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


Written by: on September 18, 2014


The Gospel is incarnational.  It is primarily a story about the ultimate Other making himself one of us, putting on our flesh and walking in our shoes (or sandals as it were) so that we could be reunited to him and ultimately reconstituted to perfection.  It is a powerful story.  Incarnation.

In his important book The Secret Language of Leadership, Stephen Denning proposes that the best, most effective way for a leader to move a person, group, or even an entire organization into a changed way of thinking and being is through the use of a compelling story.  This is challenging to western thinkers because we don’t naturally think in narrative terms.  We generally seek to sway opinions and gather support by way of proposition.  It is expected that if one can simply present the most powerful set of data based on irrefutable research that the listener, or opponent in may cases, will be won over and change his position under the crushing weight of an insurmountable argument… Well, that isn’t always the case.  Actually, more times than not that IS NOT the case.

The ever present confirmation bias, with which we all must contend, causes us to be entrenched in our thinking, and can even drive us to misinterpretations of propositional arguments and data.  I have seen with my own eyes (and ears, and nose…) how cleverly statistical data can be twisted and spun to provide support for diametrically opposed sides of an argument!  Whether intentionally or not, this kind of behavior takes place every day in board rooms, conference rooms, back offices and even pulpits all as a result of the confirmation bias.  I will see whatever I believe and choose to see.  Proposition as a means of changing people’s minds will never overcome the confirmation bias.  It’s just too strong.

A compelling narrative on the other hand…  Now THAT will change a person’s view!  If I know your story, walk a mile in your shoes, carry the wearisome weight of your burden, live in your crowded home, sleep on your dirty floor, eat your gruel, cry at your funerals, all of my propositions and data about you can go jump in the lake!  I know you.  And what’s more, you know me.  Your story moves me, mine moves you.

No longer do I look down on you for piling up your trash in heaps on the corners of your dirt roads, rotting, decaying, incubating bacteria and disease because I understand WHY you pile it there.  And more importantly, I know how you came to the place where your best decision regarding rubbish is to heap it up into mountains of festering death because I know you, I know your story.  I have come to the place where I know, not just about you, but I know as you know and “as we enter into new ways of knowing in and engaging with our environments both our self-identities and understandings shift.”1  It takes much more than information to bring transformation; emplacement is required.

This is the task of ethnography in all of its sub-disciplines, emplacement, to know and be known.  I put myself in your world so that I can know and understand it, you and you in it.  If I take the time, and respect you enough to hear and truly know your story, perhaps you will grant me the privilege of hearing mine.  If I wrap myself in your world then maybe, just maybe I can share the narrative of the quintessential ethnographer — Jesus.

1. Sarah Pink, Doing Sensory Ethnography (London: Sage, 2010), 54.

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

11 responses to “STORY”

  1. Mary Pandiani says:

    And isn’t that what we all long for – to be known? Here in Pink’s book we are reminded that we need to place ourselves in anothers’ shoes, yet we’ve known all along that the story of Jesus is walking in anothers’ shoes – our shoes. Funny to me that it takes a researcher to remind me.
    Jon – I can tell you are a powerful storyteller pastor. You captured me with your trash 🙂

  2. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, Nice one! Forget sensory emplaced learning and knowing . . . cut to the chase . . . incarnational is all that needs to be said!

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, Who are you Pierre Bayard or Jon Spellman? Talking about a book by talking about another book? Great post!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      I just situated those books on the same shelf in my virtual library. In my mind, they cover the same topic. Now, whether the authors had anything even resembling commonality in their minds when they put pen to paper, I have no idea! And at the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter, right?


  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, Ivan Illich said somewhere, “What is the most radical way to change society; is it through violent revolution or gradual reform? . . . Neither . . . If one what to change society, then one must tell an alternative story.”

  5. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Jon, well said! Everyone wants to be known, and everyone has a story. A friend of ours authored a book, and in the front wrote a note to my husband that said “tell the story and tell it well.” I think that is the main lesson that I learned from reading Pink’s two books.

  6. Nick Martineau says:

    Jon, thanks for your story and bringing it back to Jesus. Emplacement and the incarnation is a powerful comparison and really brings it home. Jesus told parables that related on a deeper level because of how well He knew his audience. Thanks for communicating Pinks point with story!

  7. Dave Young says:

    Jon, Thanks for contrasting propositional understanding versus “story”. The problem with story is that it’s messy, it involves relationship, it involves caring, wanting to know and be known.
    Last week I met with a church member and all he wanted to do, and all he ever wants to do is argue theology or ecclesiology. I happen to be someone who cares about both subjects too but somewhere I found it’s not about being right all the time, it’s important to being known. To journey together. Alas thats not what he wanted. Lord help me to care more about the person then the proposition.

  8. Brian Yost says:

    I love how you link ethnography with the incarnation of Christ and then challenge us with developing a more incarnational ministry. We enter into another persons world because Jesus entered into our world. This helps us move beyond ethnography as an academic exercise of gaining knowledge toward a practical application of why we want that knowledge in the first place and what we will eventually do with it.

  9. Travis says:

    Jon – I believe you hit on the nose. Transformational ministry is not one that merely observes from data, it gets its hand dirty and gets into the situation to bring about a change. Its was not until Ezekiel “sat where they sat” that he became astonished. As ministers of the gospel of Christ we have to do like Christ, who even though he was God he humbled himself and became a servant even to death. Actions speak louder that words!

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