a change in the way they think about and approach the practice of spiritual formation.

How was the Team Impacted?

So far we have established that there was an adequate increase in awareness and understanding (in various degrees) of the social Trinity. We have also determined that the process of increasing the awareness and understanding did have some impact on the RT’s ideation and praxis of spiritual formation. Now we must ask the more complex question. How was the RT’s ideation and praxis impacted?

The answer to this question is complex. The RT consisted of nineteen individuals, including me. Each of us came into this project with a lifetime of stories and relationships that have shaped who we are and, specific to this project, how we think about the Trinity, spiritual formation, and the suburban context. Each one of us engaged in this project at various levels of intentionality as we juggled the rich textures of our daily lives in the frenetically busy suburban context. How can I possibly represent the impact that happened in each team member’s life in the confines of this limited dissertation? I wrestle with the balance between, on the one hand, writing a paper that expresses my own perspective, in my own voice, about what I perceive happened to the team members, or, on the other hand, allowing the voices of the team members to speak without filling reams of paper with their words in verbatim.

Ultimately, this is my paper and I can only ever understand from my perspective and speak in my voice. So, I must acknowledge that the findings and implications for leadership that I will share in the next chapter are primarily my own synthesis of the total research experience. However, I think it is appropriate that I allow space for each team member to summarize their findings in their own words. Therefore, I have included an extended summary of each team member’s journey in appendix D. This appendix cites extended verbatims of each team member at the beginning of the session, notes the specific projects in which they were involved, and highlights his or her own summary of how s/he was impacted by the project.[6]

A Directional Shift

I cannot articulate each individual’s journey within the confines of this dissertation. Therefore, I will attempt a simple synthesis of what the research revealed in direct relation to the research question itself. The data seem to indicate that an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity impacted the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in the RT members in two primary ways.

Vertical-Personal Spirituality

First, it provided new language and attentiveness to the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. Each team member entered the project with some awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The team members most able to express the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, at the beginning of the project, did so in such a way that the Spirit was the presence of God that helped guide the individual in either (a) personal devotion and relationship with God, or (b) the process of making life decisions. The ideation of the Holy Spirit, prior to the DITB project, seemed to reflect one of an internal and personal relationship with God. Let’s call this a vertical-personal spirituality in which God is perceived as being up there and the Holy Spirit is in here, within the individual. The role of the Holy Spirit, they reported, is to help the individual look up to God and grow spiritually in an internal manner. This vertical-personal relationship does not negate the horizontal, social relationships that individuals have with others. In fact, many team members indicated that small group involvement and corporate worship were important parts of their spiritual practices prior to the DITB project. However, the important dimension of the vertical-personal spirituality is that the horizontal relationships with others are not necessary to spiritual formation. In other words, it is possible, in the vertical-personal spirituality, to have a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit apart from social interaction with other people. This, I would argue, reflects the typical, modern, Western individualism that is especially expressed in the suburban context.

vertical-personal spirituality

Figure 15. Vertical-Personal Spirituality

Horizontal-Communal Spirituality

The DITB project provided the RT with new language and a new awareness of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit and, in my interpretation, helped them shift from a vertical-personal spirituality to a horizontal-communal spirituality. The horizontal-communal spirituality does not diminish the vertical-personal relationship of the individual with God, but expands the horizon of that relationship to become multi-dimensional. The RT team members expressed their increased awareness of how important, and even essential, relationships are to spirituality. The RT related that, when they began to use the language of relationality and entanglement to discuss the essence of God, and the possibility that it is the relationships of the three persons of the Triune God that creates and sustains life, it helped them to imagine how the Holy Spirit could be actively at work in the world apart from their own individual lives and even apart from the church. God’s presence was expressed in terms like air, wind, fire, and energy swirling around, in, and through us. The horizontal relationships that each of us, as individuals, has with everything and everyone around us is not only reflective of, but also essential to the essence of God. This kind of language was new, exciting, somewhat confusing, but also liberating to the majority of the RT.

_0025_Horizontal-Communal All Creation

Figure 16. Horizontal-Communal Spirituality

A Wholistic Umbrella

The second way that the social Trinity impacted the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in the RT team is that it helped the team realize that all activity in life can be included under the wholistic umbrella of spiritual formation. This second point greatly overlaps with the first point. The shift from vertical-personal spirituality to horizontal-communal spirituality opened up the RT’s awareness that being attentive to the neighbor and to the environment is as much a part of spiritual formation as the classic disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and meditation. This is a subtle, but important shift for similar reasons to those stated in the first point. A vertical-personal spirituality views the horizontal relationships as secondary and/or derivative to the primary relationship of the individual and God. In other words, the individual disciple must first cultivate the personal relationship with God and then the fruit of the Spirit will overflow into the horizontal relationships with others. The shift to a horizontal-communal spirituality places the horizontal relationships on an equal level with the vertical-personal relationship and disrupts the linear progression of God-individual-other. A horizontal-communal spirituality recognizes that it is only through loving in the horizontal relationships—family, neighbor, enemy, environment, etc.—that we can actually love God in the vertical relationship.

We must pause and acknowledge the limitation of the terms vertical and horizontal. These terms may be helpful in one way to describe the difference between God and creation, but it is equally problematic because it creates a false dichotomy between the two. The encounter with the social Trinity offered the RT language to understand how the love of neighbor is both different from loving God and the same as loving God. We love God by loving the other, and we can only love the other when we are connected to the love of God. This is not a linear, top-down flow of God’s love and power, but is a multi-directional, capillary, perichoretic flow of God’s love and God’s power in the world.

The evidence for the shift to a more wholistic umbrella of spiritual formation is found in the nature of the action projects that the RT chose to pursue. One would think that, if a group was heavily dominated by vertical-personal spirituality, it would have created projects that emphasized the more classic internal spiritual disciplines. Further, one would think that if the RT engaged in the social Trinity purely as an abstract idea—as an object of study—that they would have created projects that would have engaged others in the pursuit of studying the object of the social Trinity. The opposite was true. The majority of the action projects involved the RT engaging in relationship with other people for the purpose of creating community and/or providing service. Granted, some of the projects were a form of personal journaling. However, the content of the journal reflections revolved around the idea that God is actively involved in every aspect of life, not just those activities that have been traditionally considered sacred or spiritual.

Conclusion

The key findings from the data report that the RT noted the importance of relationships, reflection, and an increased awareness of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the World. This chapter attempted to analyze the “successfulness” of the project and synthesize these findings into a simplistic structure. The next chapter will turn toward theological reflection and implications of these findings for the academy and missional church leadership.

Footnotes

[1] I will explore these methods further in the next section.

[2] Palmer, To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey.

[3] Brookfield, Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices; Stephen Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, 1st ed., The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995); Brookfield, The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching.

[4] Read Descartes’ desire to dissect the object to its basic components and, thus explain it with the clarity of looking through the optics of the microscope.

[5] Palmer, To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey.

[6] I must acknowledge, however, that I am the editor of these statements. I read through all the data from each individual and made a choice about what I thought best captured their experience of transformation as a result of the project. Yes, these are the quotes from the individuals, but I, as the author, have set the frame. Thus is the nature of all knowledge and communication. It is framed, limited, and open to interpretation.

Theories of Adult Learning

The research question presented an educational challenge in which the pedagogical and research methodology was as important as the question itself. I was faced with a fundamental question during the planning phase of this project: Would I use modernist, instrumental methodologies to convince the team that certain ideas regarding the social Trinity are preferred to older models, or would I engage the team in a collaborative discovery process in which the outcome of the learning experience was unknown to me? I will articulate, in this section, how I framed the research project within a postfoundational, constructivist, participatory methodology by drawing upon the theoretical models found in Palmer, Kegan, Brookfield, and Hess.

Parker Palmer and Subject-Centered Learning

Parker Palmer teacher centered

Figure 3. Teacher-Centered Learning[1]

Parker Palmer provides a helpful contrast between two pedagogical models that describe the shift from modernist to postfoundational methodologies and that help explain my choice of methodology for the DITB project. The first model is the teacher-centered model that is built upon the myth that knowledge is something that can be obtained through objective observation of a topic. The role of the teacher, in this model, is to acquire enough knowledge about the object of study to be considered an expert in that particular field. The teacher then turns away from the object of study and turns toward the students, who lack knowledge and are amateurs in the field. The students are empty vessels that must be filled up with knowledge by the expert until the students reach a level of knowledge when they, too, have the potential to be considered an expert.

The teacher-centered model is untenable for the missional leader for both epistemological and ethical reasons. Knowledge is hermeneutically situated within the relationality and perspective of the knower. [2] Therefore, according to this epistemological perspective, objective knowledge is a myth. The teacher-centered model is ethically untenable because it creates a power differential within the learning environment that is dangerous in two ways. First, it establishes a power hierarchy in which the teacher is considered essentially better and more powerful than the learner. Second, this hierarchical system promotes hegemony and colonizing tactics for the indoctrination of ideas and the perpetuation of command-and-control political systems rather than the freedom to explore new ideas and the ability to discern what God is doing in the world.[3] It would be very difficult for the leader of a local congregation to utilize a teacher-centered methodology and seek a missional imagination in the church.

Parker Palmer subject-centered

Figure 4. Subject-Centered Learning[4]

Palmer offers an alternative model—the subject-centered model—that dispels the myth of objective knowledge and embraces postfoundationalist epistemology.[5] The subject-centered model recognizes that any given topic is, what Palmer calls, the “great thing” around which we gather. It is both an object and a subject. It is an object in that it is separate from the learner and can be observed. However, it is also a subject in that the topic brings something to the learner that invites the learner into dialogue. The subject-centered model situates both the learner and the teacher into a more democratic space than the teacher-centered model. Hess suggests that the teacher, in this model, is someone who is simply a little further down the road than the others in the circle in regard to the “great thing” around which they are gathered. Someone who is new to the great thing might have something equally important to contribute.

This model of teaching and learning suggests that knowledge is a dynamic, relational process, rather than a static, isolated quantity. It suggests that the “great thing” in the middle of the diagram might be a script for our participation in the construction of knowledge, as compared to the first model, where knowledge is something isolated from most people, and dimply transferred through the mediation of a teacher.[6]

This is not to deny the need for leadership, however, or the power differential that inherently exists between the teacher and the student. Palmer argues that teaching is the act of creating a space in which obedience to truth can be practiced.[7] The teacher must design a space that facilitates, or “holds” the possibility for subject-centered learning to occur.

It is important to note the language of figure 3. The students that form the circle around the subject are no longer labeled “amateur,” nor are they labeled “student” or “learner.” They are called “knower.” This is significant for Palmer and has theological implications. Palmer asserts that education is a deeply spiritual process that goes far beyond the acquisition of knowledge, but is the process of knowing in the same way that we are known. We know in the context of relatedness, and ultimately, our relatedness exists in our relatedness to God. In essence, learning is a form of prayerful meditation in which we experience the other, and in so knowing, are more fully known.[8]

It was important for the DITB project that I adopt a subject-centered model for the RT. Given my position as a teaching pastor and a researcher, and given the dominance of teacher-centered methods in the church and the educational systems in which the RT was raised, it was only natural that the RT expected me to present the social Trinity in a lecture-style manner. I had to break this expectation. The “great thing” around which we gathered in the DITB project was the intersection of the Trinity, spiritual formation, and the suburban context. I, as the teacher, brought these topics into conversation and placed that conversation in the center of the group. The RT gathered around it and we entered into a multifaceted, relational interaction with it and with each other. I would argue that this became a “script”[9] for Trinitarian praxis in the construction of knowledge in this project.[10]

Robert Kegan and the Evolving Self

The methodologies chosen for the DITB project draw heavily upon Robert Kegan’s theories of what it means to be human and how humans develop. The uniqueness of Kegan’s theory is that it brings together existentialist psychology with developmental psychology and creates a third way that he calls a “constructive-developmental” tradition that attends to the development of the activity of meaning-constructing.[11] Kegan asserts that human beings are not “beings,” but that the human being is an activity. He says, “It is not about the doing which a human does: it is about the doing that a human is.”[12] The activity of being human is the process of making meaning out of experiential data in community. We are relational beings that continually interact in our physical and social environment and make meaning out of those interactions as we develop throughout the course of our lives.[13]

Kegan observes that neuro-typical humans have the potential to evolve through five basic orders of consciousness that alter the subject/object relationship as it pertains to making meaning. Each order is like a filter, or a set of lenses through which the individual makes sense out of—or “orders”—the experiential data. The filter is part of the subject/observer that influences how the object is perceived and understood. The filter is not perceived in itself, but is the ubiquitous lens that colors the data. As the individual evolves into the next order, she moves outside of the previous filter, and is able to observe the previous filter as a new object. This new order of consciousness is, in itself, a new filter that alters her positionality as a subject/observer and allows her to perceive the previous filter and make dramatically different forms of meaning than was previously possible. The relationship between these five orders is like the relationship between a point, a line, a plane, a sphere, and a tesseract. Each one is part of, but beyond the previous order. Kegan has also observed that most neuro-typical humans reach the third order of consciousness during adolescence and stay there for the rest of their lives.

A sketch of Kegan's 5 Orders of Consciousness analogous to geometrical nodes.
A sketch of Kegan’s 5 Orders of Consciousness analogous to geometrical nodes.

Figure 5. Kegan’s Orders of Consciousness

It was commonly believed, prior to the 1980s, that all significant cognitive development ceased in late adolescence. In other words, a person’s ability to change the way they think stops at the onset of adulthood. It was believed that the only type of change that an adult can expect to experience is technical change. They cannot change the way they learn or the way they perceive the world. Kegan’s research seriously challenges this understanding of human development.

Kegan discovered two more orders of consciousness through which humans can move as adults. There is an important distinction between the first three orders and the last two orders. The first three orders evolve naturally in the neuro-typical child, and most neuro-typical humans begin adulthood functioning at a third order of consciousness. Unlike child development, however, not every adult will automatically progress to fourth and fifth order consciousness.

The following is a brief description of third, fourth, and fifth order consciousness. Kegan uses historical periods in Western history as a metaphor to describe these orders:

Kegan third-order

Figure 6. Third-Order Consciousness

Third Order. Kegan describes the third-order consciousness as traditionalism. It is like the time in medieval Europe when the average citizen was born, lived, and died within the same village. Each person knew his or her place in society and knew the rules of that society. The world was comprised of “right” and “wrong” and each person had the choice to either comply with society or to rebel against it. The distinctive feature of this order of consciousness is that the rules of society are the filter through which the individual perceives and makes meaning out of all reality. There are no other societal systems from which to choose, there is only “the way things are.” The person operating from third-order consciousness views all other people through his or her own filter and judges them according to that system. It is important to note that this judgment is not born out of bigotry, but out of the intrinsic belief that there is actually only one way to view the world.

Kegan fourth-order

Figure 7. Fourth-Order Consciousness

Fourth Order. Kegan uses the modern era to describe fourth-order consciousness. The twentieth century has brought the modern person into constant contact with multiple cultures and a never-ending stream of data. This barrage of data has caused us, in the modern era, to feel “In Over Our Heads”[14] and unable to cope with competing cultural perspectives and the relationships which are constituted by those competing cultural dynamics. The person in third-order consciousness, when faced with another cultural system different from her own, naturally creates us and them boundaries, declaring her us to be the correct way of perceiving the world and the other’s them to be wrong. These harsh boundaries have contributed to violence and bloodshed throughout the centuries of cultural interaction. The individual who evolves into fourth-order consciousness transcends the third-order filter and perceives that her system is one system among many. She then becomes an objective observer of systems. She is a free agent in the world, able to negotiate between systems, voluntarily interacting and valuing other systems. This consciousness allows an individual to pursue peaceful transactions with an “other” and to manage modern, plural, realities.

Kegan fifth-order

Figure 8. Fifth-Order Consciousness

Fifth Order. Kegan uses the emergence of Western culture into the postmodern era as a way to describe fifth-order consciousness as it emerges from fourth-order thinking. There is a blessing and a curse in fourth-order consciousness. The blessing is that an individual is able to negotiate peaceful transactions between multiple systems. The curse, however, is that an individual cannot see beyond isolation, atomism, a monadist perspective on the world, where while it is possible to observe that there are multiple systems, it is not yet possible to see how they interpenetrate and “make each other up.” This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and nihilism.

Fourth-order consciousness has inherent flaws. First of all, it is impossible for an individual to stand outside of her own system and observe it objectively. She is part of the system, and her part of the system is the lens through which she observes. Objectivity is a myth and—in Gadamerian terms—we all bring our own horizon to the exchange.[15] Secondly, not only is it impossible for the individual to stand outside her own system, it is also impossible to be completely whole as an atomistic monad. Fifth-order consciousness, in contrast to this isolationist tendency, begins to realize that the Other is not a completely separate monad with whom one can have voluntary interchange, but, rather, the relationship with the Other is necessary for constituting ones own self. All things in the universe are interwoven and mutually constitutive.[16] In other words, we need each other in order to survive. Kegan argues that it is only when humans reach fifth-order consciousness that we can begin to understand that there are viable, peaceful alternatives to violent conflicts when negotiating significant political and ideological differences between individuals and cultures. These peaceful alternatives to violence will be more likely to lead to the mutual survival of the species than the more combative tendencies of third and fourth-order thinkers.

Kegan argues that human beings can actually learn and develop, with support, into fourth and fifth-order consciousness.[17] He has discovered that, through reflective personal and communal critique, an individual can move past blind spots and begin to practice thinking differently, thus perceiving reality from a fourth or fifth order consciousness.

Kegan’s theory is an important framework for the DITB project for three reasons. First, I would argue that Kegan’s theory describes relational ontology and provides helpful language to support my critique of substance ontology.[18] His proposal that human being is the activity of making meaning in community aptly describes the social/relational/entangled Trinitarian essence of life that I will explore in the next chapter.

The second reason Kegan’s theory is important for the DITB process has to do with spiritual formation. The process of moving from one order of consciousness to the next is a form of self-transcendence that correlates with Schneider’s definition of spirituality and the purpose for spiritual formation that I will introduce in the next section.[19] Kegan suggests that, with proper support from a caring community, the individual can overcome her immunity to change and progress to the next order of consciousness. Self-transcendence does not happen automatically and must begin with a form of “conversion” or “awareness” experience that is followed by intentionality.[20] This process is in step with the Vision, Intention, and Means of Dallas Willard that I will also introduce in the next section.

Kegan’s discussion of the fifth-order of consciousness also offers practical reasons why it is necessary for the suburban Christian to be concerned with spiritual formation. Kegan argues that, unless more humans move into fifth-order consciousness, our current human condition of escalating violence at a global level will lead to self-annihilation. This motivation for spiritual formation may be more accessible to the typical suburbanite than mere personal piety, or the fear of Hell and the hope for Heaven in the afterlife.

The third reason Kegan’s theory is important for the DITB project has to do with the purpose of the missional church. Kegan argues that the activity of human being is meaning-making. We are not empty vessels that come to church to be filled with knowledge from the teacher-centered ministry of the Word. We are not isolated, atomistic individual substances that randomly float through space in voluntary transactions. We are humans-beings-making-meaning-together.[21] I would suggest that the missional leader is called to structure spaces in which humans can be together to be human. The act of engaging the research team in participatory, communicative action demonstrated the missional church’s vocation to invite people into being fully human as we make sense out of the Trinitarian life together.

Stephen Brookfield and Critical Social Theory

Stephen Brookfield’s pedagogical theories also form an important framework for the DITB project, and help to explain why I structured the project as a participatory action research team. Brookfield asserts that the facilitation of adult learning is not the smooth voyage along a storm-free river of self-actualization, but is a “transactional drama in which personalities, philosophies, and priorities of the facilitators and the participants interact continuously to influence the nature, direction, and form” of the learning process.[22] Brookfield critiques previous attempts at andragogy,[23] citing that it is based upon modernist notions of top-down models of learning. These older models are what Paulo Freire calls banking models in which the student is seen as an empty vessel and the teacher pours objective knowledge into the bank of the student’s open mind.[24] The andragogy model, Brookfield contends, supports oppressive systems that perpetuate the hegemony of Imperial regimes.

Brookfield’s pedagogical theory draws from four theoretical streams: ideology critique, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, analytic philosophy and logic, and pragmatist constructivism. This fusion, which he calls critical pragmatism,

is one that accepts the essential accuracy and usefulness of the reading of society embedded within ideology critique. It also allies itself with the struggle to create a world in which one’s race, class, and gender do not frame the limits within which one can experience life. However, it is also skeptical of any claims to foundationalism or essentialism, that is, to the belief that there is one, and only one, way to conceive of and create such a society.[25]

He believes that adult learning should empower the student to become critically reflective of the dominant culture, thus able to communicatively construct alternate modes of being and doing that will strive for equity and justice. The adult learner brings as much to the learning environment as the instructor. It is the instructor’s job to structure and structure environments in which the students can engage in communicative rationality.

Brookfield’s pedagogical methodologies are especially important for the suburban context in which the DITB project took place. This may seem ironic at first, since most of the theoretical underpinnings of his theory come from Marxist and/or liberation-of-the-oppressed perspectives. His theory is important for this research on two levels. First, the people in the RT are situated within the privileged, white, suburban class that benefits directly from capitalism. There is an intrinsic blindness to this social position that needs a pedagogical methodology that will not perpetuate the hegemony, but will unmask it as a destructive power. Brookfield says that,

Critical teaching begins with developing students’ powers of critical thinking so that they can critique the interlocking systems of oppression embedded in contemporary society. Informed by a critical theory perspective, students learn to see that capitalism, bureaucratic rationality, disciplinary power, automaton conformity, one-dimensional thought, and repressive tolerance all combine to exert a powerful ideological sway aimed to ensure the current system stays intact. Critical thinking in this vein is the educational implementation of ideology critique; the deliberate attempt to penetrate the ideological obfuscation that ensures that massive social inequality is accepted by the majority as the natural state of affairs. Adults who learn to conduct this kind of critique are exercising true reason, that is, reason applied to asking universal questions about how we should live.[26]

Is this not the same question that the missional leader desires to lead the church into asking? As Christians, we pray each week that God’s kingdom may come, that God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. I invited the RT to come together to dream new dreams regarding spiritual formation in the suburbs. It was my desire to echo the questions that Brookfield suggests are the purpose of his theory:

What kind of societal organization will help people treat each other fairly and compassionately? How can we redesign work so that it encourages the expression of human creativity?[27]

The second reason Brookfield’s theory is important for the DITB project is his emphasis and implementation of praxis.

[his pedagogical theory] centers on the need for educational activity to engage the learner in a continuous and alternating process of investigation and exploration, followed by action grounded in this exploration, followed by reflection on this action, followed by further investigation and exploration, followed by further action, and so on.[28]

The praxis cycle is at the heart of participatory action research. I structured the DITB project around the cycle, both at the macro and micro level. The macro level was organized around three phases. The first phase drew the RT together to interact, challenge their previous thinking, collaborate new ideas, and devise a plan of action. The second phase dispersed the team into the field to act out their plans. The third phase regrouped the team to make meaning out of the action. The desire was that this third phase would launch the team into further action, beyond the end of the project, based upon the reflective process. This macro process reflected the reflection-action-reflection praxis cycle.

The micro level also supported the praxis cycle. Each team session allowed space for communicative action in the form of structured dialogue in multiple forms; dyads, triads, and small groups; quiet space for personal journaling; and large group discussion. Furthermore, the RT was encouraged to interact on the website discussion forum throughout the full course of the project. The action and communicative reflection created the tension necessary for the praxis Brookfield suggests.

Mary Hess, Participatory Action Research, and Digital Media

Mary Hess’s work with digital media and religious education provides a strong framework for both the use of digital media and the use of participatory action research methodology in the DITB research project. Digital media played a big part in the DITB project. First, I established a private online discussion forum for the RT to interact with each other at any time. Second, I created animated videos to communicate the initial information regarding the social Trinity. I showed the videos to the RT during session three, but the videos were also posted on YouTube and on the project website prior to the meeting.[29] This allowed the RT unlimited access to the videos. Third, the RT members were invited to create personal journals throughout the course of the project and either post them to the discussion forum or email them directly to me. Finally, I continually blogged about my ongoing research and invited the RT to interact with the blog via comments, discussion forums, and/or personal emails.[30]

Hess argues that creating space for interactive digital media,[31] like I described above, is reflective of the Trinitarian relationality that I have argued for in this project.[32] Hess also argues that digital technologies help religious educators to: (1) provide a richer, more multiply intelligent environment within which to learn; (2) provide more opportunities for real collaboration; (3) give pastoral leaders a better angle of vision on the challenges their congregations are facing and the specific assumptions with which they enter learning; (4) provide better access to primary-source materials, and (5) overcome constraints of geography and time.[33]

Hess has also provided the framework for why participatory action research was not simply a stylistic choice on my part for pursuing this academic project, but was inherently necessary for the proper pursuit of the question. Hess argues that all knowledge is situated, contextual, and communicatively constructed knowledge, and therefore, any attempt to research a question within the realm of religious education must be pursued within the context of a contextually situated people.[34] The purpose of this kind of research project is to “re” “search;” to search again and reexamine previously held beliefs and to collaboratively re-construct new meaning through the process of the communicative action that can best be structured within a participatory action research project.[35]

The DITB research question seeks to explore the impact of the social Trinity within suburban ELCA congregations. This question can only be asked and answered by suburban ELCA people. Some might argue that the limited scope of this project renders its findings unhelpful for the general use of the church at large. Hess argues that such positivist notions of knowledge are not the only—and perhaps not even the best—way to describe the universe. She further argues—drawing from feminist theology—that

research methods that refused to ‘own their partiality’ would be actively discouraged. The pursuit of universal truths would become the pursuit of highly specific truths that yet have the ability to speak to myriad difference…It is precisely this kind of research, that actively owns its commitments and is explicitly situated within a specific community, that I believe is most useful for religious educators.[36]

The DITB project explored the suburban ELCA congregation. The majority of people in the suburban context have access to the internet and various interactive digital media.[37] A research project within the context of religious education for the purpose of the missional church necessitates a space that promotes communicative rationality. Given these facts, it was an obvious choice to structure the project as a participatory action research project.

Footnotes

[1] Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, 10th anniversary ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 100.

[2] I will argue this point in chapter three.

[3] I will argue in the Word of God frame and the missional frame that the missional leader seeks to facilitate spaces in which the local congregation can dwell in the Word and in the World in order to listen and to discern what God is doing in the world and to join God in the missio dei. A teacher-centered hierarchical system would be toxic to this goal.

[4] Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, 102.

[5] Palmer does not necessarily identify it is postfoundationalist. This is a term that I will introduce below as my preferred moniker for our current post/late-modern cultural and epistemological milieu.

[6] Mary E. Hess, Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind, Communication, Culture, and Religion Series (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005), 7.

[7] Parker J. Palmer, To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey, 1st HarperCollins pbk ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993).

[8] Ibid., 11.

[9] Hess, Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind, 4ff.

[10] Another helpful model is Communicative Theology in which the experience of God happens in the communicative action between the I, IT, WE, and GLOBE. Matthias Hilberath Bernd Jochen Scharer, The Practice of Communicative Theology: Introduction to a New Theological Culture (New York: Crossroad Pub. CO, 2008).

[11] Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 4.

[12] Ibid., 8.

[13] I created an animation to help visualize the evolution through the five orders. http://www.deepintheburbs.com/in-over-our-heads-by-robert-kegan/ (accessed February 12, 2015)

[14] Robert Kegan, In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994).

[15] See Gadamer, Truth and Method. I will explore this further in the next chapter.

[16] This is, in my opinion, a psychological expression of relational ontology that I will explore in chapter three.

[17] Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, Leadership for the Common Good (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009).

[18] Western Christianity has been dominated by the Platonic ideal of substance ontology, in which all things can be reduced to a simple, perfect form that has a fundamentally distinct substance from that which is different from it. e.g. human substance is distinct from animal substance which is distinct from divine substance. This creates an ontological gap between things that may or may not be passable. Relational ontology, on the other hand, begins with the relationality of all things as constitutive of individual particulates. I will expound upon this point in the next chapter.

[19] Here I understand the self to be the filter through which the individual makes meaning in any particular order. The filter is a socially constructed self that orders experiential data. It may be helpful—although beyond the scope of this paper—to discuss the relationship between the social me and the I that George Herbert Mead suggests. When the I becomes aware of the me—the filter of the order in which the self is operating—it can, through supportive, reflective, communicative action, transcend that self and become a “new self” that has a broader perspective. This is, I would suggest, spiritual formation. See George Herbert Mead and Charles W. Morris, Mind, Self & Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (Chicago, Ill.,: The University of Chicago press, 1934).

[20] Walter Conn also bases his definition of conversion upon human developmental models. He says, “In turning life and love upside down, however, religious conversion does not destroy the authentic moral autonomy of personal responsibility. Indeed, the criterion of both religious conversion and the development of personal autonomy is self-transcendence. Justice, universalizing faith, generativity, and interindividual intimacy all insist on mutuality as the norm of authentic autonomy. Only the inauthentic notions of absolute autonomy and self-fulfillment are contradicted by the self-transcending love and surrender of religious conversion. Christian religious conversion is not the antithesis but the completion of personal development toward self-transcending autonomy.” Walter E. Conn, Christian Conversion: A Developmental Interpretation of Autonomy and Surrender (New York: Paulist Press, 1986), 268.

[21] Cf. Groome’s agent-subjects-in-relation. Thomas H. Groome, Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry: The Way of Shared Praxis, 1st ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 9.

[22] Stephen Brookfield, Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices, 1st ed., The Jossey-Bass Higher Education Series (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1986), vii-viii.

[23] A term made popular by Malcolm Knowles. See Malcolm S. Knowles, Elwood F. Holton, and Richard A. Swanson, The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, 7th ed. (Boston: Elsevier, 2011).

[24] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th anniversary ed. (New York: Continuum, 2000). See also the previous discussion of Parker Palmer’s model of teacher-centered vs. subject-centered learning. Figures 3 and 4.

[25] Stephen Brookfield, The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching, 1st ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005), 16-17.

[26] Ibid., 350.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Brookfield, Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices, 15-16.

[29] View the videos at the Deep in the Burbs website, “The Trinity Frame”. http://www.deepintheburbs.com/theoretical-frames/trinity/ (accessed February 12, 2015)

[30] It is interesting to note how one particular theological concept grew through the communicative action of blogging. I began the project by presenting the social Trinity. That was the language used for the animations that I created at the beginning of the project. However, as I progressed with my research I grew less comfortable with the language of social Trinity and more aligned with the language of relational Trinity or the entangled Trinity. I did not necessarily insert this shift into the RT sessions, but I wrote freely about it on the blog. Several of the RT members engaged me in constructive—and sometimes resistant—dialogue around this new language. It became evident in the final team sessions that the language of entangled Trinity had woven its way into the RT. See the commentary on Phil’s story in chapter seven.

[31] I make an important distinctive in this statement: interactive digital media. Not all media is conducive to the type of collaborative space that Hess is lauding. There has been a dramatic shift in media technology during the twentieth century. Print, radio, and television are media that are more like the trucking industry that ships information one direction. This type of media has been used to perpetuate the teacher-centered model of learning. Hess argues that the interactive digital media of the Internet creates the communicative spaces needed for subject-centered learning, and, I would argue, for Trinitarian praxis. See Mary E. Hess, “Pedagogy and Theology in Cyberspace: All That We Cant Leave Behind,” Teaching Theology & Religion 5, no. 1 (2002); Peter G. Horsfield, Mary E. Hess, and Adán M. Medrano, eds., Belief in Media: Cultural Perspectives on Media and Christianity (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004).

[32] Mary E. Hess, “What Difference Does It Make? E-Learning and Faith Community,” Word & World 30, no. 3 (2010): 284. See also Hess, Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind.

[33] Hess, “What Difference Does It Make? E-Learning and Faith Community,” 289.

[34] See my discussion of postfoundationalism in chapter three.

[35] Mary E. Hess, “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education,” Religious Education 96, no. 3 (2001): 284.

[36] Mary E. Hess, “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education,” Religious Education 96, no. 3 (2001): 279.

[37] It is important to note that, while most suburban citizens in the context of this project have access to interactive digital media, not all suburbanites embrace digital media. Some of the RT members were discouraged and intimidated by the use of digital media. I will discuss this further in the final chapter. Further, it is important to note the digital divide that exists between the socio-economic classes. Not everyone in society has free access to digital media. Therefore, digital media cannot be understood as the ultimate answer to democratic, emancipatory pedagogy. It is, within particular contexts, emancipatory and communicative, however, and must be embraced as such by religious educators.

Spiritual Formation and Adult Learning Theory: Establishing a Participatory Methodology

The DITB project is a story of people in formation. The research question itself has both explicit and implicit implications for how we should frame this project with regard to how people are formed. It explicitly names the term spiritual formation, thus it will be necessary to discuss and define this term in the context of the research. The question also implicitly refers to adult education in that it asks how an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity might impact ideation and praxis of spiritual formation. Therefore, it will be necessary to frame the project within a particular theoretical perspective on adult learning and pedagogical methodologies.[1]

Spirituality and Spiritual Formation: Defining Terms

What is spiritual formation, and more precisely, how do I use this term in the context of this research? In order to answer that question, I must briefly address the relationship between the terms spiritual formation and spirituality. Many people today are more comfortable with the term spirituality, because it has broader application than Christianity or any form of organized religion. I prefer the term spiritual formation because it implies movement and change. This is, admittedly, a personal preference and I will use the terms interchangeably throughout this paper.[2]

Schneiders makes a distinction between the definition of spirituality and the definition of Christian spirituality. Spirituality, she says, is “the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life-integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.”[3] Christian spirituality “as an academic discipline is an attempt to realize, by bringing serious and personally transforming study to bear on the ultimate human value of union with God, what is arguably the most cited text in the Christian canon, Jesus’ promise, ‘if you remain in my word you will become my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free’ (Jn. 8:31-33).”[4] She states that “the primary aim of the discipline of spirituality…is to understand the phenomena of the Christian spiritual life as experience…it is a function of interpretation (hermeneutics).”[5]

Schneiders’ perspective on spirituality gives further justification for the use of action research and constructivist methodologies. The act of the research itself was a form of spiritual formation as the RT interacted with the social Trinity, each other, and the neighbor.

Another important aspect of spirituality that frames this research is the idea that spirituality is inherently a public practice, not only a private one. Philip Sheldrake is a key voice in this perspective.[6] He says

the mystical-contemplative dimension of spirituality—often described in terms of interiority—is a vital ingredient in our engagement with transformative practice in the outer, public world. Unfortunately, however, Western culture remains deeply polarized. The private sphere (inwardness, family, and close friends) is privileged as the backstage where the individual is truly him/herself, relaxing unobserved before putting on various personae which the self needs in order to play out different roles on the stage of social life. But, from a Christian point of view, is living in public a matter of a role that it is possible to shed or opt not to play…. Human existence and Christian discipleship inherently embody a common task. “The public” is thus better thought of as a dimension of identity, an aspect of the individual self.[7]

Schneiders’ and Sheldrakes’ definition create an important focus for the issues to which we must attend in this research project. Schneiders, in an attempt to create the broadest definition of spirituality possible, indicates that spirituality is:

  1. Conscious involvement: Let us call this intentionality. Spirituality requires doing something. The individual has some agency.
  2. Life-integration through self-transcendence: Let us call this the means. There is a process in which (1) all of life takes on integrated meaning—it has purpose, and (2) the means to get there is to get beyond one’s self.
  3. Toward the ultimate value one perceives: Let us call this vision. Spirituality requires a goal—a telos—that compels the individual to take action and move toward self-transcendence.[8]

These categories are like empty boxes allowing each individual, operating from his or her own lifeworld, to fill in the blanks. What unifies all spiritualities is that they have these boxes, but what distinguishes them is what they place inside the boxes.

This system correlates with Dallas Willard’s proposal of VIM—Vision, Intention, Means.[9] I mention Dallas Willard in this context for the following reasons. First, it is my observation that there are two camps in the Spiritual Formation/Spirituality conversation in the academy today. The line seems to be drawn along similar contours of the classic fault line between Ecumenical Christians and Evangelical Christians that has characterized Western theology in the twentieth century.[10] Schneiders and Sheldrake represent the former and Willard and Foster[11] represent the latter. Second, Dallas Willard was a significant part of my spiritual formation.[12] Third, I believe an important move for the future of the missional church is for these two camps to begin cross-pollinating with more frequency.[13] Fourth, I believe that one of the primary reasons for this division is the ongoing debate between transcendence and immanence that I noted in the Trinity Frame.

The fourth point mentioned above is worth parsing out further. It gets at the heart of what I am trying to discern through this research project. It is my assumption that the model of the Trinity an individual operates within—either the Transcendent Immanent Trinity or the Immanent Economic Trinity—is related to how she “fills in the blanks” of Schneiders’ boxes.

Allow me to draw a caricature of each lifeworld in order to demonstrate the differences. On the one hand, the typical evangelical Christian functions within the lifeworld of dualistic, substance ontology—the Transcendent Immanent Trinity. This informs the Vision, Intention, and Means accordingly. The vision is to escape the physical world so that the individual might be united with God in Heaven. The intention rests solely on personal agency, fueled by radical individualism. The means, and definition of self-transcendence, is to (a) pray to accept Jesus as Savior (this is dying to self), and (b) work diligently to practice spiritual disciplines to promote personal holiness (read as separateness from the fallen world) and to be empowered to share the Gospel with others so that they might also escape the physical world. Self-Transcendence, then, is the ultimate, substantive transcendence to be with God in Heaven when you die, or when Jesus returns, whichever comes first.

On the other hand, the typical ecumenical Christian functions within the immanence lifeworld, in which there is only one substance—the physical universe—of which God is indistinguishable—the Immanent Economic Trinity. The vision is to either (a) bring about peace on earth through the eradication of war, poverty, hunger, and disease, or, (b) to find inner peace, tranquility, and to find resonance with the energy of the universe (God). The intention is pure individual agency. The means is through either (a) community participation—understanding that community is the voluntary association of individuals—getting everyone involved to work together toward the common good, or (b) spiritual practices like meditation and yoga that are intended to bring the physical body into alignment with the universe (God). The self-transcendence of the former is to put the good of the many over the good of the self. The self-transcendence of the latter is to release the illusion of the false-self—Ego—and connect to the true self that is one with the universe (God).[14]

These two Christian Spiritualities are radically different and form a seemingly irreconcilable duality. Ironically, they exist as two sides of the same modern dogma. They exist because of the dualisms prevalent in modernity—the Platonic dualism that divides God from creation, the Cartesian dualism that divides observer from object and spawns rationalism, and the Kantian dualism that divides perceiver from object, and spawns subjectivism. It is my proposal that a postfoundational theology—which is formed within the social/relational/entangled Trinity—provides a third way that can reconcile these divergent Christian Spiritualities and invite the body of Christ to imagine new rhythms of spiritual formation that reform the church in a missional imagination to be prophetic public companions witnessing to the hope of God’s preferred and promised future. It is my further proposition that both Schneiders/Sheldrake—on the ecumenical side—and Willard—on the Evangelical side—are already making those moves through a phenomenological understanding of knowledge and communicative action.[15]

Theories of Adult Learning

A consistent theme throughout this chapter and its various frames has been the move from a modernist perspective to that of a postmodern or postfoundational perspective. This theme continues in our discussion of adult learning. The research question presented an educational challenge in which the pedagogical and research methodology was as important as the question itself. I was faced with a fundamental question during the planning phase of this project: Would I use modernist, instrumental methodologies to convince the team that certain ideas regarding the social Trinity are preferred to older models, or would I engage the team in a collaborative discovery process in which the outcome of the learning experience was unknown to me?

It should be apparent from the previous discussions regarding the Trinitarian nature of the Word of God, postfoundationalist epistemology, the missional church, and the social/relational/entangled Trinity that it was necessary that I engage the research team in a methodology that embodied these ideological perspectives. I will now articulate how I framed the research project within a postfoundational, constructivist, participatory methodology by drawing upon the theoretical models found in Palmer, Kegan, Brookfield, and Hess.

Parker Palmer and Subject-Centered Learning

Parker Palmer teacher centeredParker Palmer provides a helpful contrast between two pedagogical models that describe the shift from modernist to postfoundational methodologies and that help explain my choice of methodology for the DITB project. The first model is the teacher-centered model that is built upon the myth that knowledge is something that can be obtained through objective observation of a topic. The role of the teacher, in this model, is to acquire enough knowledge about the object of study to be considered an expert in that particular field. The teacher then turns away from the object of study and turns toward the students, who lack knowledge and are amateurs in the field. The students are empty vessels that must be filled up with knowledge by the expert until the students reach a level of knowledge when they, too, have the potential to be considered an expert.

The teacher-centered model is untenable for the missional leader for both epistemological and ethical reasons. We have already discussed the postfoundational assertion that knowledge is hermeneutically situated within the relationality and perspective of the knower, therefore revealing that objective knowledge is a myth. The teacher-centered model is ethically untenable because it creates a power differential within the learning environment that is dangerous in two ways. First, it establishes a power hierarchy in which the teacher is considered essentially better and more powerful than the learner. Second, this hierarchical system promotes hegemony and colonizing tactics for the indoctrination of ideas and the perpetuation of command-and-control political systems rather than the freedom to explore new ideas and the ability to discern what God is doing in the world.[17] It would be very difficult for the leader of a local congregation to utilize a teacher-centered methodology and seek a missional imagination in the church.

Parker Palmer subject-centeredPalmer offers an alternative model—the subject-centered model—that dispels the myth of objective knowledge and embraces postfoundationalist epistemology. The subject-centered model recognizes that any given topic is, in itself, both an object and a subject. It is an object in that it is separate from the learner and can be observed. However, it is also a subject in that the topic brings something to the learner that invites the learner into dialogue. The subject-centered model situates both the learner and the teacher into a more democratic space than the teacher-centered model. The learner has been moved from the bottom of a hierarchy in which he or she is a passive receiver of information and has been placed in a circle of equals. Here, each learner is invited to bring his or her own lived experience to the dialogue with both the subject and the other learners. The teacher has also been moved from the top of the hierarchy and has been placed alongside the other learners in the circle of equals. The teacher is invited to bring his or her own lived experience to the dialogue with the other learners.

It is important to note the language of figure 7. The students that form the circle around the subject are no longer labeled “amateur,” nor are they labeled “student” or “learner.” They are called “knower.” This is significant for Palmer and has theological implications. Palmer asserts that education is a deeply spiritual process that goes far beyond the acquisition of knowledge, but is the process of knowing in the same way that we are known. We know in the context of relatedness, and ultimately, our relatedness exists in our relatedness to God. In essence, learning is a form of prayerful meditation in which we experience the other, and in so knowing, are more fully known.[19] I would argue that this is Trinitarian knowing and is the process that the RT engaged in during the course of our project.[20]

It was important for the DITB project that I adopt a subject-centered model for the RT. Given my position as a teaching pastor and a researcher, and given the dominance of teacher-centered methods in the church and the educational systems in which the RT was raised, it was only natural that the RT expected me to present the social Trinity in a lecture-style manner. I had to break this expectation and cultivate a space in which the RT had the opportunity to engage the subject of social Trinity in a democratic, dialogical manner in which I, as the teacher, was one learner among many.

Robert Kegan and the Evolving Self

The methodologies chosen for the DITB project draw heavily upon Robert Kegan’s theories of what it means to be human and how humans develop. The uniqueness of Kegan’s theory is that it brings together existentialist psychology with developmental psychology and creates a third way that he calls a “constructive-developmental” tradition that attends to the development of the activity of meaning-constructing.[21] Kegan asserts that human beings are not “beings,” but that the human being is an activity. He says, “It is not about the doing which a human does: it is about the doing that a human is.”[22] The activity of being human is the process of making meaning out of experiential data in community. We are relational beings that continually interact in our physical and social environment and make meaning out of those interactions as we develop throughout the course of our lives.[23]

Kegan observes that neuro-typical humans have the potential to evolve through five basic orders of consciousness that alter the subject/object relationship as it pertains to making meaning. Each order is like a filter, or a set of lenses through which the individual makes sense out of—or “orders”—the experiential data. The filter is part of the subject/observer that influences how the object is perceived and understood. The filter is not perceived in itself, but is the ubiquitous lens that colors the data. As the individual evolves into the next order, she moves outside of the previous filter, and is able to observe the previous filter as a new object. This new order of consciousness is, in itself, a new filter that alters her positionality as a subject/observer and allows her to perceive the previous filter and make dramatically different forms of meaning than was previously possible. The relationship between these five orders is like the relationship between a point, a line, a plane, a sphere, and a tesseract. Each one is part of, but beyond the previous order. [24] Kegan has also observed that most neuro-typical humans reach the third order of consciousness during adolescence and stay there for the rest of their lives.

A sketch of Kegan's 5 Orders of Consciousness analogous to geometrical nodes.
A sketch of Kegan’s 5 Orders of Consciousness analogous to geometrical nodes.

It was commonly believed, prior to the 1980s, that all significant cognitive development ceased in late adolescence. In other words, a person’s ability to change the way they think stops at the onset of adulthood. It was believed that the only type of change that an adult can expect to experience is technical change. They cannot change the way they learn or the way they perceive the world. Kegan’s research seriously challenges this understanding of human development.

Kegan discovered two more orders of consciousness through which humans can move as adults. There is an important distinction between the first three orders and the last two orders. The first three orders evolve naturally in the neuro-typical child, and most neuro-typical humans begin adulthood functioning at a third order of consciousness. Unlike child development, however, not every adult will automatically progress to fourth and fifth order consciousness.

The following is a brief description of third, fourth, and fifth order consciousness. Kegan uses historical periods in Western history as a metaphor to describe these orders:

Third Order. Kegan describes the third-order consciousness as traditionalism. It is like the time in medieval Europe when the average citizen was born, lived, and died within the same village. Each person knew his or her place in society and knew the rules of that society. The world was comprised of “right” and “wrong” and each person had the choice to either comply with society or to rebel against it. The distinctive feature of this order of consciousness is that the rules of society are the filter through which the individual perceives and makes meaning out of all reality. There are no other societal systems from which to choose, there is only “the way things are.” The person operating from the third-order of consciousness views all other people through his or her own filter and judges them according to that system. It is important to note that this judgment is not born out of bigotry, but out of the intrinsic belief that there is actually only one way to view the world.

Fourth Order. Kegan uses the modern era to describe fourth-order consciousness. The twentieth century has brought the modern person into constant contact with multiple cultures and a never-ending stream of data. This barrage of data has caused us, in the modern era, to feel “In Over Our Heads”[25] and unable to cope with competing cultural perspectives. The person in third order consciousness, when faced with another cultural system different from her own, naturally creates us and them boundaries, declaring her us to be the correct way of perceiving the world and the other’s them to be wrong. These harsh boundaries have led to violence and bloodshed throughout the centuries of cultural interaction. The individual who evolves into fourth-order consciousness transcends the third-order filter and perceives that her system is one system among many. She then becomes an objective observer of systems. She is a free agent in the world, able to negotiate between systems, voluntarily interacting and valuing other systems. This consciousness allows an individual to pursue peaceful transactions with an “other” and to manage modern, plural, realities.

Fifth Order. Kegan uses the emergence into the postmodern era as a way to describe the fifth-order consciousness. There is a blessing and a curse in the fourth order consciousness. The blessing is that an individual is able to negotiate peaceful transactions between multiple systems. The curse, however, is that an individual becomes an isolated, atomistic, monad in the universe, objectively observing the other system(s), but not participating in it/them. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and nihilism. Fourth Order consciousness has inherent flaws. First of all, it is impossible for an individual to stand outside of her own system and observe it objectively. She is a part of the system, and her part of the system is the lens through which she observes. Objectivity is a myth and—in Gadamerian terms—we all bring our own horizon to the exchange. Secondly, not only is it impossible for the individual to stand outside her own system, it is also impossible to be completely whole as an atomistic monad. Fifth-order consciousness begins to realize that the Other is not a completely separate monad with whom one can have voluntary interchange, but, rather, the relationship with the Other is necessary for constituting ones own self. All things in the universe are interwoven and mutually constitutive. In other words, we need each other in order to survive. Kegan argues that it is only when humans reach fifth-order consciousness that we can begin to understand that there are viable, peaceful alternatives to violent conflicts when negotiating significant political and ideological differences between individuals and cultures. These peaceful alternatives to violence will be more likely to lead to the mutual survival of the species than the more combative tendencies of third and fourth-order thinkers.

Kegan argues that human beings can actually learn and develop, with support, into fourth and fifth-order consciousness.[26] He has discovered that, through reflective personal and communal critique, an individual can move past blind spots and begin to practice thinking differently, thus perceiving reality from a fourth or fifth order consciousness.

Kegan’s theory is an important framework for the DITB project for three reasons. First, I would argue that Kegan’s theory describes relational ontology and provides helpful language to support my critique of substance ontology. His proposal that human being is the activity of making meaning in community aptly describes the social/relational/entangled Trinitarian essence of life that I have articulated in the Trinity frame.

The second reason Kegan’s theory is important for the DITB process has to do with spiritual formation. The process of moving from one order of consciousness to the next is a form of self-transcendence that correlates with Schneider’s definition of spirituality and the purpose for spiritual formation.[27] Kegan suggests that, with proper support from a caring community, the individual can overcome her immunity to change and progress to the next order of consciousness. The self-transcendence does not happen automatically and must begin with a form of “conversion” or “awareness” experience that is followed by intentionality. This process is in step with the Vision, Intention, and Means discussed in the previous section.

Kegan’s discussion of the fifth-order of consciousness also offers practical reasons why it is necessary for the suburban Christian to be concerned with spiritual formation. Kegan argues that, unless more humans move into fifth-order consciousness, our current human condition of escalating violence at a global level will lead to self-annihilation. This motivation for spiritual formation may be more accessible to the typical suburbanite that mere personal piety, or the fear of Hell and the hope for Heaven in the afterlife.

The third reason Kegan’s theory is important for the DITB project has to do with the purpose of the missional church. Kegan argues that the activity of human being is meaning-making. We are not empty vessels that come to church to be filled with knowledge from the teacher-centered ministry of the Word. We are not isolated, atomistic individual substances that randomly float through space in voluntary transactions. We are humans beings making meaning together. I would suggest that the missional leader is called to structure spaces in which humans can be together to be human. The act of engaging the research team in participatory, communicative action demonstrated the missional church’s vocation to invite people into being fully human as we make sense out of the Trinitarian life together.

Stephen Brookfield and Critical Social Theory

Stephen Brookfield’s pedagogical theories form an important framework for the DITB project and why I structured the project as a participatory action research team. Brookfield asserts that the facilitation of adult learning is not the smooth voyage along a storm-free river of self-actualization, but is a “transactional drama in which personalities, philosophies, and priorities of the facilitators and the participants interact continuously to influence the nature, direction, and form” of the learning process.[28] Brookfield critiques previous attempts at andragogy,[29] citing that it is based upon modernist notions of top-down models of learning. These older models are what Paulo Freire calls banking models in which the student is seen as an empty vessel and the teacher pours objective knowledge into the bank of the student’s open mind.[30] The andragogy model, Brookfield contends, supports oppressive systems that perpetuate the hegemony of Imperial regimes.

Brookfield’s pedagogical theory draws from four theoretical streams: ideology critique, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, analytic philosophy and logic, and pragmatist constructivism. This fusion, which he calls critical pragmatism,

is one that accepts the essential accuracy and usefulness of the reading of society embedded within ideology critique. It also allies itself with the struggle to create a world in which one’s race, class, and gender do not frame the limits within which one can experience life. However, it is also skeptical of any claims to foundationalism or essentialism, that is, to the belief that there is one, and only one, way to conceive of and create such a society.[31]

He believes that adult learning should empower the student to become critically reflective of the dominant culture, thus able to communicatively construct alternate modes of being and doing that will strive for equity and justice. The adult learner brings as much to the learning environment as the instructor. It is the instructor’s job to structure and facilitate environments in which the students can engage in communicative rationality.

Brookfield’s pedagogical methodologies are especially important for the suburban context in which the DITB project took place. This may seem ironic at first, since most of the theoretical underpinnings of his theory come from Marxist and/or liberation-of-the-oppressed perspectives. His theory is important for this research on two levels. First, the people in the RT are situated within the privileged, white, suburban class that benefits directly from capitalism. There is an intrinsic blindness to this social position that needs a pedagogical methodology that will not perpetuate the hegemony, but will unmask it as a destructive power. Brookfield says that,

Critical teaching begins with developing students’ powers of critical thinking so that they can critique the interlocking systems of oppression embedded in contemporary society. Informed by a critical theory perspective, students learn to see that capitalism, bureaucratic rationality, disciplinary power, automaton conformity, one-dimensional thought, and repressive tolerance all combine to exert a powerful ideological sway aimed to ensure the current system stays intact. Critical thinking in this vein is the educational implementation of ideology critique; the deliberate attempt to penetrate the ideological obfuscation that ensures that massive social inequality is accepted by the majority as the natural state of affairs. Adults who learn to conduct this kind of critique are exercising true reason, that is, reason applied to asking universal questions about how we should live.[32]

Is this not the same question that the missional leader desires to lead the church into asking? As Christians, we pray each week that God’s kingdom may come, that God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. I invited the RT to come together to dream new dreams regarding spiritual formation in the suburbs. It was my desire to echo the questions that Brookfield suggests are the purpose of his theory:

What kind of societal organization will help people treat each other fairly and compassionately? How can we redesign work so that it encourages the expression of human creativity?[33]

The second reason Brookfield’s theory is important for the DITB project is his emphasis and implementation of praxis.

[his pedagogical theory] centers on the need for educational activity to engage the learner in a continuous and alternating process of investigation and exploration, followed by action grounded in this exploration, followed by reflection on this action, followed by further investigation and exploration, followed by further action, and so on.[34]

The praxis cycle is at the heart of participatory action research. I structured the DITB project around the cycle, both at the macro and micro level. The macro level was organized around three phases. The first phase drew the RT together to interact, challenge their previous thinking, collaborate new ideas, and devise a plan of action. The second phase dispersed the team into the field to act out their plans. The third phase regrouped the team to make meaning out of the action. The desire was that this third phase would launch the team into further action, beyond the end of the project, based upon the reflective process. This macro process reflected the reflection-action-reflection praxis cycle.

The micro level also supported the praxis cycle. Each team session allowed space for communicative action in the form of structured dialogue in multiple forms—diads, triads, and small groups—quiet space for personal journaling, and large group discussion. Furthermore, the RT was encouraged to interact on the website discussion forum throughout the full course of the project. The action and communicative reflection created the tension necessary for the praxis Brookfield suggests.

Mary Hess, Participatory Action Research, and Digital Media

Mary Hess’s work with digital media and religious education provides a strong framework for both the use of digital media and the use of participatory action research methodology in the DITB research project. Digital media played a big part in the DITB project. First, I established a private online discussion forum for the RT to interact with each other at any time. Second, I created animated videos to communicate the initial information regarding the social Trinity. I showed the videos to the RT during session three, but the videos were also posted on YouTube and on the project website prior to the meeting.[35] This allowed the RT unlimited access to the videos. Third, the RT members were invited to create personal journals throughout the course of the project and either post them to the discussion forum or email them directly to me. Finally, I continually blogged about my ongoing research and invited the RT to interact with the blog via comments, discussion forums, and/or personal emails.[36]

Hess argues that creating space for interactive digital media,[37] like I described above, is reflective of the Trinitarian relationality that I have argued for in this project.[38] Hess also argues that digital technologies help religious educators to: (1) provide a richer, more multiply intelligent environment within which to learn; (2) provide more opportunities for real collaboration; (3) give pastoral leaders a better angle of vision on the challenges their congregations are facing and the specific assumptions with which they enter learning; (4) provide better access to primary-source materials, and (5) overcome constraints of geography and time.[39]

Hess has also provided the framework for why participatory action research was not simply a stylistic choice on my part for pursuing this academic project, but was inherently necessary for the proper pursuit of the question. Hess argues—in concert with my previous arguments from the postfoundational frame—that all knowledge is situated, contextual, and communicatively constructed knowledge, and therefore, any attempt to research a question within the realm of religious education must be pursued within the context of a contextually situated people. The purpose of this kind of research project is to “re” “search;” to search again and reexamine previously held beliefs and to collaboratively re-construct new meaning through the process of the communicative action that can best be structured within a participatory action research project.[40]

The DITB project question seeks to explore the impact of the social Trinity within suburban ELCA congregations. This question can only be asked and answered by suburban ELCA people. Some might argue that the limited scope of this project renders its findings unhelpful for the general use of the church at large. Hess argues that such positivist notions of knowledge are not the only—and perhaps not even the best—way to describe the universe. She further argues—drawing from feminist theology—that

research methods that refused to ‘own their partiality’ would be actively discouraged. The pursuit of universal truths would become the pursuit of highly specific truths that yet have the ability to speak to myriad difference…It is precisely this kind of research, that actively owns its commitments and is explicitly situated within a specific community, that I believe is most useful for religious educators.[41]

The DITB project explored the suburban ELCA congregation. The majority of people in the suburban context have access to the internet and various interactive digital media.[42] A research project within the context of religious education for the purpose of the missional church necessitates a space that promotes communicative rationality. Given these facts, it was an obvious choice to structure the project as a participatory action research project.

Peter Block and the Structure of Community

Block offers practical steps to create a truly collaborative space for participatory action research. He says,

The context that restores community is one of possibility, generosity, and gifts, rather than one of problem solving, fear, and retribution. A new context acknowledges that we have all the capacity, expertise, and resources that an alternative future requires. Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness. The conversations that build relatedness most often occur through associational life, where citizens show up by choice, and rarely in the context of system life, where citizens show up out of obligation. The small group is the unit of transformation and the container for the experience of belonging. Conversations that focus on stories about the past become a limitation to community; ones that are teaching parables and focus on the future restore community.[43]

Block’s methodology is an aggregate of many communicative practices. The basic methodology invites the facilitator to situate a physical space—usually a room—that is inviting and egalitarian. There is life-promoting art on the walls, good music playing in the background, locally-produced food on the table, and the chairs are set in a circle. The facilitator presents provocative and inviting questions and leads the group through a three-step process. First, the individuals are invited to reflect on their own answer to the question and possibly write and answer down or create some form of artifact to represent their idea. Second, the individuals are randomly grouped into triads and invited to share each of their individual ideas and work together to synthesize their ideas into one statement. Third, the triads are randomly connected to one other triad, forming a group of six. This group listens to both triad statements and works together to synthesize the two statements into one. Finally, the groups gather together as one large group and the statements produced by the group of six are presented to the large group, followed by a large group discussion.

This methodology allows for maximum individual participation in the whole process. Each voice has a chance to be heard and know that it has contributed to the final outcome of the larger group. This methodology is similar to and draws from other organizational practices similar to and including The Art of Hosting.[44] This methodology allowed my research to take on real legs as it empowered the RT to interact in communicative action.

In his introduction, Block acknowledges the fragmentation, isolation, and overall absence of belonging in our world today. He believes that it is the purpose of community to overcome this fragmentation. This sort of community “offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we came to the right place and are affirmed by that choice.”[45] The distinct questions facing communities today are: How will we, together, create a future that is different from our past? How will we create a community where all citizens are connected to one another and know that their safety and success is dependent on the success of others? These questions get at the heart of the suburban situation in which our research project finds itself.

Footnotes

[1] It is important to note that spiritual formation/spirituality and adult education are not mutually exclusive topics. There is a growing body of literature within the field of adult learning that addresses the inherent connection between spirituality and adult pedagogical methodologies. Elisabeth Tisdell says that spirituality is “personal belief and experience of a divine spirit or higher purpose, about how we construct meaning, and what we individually and communally experience and attend to and honor as the sacred in our lives.’” Sharan B. Merriam, Rosemary S. Caffarella, and Lisa Baumgartner, Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, 3rd ed., The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 200. See also Elizabeth J. Tisdell, Exploring Spirituality and Culture in Adult and Higher Education, The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003); Jane Kathryn Vella, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults, Rev. ed.Ibid. (San Francisco, CA2002); Dent C. Davis, “Dialogue of the Soul: The Phenomenon of Intrapersonal Peace and the Adult Experience of Protestant Religious Education,” Religious Education 102, no. 4 (2007); John M. Dirkx, “Images, Transformative Learning the Work of Soul,” Adult Learning 12, no. 3 (2001).

[2] I agree with Wuthnow that the spirituality needed today is beyond the sedimentary spirituality of dwelling common in the 1950s, and more grounded than the spirituality of seeking common in the 1960s-90s. Wuthnow proposes a practiced spirituality, akin to the Exercises of Ignatius Loyola or the Rules of Benedict. Some, in the Lutheran tradition, have resisted the term spiritual formation because it denotes a theology of glory or a works-based righteousness. I disagree. Yes, God has given us the gift of salvation and for this there is nothing we can do. However, God has also called us into relationship with God and others. All relationships require work. We are God’s children and our relationship with God is one of ongoing development, not for earning love or grace, but for growing within the gift of grace as we relate to the others around us. See Robert Wuthnow, After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

[3] Schneiders, “The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Discipline,” 6.

[4] Ibid., 22.

[5] Schneiders, “A Hermeneutical Approach to the Study of Christian Spirituality,” 57.

[6] Sheldrake, A Brief History of Spirituality; Sheldrake, Explorations in Spirituality: History, Theology, and Social Practice; Philip Sheldrake, “Practicing Catholic “Place”: The Eucharist,” Horizons 28, no. 2 (2001); Sheldrake, “Spirituality and Social Change: Rebuilding the Human City; Sheldrake, “Imaginative Theology: A Strategy of Subversion; Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God; Sheldrake, “Spirituality and the Integrity of Theology; Philip Sheldrake, “The Study of Spirituality,” Theological Trends.

[7] Philip Sheldrake, “Christian Spirituality as a Way of Living Publicly: A Dialectic of the Mystical and Prophetic,” in Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality, ed. Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 289.

[8] Schwartz provides an excellent discussion of telos as it relates to practical wisdom—which I associate with spirituality. Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe, Practical Wisdom the Right Way to Do the Right Thing (New York: Simon & Schuster Audio,), sound recording

[9] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 85-91.

[10] We can also label this the classic theologically liberal vs. conservative schism.

[11] See Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline : The Path to Spiritual Growth, 20th anniversary ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998); “Spiritual Formation Agenda: Richard Foster Shares His Three Priorities for the Next 30 Years,” Christianity Today 53, no. 1 (2009); Richard J. Foster and Julia L. Roller, A Year with God: Living out the Spiritual Disciplines, 1st ed. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009).

[12] See appendix A.

[13] There is hopeful evidence of this happening in the membership of the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality which is a sub-set of the American Academy of Religion.

[14] The topic of self-transcendence is much more nuanced than the polarities that I am presenting in this argument, of course. I have engaged in the discussion of this apparent dichotomy to (a) further explore the dichotomies of my own lived experience between the liberal and conservative perspectives, and (b) further demonstrate how the social Trinity provides an alternative “third way” that brings both extremes into constructive dialogue. For more on self-transcendence, see Walter E. Conn, Christian Conversion: A Developmental Interpretation of Autonomy and Surrender (New York: Paulist Press, 1986).

[15] I am deeply indebted to Gary Black for helping me draw these lines of connection between Willard and phenomenology. Gary Black, The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013).

[16] Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, 10th anniversary ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 100.

[17] I have argued in the Word of God frame and the missional frame that the missional leader seeks to facilitate spaces in which the local congregation can dwell in the Word and in the World in order to listen and to discern what God is doing in the world and to join God in the missio dei. A teacher-centered hierarchical system would be toxic to this goal.

[18] Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, 102.

[19] To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey, 1st HarperCollins pbk ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 11.

[20] Another helpful model is Communicative Theology in which the experience of God happens in the communicative action between the I, IT, WE, and GLOBE. Matthias Hilberath Bernd Jochen Scharer, The Practice of Communicative Theology: Introduction to a New Theological Culture (New York: Crossroad Pub. CO, 2008).

[21] Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 4.

[22] Ibid., 8.

[23] I created an animation to help visualize the evolution through the five orders. http://www.deepintheburbs.com/in-over-our-heads-by-robert-kegan/ (accessed February 12, 2015)

[24] Kegan’s work is derived from the previous work of Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, and Lawrence Kohlberg. Each of these researchers, in their own way, also discovered that humans develop cognitively in stages. Kohlberg focused specifically on moral development in the human being. He is credited as being the first significant professor of a stage theory of human development. It was upon this ground that Kegan expanded Kohlberg’s notion of stages and applied it to cognitive development within the adult learner.

[25] Robert Kegan, In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994).

[26] Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, Leadership for the Common Good (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009).

[27] Here I understand the self to be the filter through which the individual makes meaning in any particular order. The filter is a socially constructed self that orders experiential data. It may be helpful—although beyond the scope of this discussion—to discuss the relationship between the social me and the I that George Herbert Mead suggests. When the I becomes aware of the me—the filter of the order in which the self is operating—it can, through supportive, reflective, communicative action, transcend that self and become a “new self” that has a broader perspective. This is, I would suggest, spiritual formation. See George Herbert Mead and Charles W. Morris, Mind, Self & Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (Chicago, Ill.,: The University of Chicago press, 1934).

[28] Stephen Brookfield, Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices, 1st ed., The Jossey-Bass Higher Education Series (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1986), vii-viii.

[29] A term made popular by Malcolm Knowles. See Malcolm S. Knowles, Elwood F. Holton, and Richard A. Swanson, The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, 7th ed. (Boston: Elsevier, 2011).

[30] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th anniversary ed. (New York: Continuum, 2000). See also the previous discussion of Parker Palmer’s model of teacher-centered vs. subject-centered learning. Figures 6 and 7.

[31] Stephen Brookfield, The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching, 1st ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005), 16-17.

[32] Ibid., 350.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices, 15-16.

[35] View the videos at the Deep in the Burbs website, Trinity Frame. http://www.deepintheburbs.com/theoretical-frames/trinity/ (accessed February 12, 2015)

[36] It is interesting to note how one particular theological concept grew through the communicative action of blogging. I began the project by presenting the social Trinity. That was the language used for the animations that I created at the beginning of the project. However, as I progressed with my research I grew less comfortable with the language of social Trinity and more aligned with the language of relational Trinity or the entangled Trinity (See the Trinity frame). I did not necessarily insert this shift into the RT sessions, but I wrote freely about it on the blog. Several of the RT members engaged me in constructive—and sometimes resistant—dialogue around this new language. It became evident in the final team sessions that the language of entangled Trinity had woven its way into the RT.

[37] I make an important distinctive in this statement: interactive digital media. Not all media is conducive to the type of collaborative space that Hess is lauding. There has been a dramatic shift in media technology during the twentieth century. Print, radio, and television are media that are more like the trucking industry that ships information one direction. This type of media has been used to perpetuate the teacher-centered model of learning. Hess argues that the interactive digital media of the Internet creates the communicative spaces needed for subject-centered learning, and, I would argue, for Trinitarian praxis. See Mary E. Hess, “Pedagogy and Theology in Cyberspace: All That We Cant Leave Behind,” Teaching Theology & Religion 5, no. 1 (2002); Peter G. Horsfield, Mary E. Hess, and Adán M. Medrano, eds., Belief in Media: Cultural Perspectives on Media and Christianity (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004).

[38] Mary E. Hess, “What Difference Does It Make? E-Learning and Faith Community,” Word & World 30, no. 3 (2010): 284. See also Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind, Communication, Culture, and Religion Series (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005).

[39] “What Difference Does It Make? E-Learning and Faith Community,” 289.

[40] “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education,” Religious Education 96, no. 3 (2001): 284.

[41] “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education,” Religious Education 96, no. 3 (2001): 279.

[42] It is important to note that, while most suburban citizens in the context of this project have access to interactive digital media, not all suburbanites embrace digital media. Some of the RT members were discouraged and intimidated by the use of digital media. I will discuss this further in chapter four under the Age Matters section. Further, it is important to note the digital divide that exists between the socio-economic classes. Not everyone in society has free access to digital media. Therefore, digital media cannot be understood as the ultimate answer to democratic, emancipatory pedagogy. It is, within particular contexts, emancipatory and communicative, however, and must be embraced as such by religious educators.

[43] Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008), loc. 504.

[44] The Art of Hosting, http://www.artofhosting.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Hostinginahurryversion1.5ChrisC.pdf (accessed July 27, 2014)

[45] Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging, 3.

Method Matters: How The Process We Used In The PAR Research Is Trinitarian Praxis

One of the most important findings from the DITB project is that method matters. The way in which we pursued this question is as much a part of the answer as any findings we may propose as a result. I will suggest, in this section, that the process we used in our project is a trinitarian praxis that can serve as a helpful model for missional leadership in the suburban context. The process to which I refer includes the following components: Dwelling in the Word, collaboratively creating action projects, creating spaces—both digital and physical—for ongoing communication and collaboration, and regrouping to engage in communicative, theological reflection on the actions.

I make this suggestion based upon two warrants. First, it has theoretical warrants. The team’s methodology reflects the established pedagogical models of Groome, Brookfield, Palmer, and Scharer/Hilberath. Second, it has experiential warrant. The data strongly suggest that each member of the team experienced significant impact in their ideation and praxis of spiritual formation as a result of the increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity. The increased awareness, however, happened through multiple modalities. First, it came through a propositional presentation through the videos. Second, it came through a narrative engagement as I shared my story and each team member was invited to join their story into the larger story. Third, it came through the experiential praxis of Dwelling in the Word.

Pedagogical Implications

One vital aspect of leading spiritual formation in the local congregation is that of instruction. This is increasingly true in our society as the biblical narrative becomes decreasingly a part of the public vernacular. The Lutheran church has always valued the catechesis of children through Sunday School and Confirmation classes. However, there is an increasing need for adult catechesis, especially if the church becomes truly missional and engages the neighbor who will most likely have little to no knowledge of scripture or Christian doctrine.

How then, should the missional leader engage in adult catechesis? I have already stated the pedagogical framework of Groome, Brookfield, Palmer, and Scharer/Hilberath in chapter two. The common thread of these pedagogical methodologies is that adult learners must engage in communicative, participatory, multivalent, practically oriented learning environments in order to learn and grow. A key word in this methodology is praxis. Praxis is reflective action. Adult learners must take action, then pause to reflect on this action, and then allow their reflection to shape the course of the next action. This is true in all adult education, but in adult catechesis within the local congregation the process takes on a new dimension. The reflective action is a theological process. The adult learner takes action, then pauses to reflect theologically by asking how is God present in this action, or what is God doing in this action?

The RT experienced theological praxis in two ways: Dwelling in the Word and action projects. First, let us explore how the Dwelling in the Word exercise contributed to the increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity in the RT as it relates to the various modalities of instruction.

I mentioned earlier that there are three ways in which the social Trinity was introduced to the RT. The first was through the animated videos. This method was the closest I came to the traditional lecture-style teaching most common in the modern pedagogy. Information was transferred in a one-way stream from the video to the passive, receptive viewer. The second method was a presentation of my own story as I encountered the social Trinity and experienced a transformation of my own ideation and praxis of spiritual formation. This narrative was presented both in written form on the blog and in a public lecture/interaction with the RT during session four. The presentation was followed by a large group discussion.

The RT team indicated that both of these methods were effective in communicating the information about the social Trinity, and were necessary to the process. However, I would argue that the third method of increasing the awareness and understanding of the social Trinity was the most effective. The third method was the Dwelling in the Word exercise. This was the most effective, and, ironically, the most imperceptible of the methods because it was less about information transfer about the social Trinity and more about the experiential knowledge of the Trinity as the exercise was taking place.

I would argue that Dwelling in the Word is a Trinitarian Praxis. I should point out that I was surprised by the Dwelling in the Word exercise in this regard. I chose the texts for the Dwelling exercises—John 14:15-24; John 15:1-17; and John 16:5-15—because they contain compelling scriptural evidence of the social Trinity. What surprised me about the exercise was that the RT very rarely spoke explicitly about the Trinity. I expected the RT team to read about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and the language of indwelling and raise logical red flags to protest the impossibility of such language. If there is one God, then how can there be three persons? That is the question that I thought the passage would evoke. Further, I thought the subsequent discussions about the text would raise Trinitarian issues and cause a transformation of understanding regarding the Trinity. This did not happen. Instead, the RT was very comfortable with the Trinitarian language. They readily accepted the relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The conversations that happened during the Dwelling exercises centered more on cultivating the relationships that exist between the branch/disciple and the Vine/Jesus, the Vine/Jesus and the Gardner/Father, the fruit/branch and the world, and how the Holy Spirit worked throughout all these relationships to ensure stability and cohesiveness.

The RT articulated two ways that the Dwelling in the Word exercise helped the project. The first is in regard to the Holy Spirit. The Dwelling exercise heightened their awareness of the Holy Spirit as an active agent in the world and broadened their horizon as to where and how the Holy Spirit is present. The RT, having all been raised in a Christian context, was aware of the Holy Spirit because of the exposure to the Creeds. However, many indicated that the Holy Spirit was a confusing, enigmatic idea that seemed confined to doctrine. Now, they reported, as a result of the Dwelling in the Word and the DITB project they are beginning to sense the presence of the Holy Spirit, not just in the church but in their daily experiences and in the world in which they live and move.

The second way the RT indicated that the Dwelling exercise helped the project was in regard to how it prepared them to engage in the project itself. The Dwelling exercise forced the RT to do two things that are contrary to the normal suburban lifestyle. First, it invited them to slow down. The RT all reported that practicing the Dwelling exercise invited them into an uncomfortable place where they had to slow down. They were, at first, frustrated with the fact that we dwelt in the same text for three sessions. The modern, suburban mind is used to taking in data in short bursts and then moving on to the next thing. The slow process of dwelling in the same text was foreign to the team. Additionally, the text was read twice during each session. The slowness of the process, according to their reports, opened up pathways of awareness that they had not experienced before. They said that the slowing effects of the exercise allowed them to be more focused on the task of the discussion of the project once we got to that portion of the meeting. Without the discipline of slowing, they said, they may not have been able to get the fullness of the DITB project.

The second thing the Dwelling forced them to do that is contrary to the suburban lifestyle is to listen. The typical white, middle-class, suburbanite is used to being in a place of power and privilege in society. This is true of the RT. Each of them are leaders in their own way, whether it be in work, church, or the fact that they all are parents. People who experience agency in society tend to speak to others and share their own opinion, rather than stop to listen to the other. The Dwelling in the Word exercise invited the RT into the uncomfortable, and unfamiliar space of listening intently to the other. The fact that each person was invited to represent their conversation partner’s thoughts and words to the large group compelled them to listen in a way that all of them confessed was unnatural for them.

I said earlier that I expected the RT to experience transformation regarding the Trinity through the conversations that would emerge from the logical inconsistencies evoked from the text. This did not happen. I would suggest that the Dwelling in the Word exercise increased the awareness and understanding of the social Trinity, not through logical discussion, but through the actual experience of the social Trinity. The theological basis of the social Trinity is relational ontology, as I have argued in chapter two. A relational ontology suggests that it is through the humble submission of the individual self to the other, and the interdependent relationship that happens between them that constitutes the self. Further, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that is the medium through which the interdependence flows. The process of active listening and communicative action requires three parts. First, there is the active self—the I, the agent, the Ego—that engages the other through listening and speaking. Second, there is the other to which the self speaks and listens. The other is also an active self—an I, the agent, and another Ego. The conversation is the meeting of two subject/objects. These two apparently autonomous selves are separate from each other and will usually stand in a polarized either/or stance that can lead only to a stalemate. In order for communicative action to take place there must be a third party, a tie breaker, who can fill the space between the two agent/subjects and be a medium of communication. This is the Holy Spirit.[1]

I would argue that the discipline of Dwelling in the Word allowed the RT to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit and the perichoretic power to which the texts bore witness. This experiential knowledge of the social Trinity allowed the RT to find an internal motivation to engage in the DITB project, create action projects, follow through with them, and report that they had experienced a significant impact in their ideation and praxis of spiritual formation as a result of their involvement.

The three modes of instruction—presentational, narrative, and experiential—are necessary components of leading in missional spirituality. They form a Trinity of their own. First, there is a certain otherness to the information that is new to the learner.[2] The otherness of the data must be transferred at some level. This is similar to the otherness of the Father/Mother/Creator—the first person of the Trinity. Second, the narrative mode demonstrates that information is best understood in the context of a story. This is true for two reasons. First, everyone has a story and therefore has a frame of reference in which to hear the narrative. Second, a narrative is open to interpretation and invites the listener to bring their own story into the narrative. This is similar to the second person of the Trinity who became flesh and lived an embodied, human story that connects to our human frame of reference, is open to interpretation, and invites us to bring our own narrative into it. God tented among us. Finally, the experiential mode creates spaces in which individuals can learn about the presence and movement of God in a multi-sensory, supra-rational manner that deepens their understanding but often surpasses the ability to express it in words. This is the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit—the third person of the Trinity—moving in, with, under, against, and for the individual and the group and creating a bond of peace that passes understanding.

I began this section stating that method matters. The DITB project used a methodology that is Trinitarian Praxis. It allowed the research team to experience the social Trinity through multiple modalities and, in so doing, deepened their sense of connection to God and each other. It also broadened their horizon for the scope and potential of missional spirituality as they seek to find where God is at work in the world and join God in it. I would suggest that this methodology may be a positive practice for leading missional congregations in the suburban context.

What Do S’Mores Have To Do With Anything?

I stated that the RT experienced theological praxis in two ways. The first was through Dwelling in the Word, which I addressed above. Let us now turn our attention to the second way in which the RT experienced theological praxis: The action projects. The original design of the project was that the RT team would use Sessions Five and Six to create action projects that they would pursue during the months between April and November.

This is another area where I was surprised by the DITB project. It was my assumption that the team would create projects that would somehow reflect the process that we experienced in the sessions during Phase One. I imagined that they would gather friends, family, or neighbors to engage in Dwelling in the John passages, perhaps watch the videos, engage in conversations, and report a change in people’s ideation and praxis of spiritual formation. Nothing like this happened.

I will now look at each project that was successfully completed and seek to understand what happened, what was learned, and how it fits into the overall scope of the DITB project.

Sunday night s’mores.

Rob, Kelly, and Tiffany held an event each Sunday evening during the Summer months. The event took place in the parking lot of Ascension Lutheran. They used a portable grill to create a fire, provided the materials needed to make s’mores, and created a space in which anyone could stop by, make and eat s’mores, and connect. The idea came from the fact that many suburbanites spend the weekend at the cabin, thus miss the fellowship and connection of their local congregation. The Sunday S’mores event would allow those who had been disconnected to stop by the parking lot on their way back from the cabin and reconnect with a God-centered community before entering into the regular flow of the work week. Since the event was outside in a parking lot, it did not matter how a person was dressed, or whether they were dirty and grungy from the lake or camping. It was simply a safe place.

The original intention was to advertise the event in two ways. The first was through natural connections from the team via personal communication, a Facebook event page, and announcements in the weekly worship services at Ascension. The second was to prayerfully canvas the adjacent neighborhood and inform the neighbors of the event and invite them to participate. The team reports that they were successful in the first way, but never made the time to connect to the neighborhood.

The team followed through with the project and met every Sunday night in the summer. The attendance was very good. However, they noted that the attendees varied greatly throughout the weeks. Rob laments the failure to connect to the neighborhood, since he felt this was the heart of the missional piece of the event. However, he recognized that a seed was planted for a missional space. They intend to do it again next year and connect with the neighborhood at that time.

Regular participation at Feed My Starving Children.

John and Mary chose to commit to serving at Feed My Starving children on one shift per week. They intentionally invited people from their workplace who were not involved in a church. They followed through with this commitment and plan to continue doing it. They made two observations about this experience. First, it felt very natural and was not a forced sense of sharing their faith. Second, the fact that they placed an open invitation to join the event on the bulletin board in their work spaces opened up spaces for faith conversations that would have never otherwise opened up in the work environment. Many workmates joined their regular FMSC team and constructive faith conversations naturally emerged.

Participating in the planning of women’s retreat.

Heather was invited to be on the Women’s Retreat Planning Team at Ascension. The retreat took place at the beginning of November, just before the DITB project officially ended. She had been thinking deeply about the social Trinity throughout the course of the DITB project and decided to bring the social Trinity into the planning and teaching of the Women’s retreat.

Within the acorn is the potential for a towering oak tree, strong and rooted, able to weather any storm. God the creator made it so. There is a profound mystery in a seed. In fact Juliann of Norwich once held a hazel nut in her hand and she had the revelation of a deep truth about all of life. Basically, what she heard was this in relation to the seed: God created it. God loves it. God sustains it. One of the things this acorn must do before it can accomplish its purpose is to stop. Stop moving. Stop rolling around the yard. It needs to pause and basically come to a still spot, and then God can start unfolding the miracle that is in the seed. The seed needs to rest in the creator before the sprouts come out or the roots start developing. When the acorn finally comes to stop, and even is buried in a way, when it dies to itself as an acorn, it is then that God can provide nurture and support, and then the acorn will be transformed and will begin its purpose of becoming a mighty oak. This seed can be like our calm in the chaos of life. Before we develop that sense of deep calm and trust, we too, have to basically stop running. We too have to die to ourselves in a way so that our Creator can transform us in the same way he transforms an acorn into an oak tree. Not that we have to stop doing all the things that are out there for us to do. So much of what keeps us busy is the very vocation that God has called us to do. But God has called us to our work to be an extension of God’s grace and love in this world. If we push on too strong, if we never stop to just be in the presence of our creator, if we do not allow ourselves to be buried in a way and then nurtured, we don’t really know where God wants us to send our branches. So again, today is a day about stopping, in order to be nurtured, in order for God to help us grow our roots a little bit.

Designing of adult formation plan.

Phil is a retired Lutheran pastor and has a penchant for theology and teaching. He proved to be a healthy interlocutor throughout the project and often sparred with me on the website chat forums. He was openly resistant to the idea of the social Trinity at the beginning of the project, but consistently expressed his disagreement with a spirit of grace and constructive critique. His openness to entertain the ideas and wrestle with them throughout the course of the project was encouraging to the other RT team members and humbling to me as a pastor and scholar.

Something clicked for Phil along the way. He found my addition of the relational and entanglement language to be a helpful corrective to the social language. Phil began to see that the relational/entangled Trinity was the dynamic structure of the universe and he imagined an entire Adult Formation Curriculum and System constructed around the Trinity, the images of Trinity within our own human nature, and the relationality of our existence with God in the world. He was prolific throughout the months of the project and generated hundreds of pages of ideas and course outlines based on his newly revised understanding of the Trinity as it relates to spiritual formation.

Phil’s language demonstrates, in my opinion, the strongest shift from the dualistic thinking of the traditional Western Trinitarian model to the relationality model we discussed in the DITB project. He stated on the first night that he was interested to see how the Trinity, which is “up here,” said while holding one hand up above his head, connects to spiritual formation, which is “down here” said while holding his hand below his waist. He could not see how they connected. Then, after the weeks and months of wrestling with the Trinitarian Praxis, he reported that his understanding of spiritual formation had changed.

Reflection on the leading of yoga classes.

Phyllis is a yoga instructor. She teaches a daytime yoga class for preschoolers a few times during the week and an evening class for adults. She intentionally creates a time for Dwelling in the Word as part of the meditation process. She reports that the majority of the members of her class are not from the ELCA. They enjoy the yoga classes because she included a time of Dwelling in the Word. They would tell her, “I’m so glad you do that, because we don’t have that ability any place else where we ‘exercise’ where we can incorporate our faith.”

Intentional journaling.

Heather, Sharon, and John each regularly journaled throughout the months of the project and emailed their journals to me. Each of their journals was unique to their personality and place in life, yet each of them, in their own way, reflected a genuine interaction with the social Trinity, spiritual formation, and their everyday lives. Heather’s journals included lengthy, well-written, reflective narratives that integrated her own life experience as a missionary, a health care provider, and a mother into her reflection on the Trinity, the use of gender to imagine God, and the relationality of life. Sharon is a local politician. She reflected on her interactions with suburbanites as she knocked on over four thousand doors during the months of the project. She saw the multiplicity of stories, the loneliness, and the need for connection among the people. She felt the presence of the Holy Spirit working in, with, and through her as she simply listened to people. John had never journaled before. He began his journaling by keying in one simple sentence a day on his iPhone and emailing me the weekly “Urinals”—as he called them—to me. His thoughts and observations progressed and deepened as the months progressed. By the end of the project his Urinals contained thick, deeply philosophical and theological paragraphs for each day. His sense of God’s presence in everything deepened as the journaling exercise encouraged him to be more observant of how God was present throughout the ordinary flow of life.

A Pastor’s Critique

I attended a dinner one evening during the summer at which several pastors and church leaders from around North America were gathered. The topic of the DITB project came up and I was asked to give examples of the types of projects the team created. I relayed some of the stories listed above. One of the pastors seemed uncomfortable with this project and asked me directly, “What do S’mores have to do with the Trinity? How can you demonstrate that any of this is connected to your theological proposal and not to something else, like intercessory prayer, or any number of things?” I was stunned at the moment and did not know exactly how to answer, but the question haunted me for the next few weeks.

I brought the question to the team. “Help me connect these projects to the Trinity,” I asked. The team pondered this question and concluded that it was the experience of the relationality of God in the process of the DITB project that allowed them to imagine that these projects were a spiritual practice that embodied their emerging awareness.

We are not alone in this discovery. A growing body of research indicates that action research itself is a generative, Trinitarian, spiritual practice for the congregation.[3] Martin says,

Action research works well in a congregational setting by being deliberately transformative. Change is an essential component of action research. And change is (or ought to be) an essential component of congregational life in dynamic social communities. A tension all churches feel is maintaining the integrity of their theological beliefs, while being flexible in the strategies by which they share and practice those beliefs. In many churches, initiating and facilitating change in practice is problematic. However, action research provides an approach to implement substantial organisational change through collaborative reflection and dialogue. The community-building, empowering nature of action research gives people a ‘voice’ and a say in the change process. Change is not imposed by either the pastor or an elite leadership team, but through collaboration and negotiation. In volunteer organisations, like churches, such a collaborative approach to organisational transformation is not only very appropriate, but virtually essential for authentic change to be initiated and sustained.”[4]

Footnotes

[1] Compare this to Jenson’s argument that the Holy Spirit breaks the stalemate between Father and Son. Jenson, Systematic Theology.

[2] This is reminiscent of the discussion regarding Parker Palmer’s two pedagogical models. He argues that the modern, teacher-centered model views the topic as on object that is completely other. His corrective model suggests that the topic is a subject into which the learner engages in dialogue. I agree with Palmer, but here I highlight the fact that, in every dialogue each subject is also an object. There is always a sense of strange otherness that remains shrouded in unknowability, no matter how transparent the dialogue may proceed. Therefore, my point in this statement is to acknowledge the necessary otherness of both the first person of the Trinity and the topic of study.

[3] See the work being pursued at Heythrop College. Helen Cameron, Deborah Bhatti, and Catherine Duce, Talking About God in Practice: Theological Action Research and Practical Theology (London: SCM Press, 2010).

[4] Bruce Martin, “Transforming a Local Church Congregation through Action Research,” Educational Action Research 9, no. 2 (2001): 264.