Thursday, March 13, 2008

A little background . . .

Hopefully, this post and the next will help to make more sense of some of the last few posts. First, a few bits that shape my perspective, in no particular order, so you know some of where I'm coming from when it comes to the subject of teaching and learning:
  • I've grown up in the evangelical church and never left. My mother took us to Southern Baptist churches growing up, I went to a Lutheran grade-school, a non-denom evangelical middle school & highschool (bible class every day, chapel once a week), attended and led small groups & then college ministry at a Vineyard in college & law school. Since then I've been a part of two evangelical church plants. (My point: I've heard a moderately high amount of teaching in the evangelical format, and even given my share of it.)
  • As far as non-religious schooling goes, I've had about as much as I can get without changing fields of study. I have a B.S. in Business, a law degree and a master's in tax law. I've also been working as an adjunct professor at a local Christian university for two years. My classes, two per semester, have approximately 30 students each. (So I've also heard a relatively high amount of teaching in the academic format, and even given my share of it.)
  • FWIW, in the academic setting I generally got great marks as a student and as a teacher (at least in the academic setting, you get formally evaluated on these things). Whether as a small group leader, college minister, professor, etc., I really have cared about what people who were part of these groups were taking away from them. Though questions about teaching have been in my mind for decades, doing the teaching/leading work myself kicked them into high gear as I attempted to help people learn and see something, and even be shaped differently.
  • The current church plant that I'm a part of is coming out of a parachurch ministry in downtown West Palm Beach--Urban Youth Impact ("UYI"). It's largest program is an after-school tutoring program, but it also does a variety of evangelical outreaches, bible studies and community service projects on a regular basis, and has been in the community for over a decade. Like most strongly evangelical organizations, UYI's outreaches were typically designed to get conversions--getting kids to say a prayer so that they can go to heaven instead of hell whenever death inevitably comes. UYI has gotten several thousands of these conversions over the years, which they sought to "follow up" with bible studies and the like. But here is the fact: UYI can only point to a handful of people who show substantial change toward Christlikeness out of the thousands who have "converted."

So what? Well, obviously I've not studied learning theory (yet), and have no formal education training. My experience is only as a congregant, a disciple of Jesus, a 'secular' student, and as a church leader and professor. But each of these undertakings have been wonderfully helpful and also left some splinters in my mind about the learning process, specifically as it applies to our apprenticeship to Jesus. Here are some splinters, again, in no particular order, that I haven't yet fully dug out (the next post will be the tangible structures that the current church plant is adopting that these splinters helped shape):

  • In all the above experiences (and as a parent), I've seen lots of ways one can teach, and lots of ways one can learn. Some ways of teaching are less effective (i.e., less likely to change the hearers intellectually or more thoroughly) than others. The evangelical church tends to emphasize, even revere, the least effective form of teaching of which I'm aware--uninterrupted lecture by the same person.
  • Jesus, speaking to the apostles, whose 'teaching' responsibilities were only going to increase, told them not to let anyone call them "Teacher" or "Father", and gave essentially two reasons: There was only One worthy of such titles, and they, the apostles, were all equals with anyone they'd be 'teaching'. I have no doubts that changing the title to "pastor" or some other term designed to honor and distinguish a servant from the other brothers somehow remedies what Jesus was trying to prevent here.
  • Relatedly, being given the task and gift of teaching by God is different from letting people put a title on you. Gifts give energy and life to the giver and the recipient. But few things in life are heavier than a religious title, whether for the individual or the individual's family. Do your leaders a favor: call them by their first names, and think of them that way.
  • The longer one stays in academia, listening to experts give lectures, the less one feels qualified to do anything. One has to actually do something themselves and see it work to build confidence with the subject matter.
  • Parents whose goal is maturity don't primarily teach by lecture; talking is just step one.
  • I don't think we're making as many disciples of Jesus as we think we are.
  • While I realize that "not many" should aspire to biblical teaching (for the harsher judgment and the general challenges of the tongue), didn't the early churches enjoy a plethora of teachers (how could Corinth play favorites if they'd only ever heard one guy; how could Timothy know if a potential elder is "able to teach" if the candidate has never done it; if the Jerusalem church "devoted themselves to the apostleS' teaching, that church had at least a dozen teachers, not even counting James, Jesus' brother, and some other folks who likely also taught; if "two or at the most three" prophets would speak per gathering in Corinth, do we really think it was the same two or three every gathering, etc., etc.)
  • Guest speakers in my class have a big advantage in being effective just by having a different voice and face and personality than my own.
  • Prioritizing "new births" over "Christ fully formed within" will play itself out in actual living results.
  • Students tend to retain a lot more if WE discuss, than if I lecture.
  • I learn a lot by prepping to teach. I learn even more if I ask the students good questions and listen to their answers and questions.
  • No amount of lecture (or even discussion) can make up for a student who doesn't really want to learn what I'm teaching.
  • Creating learners is more helpful than teaching, and there is a difference between the two.
  • A truth discovered sticks and shapes several times better than a truth heard.
  • Seeing and doing something in action (apprenticeship) is so much better than classroom "learning", it's hard to even compare them, but apprenticeship is much slower and requires a lot more "teachers", and a lot more work by the student.
  • Would the apostles be horrified by our near permanent "delegation" of the teaching to one person per church, with lecture being the typical method?
  • As Dallas Willard has suggested, are we getting the results we now have not despite our efforts but at least partially because of them?

As I said, next post will be the structures our new church plant is adopting, which have been shaped in part by these splinters.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Maturity and "teaching"

Here's a comment I made on one of Brant's posts. His issue was more general, about babies and bathwater in the church and which is which. My comment was specific to the relationship between teaching (as we typically practice and prioritize it) and maturity:

[I]t's fairly defensible that the "end" God has in mind is fully formed, fully functional Christ-likeness, writ-large. If that's where we're headed (or where God would like to lead us), what shared, corporate practices are likely to lead us there? I know you're a fan of [spiritual disciplines], so there's much positive to be said here. On the negative (bath water) side, though, I think that delegating the vast bulk of the teaching to one "expert" person on a near permanent basis, and, secondly, having our teaching be almost exclusively without dialog are likely to help the very young in the faith for a while, but will actually hinder the maturing process after the infancy/child stages. Why aren't pastors typically multiplying themselves out of a job asap? Don't our biblical examples tend toward that kind of multiplication? Our "ecclesiology" is currently best designed to produce babies (converts) and minister to those babies in the faith. It is difficult to argue from typical church practice (centered on lectures, usually by one "expert") that we are geared toward maturity. Our priorities of practice, our ways of doing teaching, etc.--bathwater. Not necessarily bad, but definitely best used for babies.
I hope I'm being clear that I'm not opposed to teaching. I do, though, from a biblical and practical perspective, question how we do it, how we (generally fail to) train others to do it, and how both of the above tends to produce spectators of the faith rather than ambassadors of it. So, are there any biblically faithful alternatives to our typical "plan"? What and how so? Is an alternative approach really necessary at all? I'll be posting on an alternative we're working on at UYI very soon.