On hillsides, along dusty roads and through choppy waters, Jesus taught twelve men of action to be reflective practitioners and leaders. He taught them to see people as God sees them. He taught them to see power from a new perspective. He taught them to pray as He prayed. And He taught them to serve in partnership. To be leaders of a radical, world-changing movement, the disciples needed perspective as well as passion, wisdom as well as willingness.
Jesus led the disciples to the heart of Almighty God and taught them to be agents of transformation. Retracing their journey, we too can learn to both follow and lead. As we learn to be reflective practitioners we will also learn to be agents of transformation, bringing others along on the journey.
What does it mean to be a reflective practitioner? Dr. William Taylor defines reflective practitioners from a Christian perspective: “Women and men of both action and study; rooted in the Word of God and the Church of Christ; obedient to the power of God’s Spirit and to the Great Commission in all its fullness; servants who are globalized in perspective; citizens of their own cultures but also the world; leaders who are passionate of heart and who also reflect the heart of Christ” (Taylor, p. 1).
Action and study, local and global, holistic, committed and compassionate. Being a reflective practitioner may, to some, seem like the way any intelligent person functions—think, then act. Have reasons for what you do. Consider the consequences. Perhaps even make a list of pros and cons before making a decision. But it’s not simply a series of steps. It both requires more and offers more.
The concept of “reflective practitioner” is not the exclusive property of followers of Christ. Much of the credit for the development of the “reflective practitioner” concept is given to John Dewey’s progressive education movement. Dewey defined reflective thinking as “the active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the grounds that support it” (wwwedu.oulu.fi/ref, p.1).
A reflective practitioner:
- Requires a deeper understanding of the knowledge involved
- Sees and responds to everyday practices through a reflective lens
- Wants to live out “caring” as everyday practice
- Needs to create time to enable reflectivity to take place and for new ideas to emerge
- Is acutely aware of the characteristics of interpersonal encounters
- Has an awareness of their own values and the need to live them out
- Has the ability to critically analyze practice
- Encourages team discussion and team decisions
- Is willing to discuss experiences and account for action
- Is not afraid to say “I don’t know”
(Berkley & Giles  from wwwedu.oulu.fi/ref, p. 1).
Though the term “reflective practitioner” can be applied to the field of education, wise and reflective thinking and living can be applied in every discipline and situation. The quality of both reflection and practice is determined by what one is reflecting on or what one is practicing. Because wisdom originates with God, there can be no better model of the reflective practitioner than Christ Himself.
The example of Jesus. Christ prepared twelve men to awaken the world. We have the profound privilege of studying not only what He taught them, but also how He taught them.
Jesus taught the disciples and the crowds through dialogue and through preaching, through everyday events and through miracles, through stories, questions, examples and prayer. Sometimes His lessons seemed terse; at other times they were tender. He knew the heart of every man and woman; He knew just what they needed to hear and just what they needed to do. The disciples didn’t have the advantage of knowing every person’s heart. But Jesus left them with a lifetime of examples and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Over the course of His earthly ministry He shaped the disciples as leaders who would think and behave in ways the world had not yet seen.
The cultures of Jesus' context encouraged blind obedience, to both religious law and, on the other hand, to Roman law. But He opened eyes—physically, spiritually and intellectually—to a different, more truly obedient way of life. J. Oswald Sanders has said, “Eyes that look are common, eyes that see are rare” (Sanders, p. 56). Jesus helped the disciples to truly see. Through that seeing came a holistic kind of obedience, the reflective practice of kingdom living. The kingdom Christ showed them was not the overbearing Roman Empire, nor the conquered, subjugated kingdom of Israel. Nor was it the kingdom of the conquering messiah-king they had envisioned. Instead, He revealed a kingdom for now and for eternity, a kingdom that demanded and promised more than they could imagine. This was a kingdom of the Spirit, established by the King of Heaven, yet visible in the everyday actions of everyday people.