The Language of Leadership: Adopting a New Language Posture

Originally uploaded by Dave Gray

Originally uploaded by Dave Gray

A postmodern geographic culture shift has occurred. Many philosophers, theologians, and churches try to communicate with people, especially young people, in modern terms located in outdated cultural understandings and geography. Speaking broadly, Church wants to tell people what to believe and the way to believe because that is the way it is according to the Bible or name your authority.

Words, even from scripture, are greeted with suspicion by post-moderns and often proved false because they are often times culturally and geographically framed. Therefore our language makes no sense and is irrelevant.

Take my friend *Jane for instance. Jane was at every church event, leading Vacation Bible School, her family was plugged into church stuff and she gave generously from her resources. Her Dad was an Episcopal priest and she was baptized Episcopalian as an infant. She was not a member of the church I attended. She was not allowed to be a member because by our church’s belief in what the Bible said she had to be baptized by immersion. She was not allowed to vote on church issues.

In the same church, a person who was baptized as a 10-year-old that never came to worship, never helped with anything, and never gave of their resources for our common mission was considered a member who could make official decisions about the church. That person could vote. Something about this belief made no sense to me and still doesn’t when I encounter it in various Baptist churches. Jane was a great church “member!” I’ll take her any day over the lukewarm bench warmer that was baptized when they were 10 years old.

Language

The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. Any nonverbal method of expression or communication

The days when the people in the neighborhood walked to the nearest local church left the Washington, D.C. region long ago. People moved into the neighborhood and they believed all sorts ology’s and isms. They had all sorts of different life experiences. They could not belong to the local church though and therefore it became irrelevant to their life. They spoke a different language.

To share the love of Christ with people surrounding us we must learn a new language from which to lead. We must learn a language that helps restore and reconcile and give hope. We must provide postmodern geographic mutts an opportunity to belong before they believe. To do so we must adopt a particular language posture.

Posture

Posture: A particular way of dealing with or considering something; an approach or attitude

 
Example – How does the word “justice” posture us? Let’s look at Isa. 1:17: Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.What does adopting a specific “language posture” mean? It means we work to adopt the values of biblical narratives through the language of words, images, and actions.

What does “justice” mean to you having read this verse? Why does it mean that? This verse invites us into a certain way of living. Based on how we understand the language we can learn what our trajectory is and invite people to belong to that posture with us. It becomes a way of being. Who will you be because of how you understand this Bible story and how will you lead others?

Why the language of leadership? I do believe that unless our churches adopt a corporate narrative we will struggle to locate ourselves in each other’s stories and in God’s story. Put simply, unless we identify a common language we will find it hard to collaborate with a group of people towards a unifying principle.

Think about it. Language is the starting point for significant participation in any particular field like law, engineering, or theology. For a church immersed in a postmodern context that is often times geographically diverse that language needs to be a particular “way” in order for people to belong. It cannot be particular words. Words are relative until we agree on the common story. The truth in the language we use is found in the way we live those words out not in the definitions give them. In our case, I suggest the way of Jesus to get at the truth of the matter so that we can join with God in co-creating his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Tom Lynch lives in Arlington, VA with his wife Lore, son Joe, and daughter Evelyn. He serves as associate pastor for youth and children at McLean Baptist Church and as the Director of Ministry Rotations for the John Leland Center for Theological Studies. He holds a master of divinity from the Leland Center and a bachelor’s in communication from Michigan State University. He volunteers as a justice advocate for International Justice Mission and serves on the board of trustees for The Network for Theological Education.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Josh Hayden

     /  March 28, 2013

    Tom, great post. I love the metaphors of posture, learning, co-creating. I’m wondering who are the folks that will help create the framing stories in which scripture, justice, community, etc. are to be understood? It seems like this is the great struggle in our postmodern times, when we have become isolated into our silos of communities that insulate us from both the good and sinfulness of our language. I had to catch myself even writing here. I was tempted to speak in terms of economics, to ask what is the “risk” to the “value” of our particular language stories…and to speak in that way gives insight into my own situation in Northern VA quite well.

    To be honest, it is hard to not think of the ones who determine or give shape to the dominant cultural stories both in and outside of the church in terms of power. Maybe I need some new stories?

    Reply
  2. Josh Hayden

     /  March 28, 2013

    I am reminded of a conversation that Will D. Campbell had with a Ku Klux Klan leader, recounted in his book “Brother to a Dragonfly” where they were discussing the words peace, harmony, and freedom, which the Klan leader had used describe what the Klan stood for. Campbell pushes the leader in the conversation to define the words and the leader responded: “‘Of course I define the words. Who defines the words you use. When you use them they’re your words and you know what they mean.’ He mean, I suppose, what I should have known already—that words are symbols and nothing more. Ever.” (248)

    Those who get to define the words and the symbols involve relationships with/to/for/under/against/etc. power.

    Reply
  3. Josh, thanks for your thoughtful response. I think you are correct that we continue to evaluate the value of other’s words. How often has this happened within our own denomination, often fracturing us in ways that are unimaginable.

    Your quote from the KKK leader is quite provocative and has far reaching affects. I think we must consider the relativity of our language and recognize the assumptions we make in defining words. To me, this raises the question as to whether or not our words are ever absolute truth as so many modern arguments have insisted on for years (and pre-modern).

    Maybe our language only receives its real value when we’ve acted upon the way in which it postures us. A KKK member could talk about “peace” until blue in the face but is it something that is actually true? I can talk about being just all I want but until I intervene on behalf of someone oppressed do I really believe it or assign a truth value (economic word might work now?) to it? It seems to me that a language posture then might be more important than the word or non-verbal itself. The intentions behind our words matter. Ask any married couple!

    Reply
  4. Josh Hayden

     /  March 29, 2013

    Walter Brueggemann says in his book The Prophetic Imagination, that the prophets were concerned with language and symbols because: “The evocation of an alternative reality consists at least in part in the battle for language and the legitimization of a new rhetoric. The language of the empire is surely the language of managed reality, of production and schedule and market (18).”

    We have no choice but to be concerned deeply about language, symbols, and liturgy, because how we speak and what we use to speak shapes the shared cultural and religious imagination that leads to real action in particular locations in time and history.

    I couldn’t agree more that our language is largely relative, the question seems to be then, what does it mean to share language and create shared stories when so much is relative to our own experiences, socio-economic locations, etc.? Can we share while avoiding the temptation to be tolerant?

    Thanks for your response Tom!

    Reply
  5. Qwerty

     /  March 31, 2013

    I understand completely what you are getting at. I have thought for a while now that there needs to be a commonly understood medium where everyone can see absolute truth. This would bring so many to Christ as “they” could see truth and accept it. This would create a one world language. That is the only way to share and understand meaning and truth. However, if we look at the Tower of Babel we see this is what happened and people exploited God until he made them confused again through multiple languages. This is how the new Babylon will form and again be destroyed for good by God. We must be careful of going forward with a language to explore and express truth as it will be exploited and ultimately be the end of this world. This is prophecy.

    Reply
    • Thanks for joining in the conversation. I think prophecy is extremely important to the dialogue. It would be interesting to consider what a “universal language” might look like if we consider non-verbal communication and behavior as well. I think the prophetic emerges when a persons voice is given expression through the life they live.

      Of course for me, that is where language posture comes in.

      Reply

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