Ecclesial Identification beyond Late Modern Individualism?

A Case Study of Life Strategies in Growing Late Modern Churches


Why do some late modern churches grow, counter to the trend in Western Europe? Why do people identify with such churches – and does identification lead to morally transforming commitments beyond late modern consumerism? This case study investigates these questions based on ‘real life’ or empirical research, which include both the level of individual life strategies and organisational practice in two growing European churches. This innovative and interdisciplinary study draws on recent findings in theology, moral philosophy, sociology and organisational psychology. Its findings may prove useful not only for scholars in these disciplines, it may also enrich the reflection of practitioners who seek to perform the difficult art of transformational leadership in a late modern context.
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Biographical Note

Karl Inge Tangen, PhD (2009) in Theology, MF The Norwegian School of Theology, is an associate professor at HLT The Norwegian School of Leadership and Theology.

Review Quotes

"This book is a rich, multi-layered approach towards understanding late modern quests for meaning and religious self-identification. [...] Because this study presents not only a wealth of empirical data and useful theories but also in-depth discussions of methodology, it is a good example of the interaction between theology and the social science."
Stefan Paas, Journal of Empirical Theology 25 (2012), 263-264.

Table of contents

1 Introducing the quest: Why and how to read this study
Why this study? – a prologue
Research questions and research strategy
The organisation of the study – and how to read it

2 Theory: Consulting the wise
The function and use of theory in this study
Pentecostal and Free Church perspectives – the first horizon
The late modern person – psychological and sociological views
Robert Bellah’s typology of late modern languages
Zygmunt Bauman on consumerism and ethics in liquid modernity
Personal agency and the socio-cultural context – Margaret Archer
Dan P. McAdams’ model of personality: traits, concerns and narratives
Sherwood Lingenfelter’s typology of social games and structures
Models of transformational leadership in organisational psychology
Burns’ and Bass’ models of morally transforming leadership
Congregational studies
Dean Kelley’s hypothesis – ‘Strictness’ makes conservative churches grow
Sociological studies of late modern congregations
Theologically motivated church growth research
Shane Clifton’s study of the Australian Assemblies of God
Academic articles on the Hillsong church
A final note on terminology – a ‘late modern’ or ‘post-modern' world?
2.5 Summary: Key concepts

3 Contexts – churches, cities and nations
Pinsekirken in Copenhagen
Denmark as religious context
The history of Pinsekirken
Historical roots and theological tradition
Leadership and organisational structure
Important practices
The church’s ‘Commitment script’
The church as an organic community of Spirit-filled disciples
Hillsong in London
Britain as religious context
A comparative note on religious demography
The history of Hillsong
Theological tradition
Organisational Structure
Important practices
Commitment script: To be empowered to flourish within the church
Levels of commitment to the church
Heroic images and family metaphors
Comparative summary

4. Persons – Stories from Copenhagen
Introduction to the chapter
The story of Peter
Peter’s story – analysis
Identification themes – and reasons
New commitments and virtues
Vocabulary, images, and horizon narratives
Modes of identification and participation
The process of identification and transformation
Personal integration and life plot: The Spirit empowered explorer
The Story of Ruth
Ruth’s story – analysis
Identification themes – and reasons
New commitments
Vocabulary, images, and horizon narratives
Modes of identification and participation
Process of identification and participation
Personal integration and life plot: A homecoming in process
The story of Pastor Marcus
Marcus’ story – analysis
Identification themes – and reasons
Vocabulary, images and horizon narratives
Modes of identification and participation
The process of identification and transformation
Personal integration: Life plot : A leader called to serve
Other voices from Copenhagen

5. Persons – Stories from London
Introduction to the chapter
The story of Brittany
Brittany’s story – analysis
Identification themes – and reasons
New commitments and virtues
Vocabulary, images and horizon narratives
Modes of identification and participation
Processes of identification and transformation
Personal integration and life plot: Coming home to a journey of discovery
The story of Earnest
Earnest’s story – analysis
Identification themes – and reasons
New commitments and virtues
Vocabulary, images and horizon narratives
Modes of identification and participation
Process of identification and participation
Personal integration and plot: Becoming a church builder
The story of Pastor Dustin
Dustin’s story – analysis
Identification themes – and reasons
New commitments
Vocabulary, images and horizon narratives
Modes of identification
Personal integration and life plot. The passionate church builder
Other voices from London

6 Organisational foci – Why do people identify?
Theo-dramatic and existential identification themes
Theme 1: A Theo-dramatic vision, clear missions and inspiring imagoes
Theme 2: Practical Bible based teaching
Themes describing practice performance identification
Theme 3: Professionalism and updated aesthetics
Theme 4: Dynamic practices, and organisational growth
Themes describing relational quality identification
Theme 5: A community and friendships with family qualities
Theme 6: Connecting to caring growth models and trustworthy pathfinders
Spirituality themes
Theme 7: Experiencing God as caring Father and dynamic presence
Belonging to God – then to the church

7 Organisational foci and individual integration
The purpose of this chapter
Theme 8: Personal integration – finding a ‘home’ to centre oneself
A sense of home revisited – deliberative centring
Narrative resources: Images and ‘imagoes’ for personal ‘emplotment’
Life -strategic resources: Models for personal organisation
Ritual resources: Integration rituals
Stories of homecoming – home as a metaphor of centring
Centring and the duality of belonging and freedom
Inner freedom as a personal capability and relational quality
Spirituality and a sense of inner freedom and well being
Theme 9: Redemption as personal growth
Redemptive subplots: deliverance, healing and spiritual empowerment
Journeys of discovery, and personal and spiritual empowerment
God’s love and self-identity – a new sense of self-acceptance
Growth stories: Incorporating and overcoming tensions
Performance enablement and psychological flow
A comparison with McAdams’ research on redemptive stories
Redemption in the context of late modernity
Theme 10: The possibility of self-transcendent contributions
Personal integration identification defined
Towards a model of integrative themes
Towards an overarching model of organisational identification
The five meta-categories and ontological dimensions
The practical dimension
The socio-relational dimension and virtues
The personal-reflective dimension
The ideational and existential dimension
The spirituality dimension
The relatedness of the five categories – mutual interpenetration?
A focus on organisational foci over individual relevance
The significance of socio-relational qualities and spirituality

8 Are transformational commitments formed?
Dimension 1: Commitment to the church’s narrative
Bellah on sects – and the nature of transformational commitment
Individualistic or ecclesial models of life?
Free Church languages – a theological critique of Bellah’s typology
Dimension 2: Spirituality and commitments to God
Grace – from a transactional to transformational relationship with God?
Spirituality as a generic element of transformational commitment
Dimension 3: Self-transcendent commitments to others and the other
Family values, relational virtues, and commitment to significant others
Friendliness and hospitality towards the stranger
Friendship beyond transaction – sharing a public good
The genesis of caring and serving love - a theoretical elaboration
Social relationships: Transformational, transactional, and functional
Dimension 4: Commitment to the social welfare of the context
Social responsibility and service in the world
A neo-Protestant work ethic?
Civic virtues – do they emerge?
The ethical Janus face of the performance dynamics
Transactional and transformational processes – synergies and tensions
Transactional and transformational processes: Personal sacrifices as a recurring theme
Callings and the idea of ‘dying to self’
Summing up – holistic sets of transformational commitments

9 Towards a typology of ecclesial life strategies
Organisational structures and organisational transformation
Late modernity and the difficulties of maintaining a ‘pure’ church
The centred Free Church – a combination of hierarchy and egalitarianism
The centred Free Church: An orthodox or traditional castle?
Hillsong as a partly trans-local church
The shadow side of the centred set – the possibility of spiritual shopping
Flexible commitment structures and flexi-orthodoxy
The process of commitment and modes of identification
Pre-stage and context: Initiating concerns and preferences
Initiating personal concerns – crises and callings
Stage one: Encounter, friendly interaction and inner conversation
Margaret Archer’s typology of life strategies and modes of the inner conversation
Stage two: Commitment: conversion, rededication, or intensification
Stage three: Consequences – transformations
Towards a typology of transformational ecclesial life strategies
From tourists to ecclesial pilgrims – a continuum of life strategies
The ecclesial communalist
The Theo-dramatic entrepreneur
The Spirit-led servant
The truth seeker
The meta-thinking life artist
The typology and other comparative findings
The two churches and the national contexts
Possible difference between ‘Traditionalists’ and New Converts

10 Summary and conclusions
Transformational commitments and life strategies

11 Rethinking transformational leadership and participation
Reflections on the moral quandary of transformational leadership
Structure revisited – a perspective on power
Reflective space as condition for authentic transformational commitment
Towards a system dynamic model of ecclesial leadership
Existential dramatic and Theo-dramatic leadership
Practice dynamic leadership – ‘organizing for effective and aesthetic execution’
Hosting transformation - indirect and direct relational leadership
Beyond secular leadership theory – integrating spirituality
Leadership as integrative action – reflection in the Spirit
Questions about leadership and structure
Theological leadership as critical and Theo-dramatic contextualisation
The model, existing leadership theory, and further studies
A final word on further application

Appendix A: Epistomological issues: Theology, critical realism and the
social sciences
Hermeneutics within a critical realist epistemology
A participative hermeneutics

Appendix B: Methods and material
The primary method: Semi-structured interviews
Supplementary methods: Micro-ethnography
A note on qualitative research as process
Methods of data analyses
A note on participant observation and double hermeneutics
Ethical issues
Validity and reliability
A note on internal and external generalisability
Validity and ethnographic storytelling

Bibliography and references

Index of secondary sources and references


The study is relevant for scholars in the fields of theology and ethics, sociology, and organisational psychology


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