Communal learning begins with leaderly learning—that is, with leaders as learners. For learning to be promoted and a culture of inquiry cultivated within a community, it is important that leaders become learners first. Accordingly, for spaces of communal learning to be created in their church or mission field, pastors and missionaries need to role model learning.
Here I recall what Plueddemann writes in Leading Across Cultures (2009) in remembrance of what his mentor, Howard Dowdell, once said: “There are two kinds of missionaries—those with twenty years of experience, and those with one year of experience repeated twenty times.” For pastors and missionaries not to fall into the second category, making their church or mission field a community where one experience repeated over an elongated period of time, the value and significance of converting events into meaningful experiences needs to be recognized.
The conversion of events into meaningful experiences can effectively be done through structured reflective collaboration supported by empathetic relationship. In other words, wisdom and insights that have remained hidden and implicit within the boundary of an individual’s mind and life can become explicit, affirmed, and shared for the benefit of a larger community, when pastors and missionaries create a safe time and space for the church to come together in small groups to recall, narrate, and process its individual experiences in a communal manner.
When creating such a time and space, however, it seems critical that leaders help the church recall what A. W. Tozer writes in The Knowledge of the Holy (1961): “What comes into your minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Though it is critical that the church enhance its capacities through communal learning, though it is of great value that one’s perspectives become expanded so that new meanings and interpretations can be given to past experiences, it should always be remembered that the gravest question and task before the church is nothing but God himself. At the very core of every effort made to develop and grow communal learning, pastors and missionaries must encourage and support the church to think rightly about God so that any unworthy thoughts about God may not be entertained.
Eun Ah Cho is assistant professor of intercultural leadership in Fuller Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies.