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The purpose of this project was to test whether creating a short term learning group with pastoral leaders around simple practices of neighborhood engagement would lead to any shifts in priorities or weekly habits. The assumption was that most pastors of recognized churches in West Michigan take a chaplaincy approach to leadership, using work hours to prepare for worship gatherings, provide congregational care, and manage established programs. The thesis was that a time-limited commitment to specific practices and mutual learning would allow participants to gain new insights about their personal contexts and move toward a different set of leadership behaviors such as modeling hospitality and training others for neighborhood involvement.

Over seven months’ time, eight seminary-trained leaders living in distinct neighborhoods and representing five denominations went on a shared journey to explore whether increasing their own neighborhood presence was sustainable or linked in any way to organizational influence. Participants, with approval of their church councils, were asked to devote six hours a week to “good neighbor” activities. They also agreed to take part in two one-day retreats, attend at least three monthly roundtables, and read two recommended books. The assumption and thesis were examined by comparing early and late reflection papers, responses to two similarly constructed interviews, and scores from a time management assessment tool.

This paper demonstrates that group members remained challenged by internal expectations of clergy, even as hopes for other possibilities were renewed. It affirms heightened awareness for each participant and greater potential for engaging congregational systems with missional imagination. However, it also acknowledges the limited behavioral impact of this approach and offers an assessment of contributing factors. A more comprehensive strategy is proposed for future learning communities that help shift leadership priorities. Throughout, interpretive links are made to larger social, historical, and theological narratives.

Content Reader: Alan J. Roxburgh, DMin

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Doctor of Ministry

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Roxburgh, Alan J.

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Protestant churches; Clergy; Christian leadership; Home missions; Church renewal


Missions and World Christianity


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