I’m pleased to share with you about my experience attending the Academy of Religious Leadership (ARL) conference this April in Chicago. Toward the end of this post, I’ll identify what may be most relevant to faculty, and I’ll pose an invitation to our community.
The ARL, established with funding from the Lilly Foundation in 2006, exists to “enhance religious leadership education; convene a scholarly roundtable of leadership educators and professional practitioners for the purpose of faculty development and community; and foster and disseminate leadership education and research”. (https://arl-jrl.org)
LEADERSHIP FOR CHANGE
“Leadership for Change” was the conference theme this year. The design included eight sessions; 3-4 doctoral students orally presented summaries of their dissertation research, a response from a faculty, and roundtable discussions (Conference schedule). If you wish to have access to any of these papers, let me know.
Ninety-eight current members of ARL come from a variety of Protestant and Catholic universities and seminaries (current president-elect is a Pentecostal). What enlivens my own professional development at the few meetings that I’ve attended is the interplay of theology, social science, and shared praxis that is fully present in research and dialogue.
I knew we were off to a great start when the first conversation at our table included several discussing that “people of color” is not preferred since it makes “white” the norm, and homogenizes all races. It’s challenging to keep up with moving targets and even terminology, as we strive to be in authentic communities.
This year, research included the application of change models such as Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, Cooperrider’s Appreciative Inquiry, Heifetz’s work on Adaptive Change, Peter Block’s Conversations for Community, and the extensive work by Kegan and Lahey on language, immunity to change, and the comparison of adult and organizational development.
Most of the research were qualitative case studies with a few quantitative studies as well. There was an interesting quasi-experimental design that confronted a youth group’s misconceptions about poverty. Other topics included earth stewardship, the revitalization of aging congregations, and current issues of ministry in a pluralistic culture.
RELIGIOUS LEADERS CROSSING BOUNDARY FRIENDSHIPS
For example, a Vineyard female pastor shared her case study research of developing a friendship with an imam from the Islamic community. It began with the pastor inviting the congregation to identify tough questions for her to address on Sunday mornings; one was whether Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same deity. She invited the neighboring imam and rabbi to present their views on a Sunday morning.
Out of this came more meetings, interfaith soccer games, and the vineyard pastor eventually attended Islam classes at the mosque. The imam periodically continues to attend Vineyard worship services, which he claims is now “his church.” The dialogue partners for her research included Paulo Freire, Jürgen Habermas, Thomas Groom, and Peter Block.
THE LIMITS OF OUR AGENDAS
When I think about what from the conference could be applied to our Vanguard community, I wonder what it would be like if several faculty, staff, administration, and perhaps students – would work through Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s “Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.”
These educational psychologists write, “If you are leading anything at any level, you are driving some kind of plan or agenda, but some kind of plan or agenda is also driving you. It is out of your awareness. You cannot yet take responsibility for it. And most of the time, that agenda will limit or even doom your ability to deliver extraordinary results” (p. 6).
TOWARD BECOMING A LEARNING ORGANIZATION
I think we can do better in our claims to be a learning organization. Would a new vocabulary and language enable us to more accurately identify the problems that keep us “stuck” and learn how to collaborate – together – to effectively address them? The authors lay out a pathway in their claims that it is possible to overcome the immunity to change in organizations, individuals, and teams. Anyone interested?
Photo: Cloud Gate, a.k.a “the Bean”, at Millennium Park