Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Craig Van Gelder


What are the cultural dynamics within a congregational system that are vital to the empowering of missional leadership? Do Lutherans have anything to contribute to the missional church movement in the United States? These two questions were primary for this dissertation and emerged out of two gaps identified in the missional church literature. Seeing congregations as complex, open systems, missional leadership within congregational systems was studied using a grounded theory, qualitative research approach. The five ELCA congregational systems in this study were identified by their peers as excelling in helping their faith community discover their calling as disciples of Jesus and empowering them to live their faith in the world. They were studied using primarily the ethnographic methods of field observation, focus groups, and journaling. The particular cultural dynamics of each congregational system were identified first, and then those that were common among them were articulated. These eight common cultural dynamics included: an active view of God, the world as the horizon, discipleship as a way of life, congregational systems as a network of people, the dance of leadership, tension of ministry and mission, a vibrant Lutheran identity, and a changing and adapting posture. From these cultural dynamics, a Lutheran hermeneutic for leading in mission was proposed. Using Craig Van Gelder’s four part hermeneutic, this proposal was shaped around: communicatively discerned, biblically and theologically framed, theoretically informed, and strategic action. The foundation of this hermeneutic of leading in mission was a missional theology, with a missional view of God, church, and ministry tied to a missional, Lutheran understanding of baptism and vocation. To this foundation were added several theoretical perspectives: grounded theory; ethnography; cultural anthropology; complex, open systems theory; and organizational leadership theory. The qualitative, grounded theory research findings, having sought to capture the what and why of the faith communities with a missiological inquiry of discovering God’s intent, were woven throughout. The addition of qualitative research provided the opportunity for the lived experiences of missional congregational systems to speak into the missional church conversation in the United States offering a Lutheran voice, while also keeping theology and theory central.