Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Language in my corner of the world…

Written by: on November 8, 2018

The University I work for is only 25 years old, but the last six years have been especially interesting. With an aging founder and new partnerships in Dallas-Fort Worth, the main campus relocated from California to Texas, which led to high staff turnover. Enrollment has increased and decreased…retention has decreased and increased. New programs have been approved and branch campuses have been closed. We have a new president, and a fairly new Cabinet (total turnover in the last 3 years). I joined the team recently, and everything has been on the table for a refresh.

During this time of high-change, we are doing our best to lead out of the weeds and reimagine our organizational culture. As would be expected, this season has resulted in change fatigue and many questions about the new landscape of our university and what lies ahead. With all of the organizational change and perpetually increasing governmental regulations, our university culture went largely unattended. In the past few months, we have readily admitted that the lack of attention has resulted in a compliance-oriented culture rather than a growth-oriented one. There is a high level of fear in the ranks. We want to change this, but where to start?

As I read Elliott’s Contemporary Social Theory, I have to admit that the complexities of understanding society had my mind spinning. I am having enough difficulty understanding my own organization, much less society at large. If anything, the diversity of reactions in my Texas community the day after midterm elections revealed just how conflicted our society really is. However, the more I read of Elliott, the more it was confirmed that I am not alone in my confusion.

“After all, many people’s experience of the world, especially today, is that of increasing social complexity, cultural diversity and political conflict. Accordingly, sensitivity to the diversity of society and the subtleties of culture is necessary to ensure that social theory does not over-simplify the mixed, ambiguous experience individuals have of their own identities and of the wider social world.”[1]

Social behavior is confusing in many pockets of society, not just my change-weary organization. However, this university is where I have been provided the opportunity to make a positive impact so I will start here.

It seems we need a meaningful common language.

The last six years have been full of so much rapid change, it is no wonder we lost the language that defines who we are. We have been asking our teams to navigate rocky terrain without the proper tools to keep them steady on their feet. Our culture has been shaped by fear because we provided no language to the contrary. In order to move forward in our ‘reimagining,’ according to Saussure, it is imperative that we bring meaning to our cultural language by describing our organization with words that differentiate it from other organizations.[2] For us, and many like us, these words become descriptions of values. These values become non-negotiable boundaries for our organizational behavior. This new behavior should lead to the realization of a reimagined culture…one full of curiosity rather than fear, hope instead of cynicism.

Elliot was a tough read. I may not yet fully comprehend all the aspects of social theory presented in the text, but I am thankful for this one bit of affirmation that my pocket of society just might be on the right track to becoming what we want to be.



[1] Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction. Routledge: New York, NY, 2014. (Kindle ed.), 13.

[2] Ibid, 61

About the Author

Rhonda Davis

Rhonda is passionate about loving her Creator, her wonderful husband, and her three amazing sons. She serves as VP of Enrollment Management & Student Development at The King's University in Southlake, TX.

5 responses to “Language in my corner of the world…”

  1. Hi Rhonda. Working in a college setting is something I can relate to as well. I’ve been working at Biola for over 24 years. I’ve seen the ups and downs, good enrollment and bad enrollment seasons, new government regulations, etc. The list seems to never end.

    Your sense that all this has to do with social theory is spot on. There’s so many angles coming from social theorists that speak to these issues that I found myself trying to piece a part of each of their thinking into a complete whole, like a jigsaw puzzle.

    I think we as Christians fail to engage in the idea that we are created in the image of God and part of what that means is that we govern. That’s what it means to “fill the earth and subdue it” in Gen. 1. Sadly we behave like we are “saved from” but not “saved to.” Meaning, we are saved from eternal separation from God, but we do not consider what God has saved us to assume our calling.

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    I really appreciate how you have connected the context of your university change process with the complexities of Elliott’s contemporary social theories. I am thrilled that you are beginning to see the signs of healthy indicators within your organization and are able to savor the hard work that has taken place within complex change dynamics. I pray that you continue to experience God unfold his leadership gifts within you as you grow into the challenges of your organization navigating its way forward. Blessings, H

  3. Karen Rouggly says:

    As a fellow sister in Higher Ed, and as Harry Edwards said, your reading here is SPOT on. As we’ve been going through our own re-org at APU in the last few weeks, I’ve realized the power of language, especially when there is an absence of it. I was struck by what you said regarding the culture of fear – and how it’s been allowed to fester because no one has articulated against it. What a powerful realization, that our society and culture is defined not just by what we say, but what we don’t. Rhonda, you’re brilliant and to have you there speaking into this only makes the culture better. Well done!

  4. Mario Hood says:

    I concur with the “tough read” statements, I think this is why Dr. J reminded us we were in a doctoral program at the beginning of the week!

    In your organizational network or even in your department, what are some new words that you could import to help bring resolution into the environment?

  5. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Hi Rhonda. Wow, you have been going through a lot of changes in your working world, that’s for sure. I agree with your statement that social behavior is confusing in many pockets of society; not just your own environment. I appreciate the idea of finding a meaningful common language for your organization. Your statement that you have lost the language that defines who you are as an entity is understandable with all of the changes going on. But I think the idea of developing a language that differentiates you and provides a uniqueness for your school is ‘spot on.’ Blessings on your journey, my friend.

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