Systems Theory and Listening to the Margins

When considering the church as a system, one must consider those overlooked parts of the whole.  I submit that, in the North American congregations, these overlooked ‘parts’ have been women, ethnic minorities, and those on the lower end of the economic scale.  Ervin Laszlo describes that function in terms of values. "Values are goals which behavior strives to realize. Any activity which is oriented toward the accomplishment of some end is value-oriented activity. (p. 78)" The church, in a systems view, could be seen as a system whose parts are working together to embody the values of the gospel.


The experience of women, minorities, and the poor as feeling marginalized, rather than part of the whole, could be viewed as a manifestation of non-optimum performance.  I anticipate that by heeding stories from the margins might move our congregations toward a more full articulation and practice of Christian faith. Incorporating the story as told by marginalized persons recognizes a new significance of part of the whole Christian body. It will also support the church’s efforts to engage the unchurched with the gospel as people hear their own lives represented in the community’s self-expression. Heeding stories from the margins captures the feedback necessary for the health of the system.

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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