Does God speak to you in unexpected ways? Say, while listening to the radio?
Seven years ago, I heard an NPR report on how cutting-edge classrooms are changing to fit our changing culture. This is where I first heard that teachers must shift from being “the sage on the stage” to “the guide by the side,” and I blogged about postmodern schooling.
A few days ago, I heard another report on NPR about education. Only this time, it wasn’t a cutting-edge classroom. It was about a school district in bad shape, with low scores on state tests that weren’t improving. Simply holding the teachers accountable for better test scores wasn’t working.
Then they accomplished a major turnaround.
And like the report seven years ago, I listened intently, making connections to church and discipling. What can this school district’s advancements teach us about how we train people in the Way of Jesus?
Theories don’t cut it
Don’t tell me.
Joe Curtis is one of the superstar teachers, whose students tend to make big gains on the tests. Curtis has been teaching for nearly 30 years. Ask him how he became a good teacher and he doesn’t talk about graduate school or professional development days. He talks about other teachers — talking to them, trying out their methods and watching them in action.
Stick with me, I’m jumping between education and faith. How do churches try to make disciples?
- First, the person wanting to become a pastor must get a seminary degree.
- In seminary, students learn various theories and approaches.
- After graduating and getting pastoral jobs, these people give weekly lectures.
Lectures are a fine way to impart raw information. But it’s not enough for what we want, which is to make disciples who make other disciples. Information transfer isn’t enough, we need life transfer. Don’t tell me. Show me.
Re-read the account of Joe Curtis above. How did he become a good teacher? Not from training courses, but by spending time with good teachers. What if we did the same and spent time with effective disciple-makers?
Going solo doesn’t cut it
Heather Long is a new teacher. Not only does she watch Curtis teach, he watches her and gives feedback and advice. They also plan lessons together. Curtis works with the veterans in his building too. Everything teachers in Chattanooga do now is rooted in the idea that they get better when they work together.
The report goes on to highlight a shift from teachers doing their own thing, to helping each other.
Are church services just a gathering of many Lone Rangers into one place?
Sermons are mostly a one-way delivery. A good preacher offers a challenge for how to apply a teaching to your life. But then it’s up to you, on your own. Maybe you’ll get it, but probably not, because there’s no one coaching you. And you’re not coaching anyone else, either.
It’s certainly not a team effort. North American Christianity suffers from excessive individualism, and there’s an entangled cause-and-effect relationship between that individualism and our sermon system:
- Preparation: One person researches and creates the message.
- Delivery: One person delivers a lecture to multiple people.
- Processing: Each person sits and listens to the message.
- Application: Each person is on their own to apply it to their lives.
See how it’s about individual effort, even when we’re all gathered? Evangelicals are quick to criticize “Lone Ranger Christians” who have left the church. But are church services just a gathering of many Lone Rangers into one place, still largely isolated from each other? At the same time, you can’t just ask strangers to share their lives with each other and expect something to happen.
Re-read the account of Heather Long above. “Everything… is rooted in the idea that they get better when they work together.” How can we shift from a solo-student mentality, to a sports-team mentality?
Sermons don’t cut it
[Penny] King says she and her colleagues have learned all kinds of new teaching techniques. One thing they’ve learned: Don’t lecture at the students. Their goal now is to get the kids thinking and talking.
“God knows we don’t need more lectures.”
In my previous post I asked, what’s the return-on-investment for sermons? Blog one another’s resident atheist commented on Twitter, “Of all non-people, God knows we don’t need more lectures.”
Deliver me from sitting still and listening to one person talks. And I’m an introvert.
Sermons happen to be about spiritual topics, but they’re still lectures. That’s not to say they have no benefit. But a modern sermon is a lecture, with computerized slides. Just like at work.
…Except when I heard the CEO of eBay address the rank-and-file engineers, he presented his vision of the future but then spent most of the time letting anyone ask questions. And instead of using a question as an opportunity to provide his quick answer and move on, he lingered on it. He explored it. He carried on an open conversation with the person who asked the question, and got input from others. And he took his time and did this for each question.
Re-read the quote above. How do we move from monologue to dialog? How can we move from teaching informing our lives, to our lives informing the teaching?
Effective discipling: What is God telling us?
These were the things that struck me as I listened to the radio article on education. I’m reminded of what I read years ago in The Master Plan of Evangelism: Effective discipling isn’t a curriculum. It’s demonstrated. It’s imparted. And the torch is passed on.
Re-read the accounts of Jesus. Pay attention to what he does, and how his disciples watch him. They ask him questions. He answers with more questions. Then he sends them out to do the same stuff he was doing. Then they come back to debrief.
At this point, I encourage you to listen to the radio report that caught my attention. Do as Kay says and “listen with both ears” — meaning your spiritual ear in addition to your natural ear. For me personally, this is a continuation of my Lectio Divina meditation on the word “and”: the Holy Spirit is reawakening my desire for personal discipling relationships in small groups.
What is he saying to you? Share in the comments below.
(Special challenge for pastors: Can you find someone who is an effective disciple-maker and shadow them for a week, or even 3-4 days? Even if you’re a good discipler, watching someone else in action will give you different insights.)