Ministry as collaborative engagement
Granger, Charles Franklin
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The rise of inductive clergy education and the formative power of congregations as contexts of learning for clergy have combined in the emergence of teaching congregations as organizations that teach and learn. The purpose of this qualitative study was to ascertain how teaching congregations learn while facilitating the training and development of beginning clergy in the inductive phase of clergy education. Four research questions guided this study: (1) What is the learning for the congregation? (2) How does the congregation learn? (3) What factors facilitate or impede learning? (4) What changes in structure, roles, and organization, if any, occur? A case study was conducted with an exemplary teaching congregation engaged in an ongoing pastoral residency program. Interview data from staff, laity, and residents were analyzed using a constant comparative method. Learning organization theory, applied to a congregational context, served as the investigative tool. Findings indicate development and change in a teaching congregation align with action imperatives of learning organization theory. Analysis yielded five conclusions: (1) Reciprocity of learning provides multiple system benefits making ministry a collaborative engagement; (2) The congregational system takes on a culture of reflection through engagement in ministry practice; (3) Failures, crises, and conflicts within systems are contextual jolts leading to learning that can stimulate change; (4) The influx of newcomers into the system brings an infusion of ideas, vitality, and role and identity clarification; and (5) Systemic change is facilitated by visionary leaders who combine strategic thinking with personal action. Implications include: (1) Laity training in critical reflection would benefit congregations; (2) Congregations should consider formalized mentoring when hiring staff entering their first call; (3) Congregations can take action toward ministry as collaborative engagement; (4) Theological institution leadership and the clergy community should take concrete steps toward residency requirements following seminary; and (5) Theological schools should be offered opportunity for elective classification of congregational engagement. Recommendations include: (1) Further study in teaching congregations to provide strength and clarification for findings; (2) Adapting the Dimensions of Learning Organization Questionnaire for congregations and other nonprofit organizations; (3) Expansion of research in the scholarship of engagement to professional schools.