Monday, December 22, 2008

The 5 points and 8 subpoints to making a horseshoe

There are more missionaries serving around the world today than at any time in the history of Christianity. In addition, non-Western missionaries, often called "two-thirds" missionaries because of their location in the "two-thirds" world, are about to surpass Western missionaries in number (Whiteman, "Integral Training Today for Cross-cultural Mission", Missiology). The most pressing issue has quickly become how to train these eager workers.

Often, at least from our ethnocentric American perspective, it is up to us, the highly trained Western missionaries to train the nationals we work with. But just what kind of training do we ourselves possess? Fifty years ago the average training program for American Protestant missionaries was six months long. Today the average is only 25 days (Whiteman). We are heading to the field with less training than ever before and encountering more opportunities to train others on the field than ever before. How should we proceed?

Our Western approach of teaching comes out of the age of enlightenment. Universities began around the year 1000 and following. Logic and reason are the twin princes of learning. We Americans like our information fresh, hot, and now - similar to why we love the drive-thru restaurant. We don't want our time wasted. We come to class with our computers ready to go, Word document up, right hand on the "insert bullet point" button, left hand on a delicious vanilla latte. We want the professor to come to class ready to pull the rip cord and spout off the relevant info in a nice orderly, point by point fashion. We are irritated if his lecture doesn't fit easily into an outline format. Give us numbers 1 through 8 with 3 subpoints each and we pack and go.

And we use the same format to train everyone we encounter. Don't we realize that pretty much every other culture in the world operates in a drastically different way than our logical outline format? They value relationship over time and need concrete information and not abstract thinking. They often like circular reinforcement and not outline format. However, we want to get a group of Christians together in the jungle and train them the same way we were trained. Only it doesn't work like that. Information cannot transfer from one person to another like it does from our Bluetooth enabled Blackberry to our Macbook. There is a massive cultural barrier in place and we often fail to work with it.

Most of the world learns how to live from watching others. A young man goes with his father to learn to hunt and fish. A mother is watched closely by younger women to learn the tools of her trade. Even business deals are modeled by a seasoned veteran to a younger apprentice. Remember years ago in England and the U.S. that if one wanted to become a blacksmith, he wouldn't sign up for classes at a University. He would apprentice himself to a seasoned blacksmith and learn on the job. It's tough to learn how to make horseshoes unless you actually have a go at making one.

We need to learn a few lessons from our brothers and sisters around the world. They learn best in an apprentice setting. We are not familiar with that style and try and cram our logical, outline presentation of abstract information into their world. It doesn't transfer. What is striking though is that even Westerners are beginning to realize our classroom training is inadequate to prepare us for the actual task. Western missionaries are asking for more apprenticeship style training and less classroom time on the field (John DeValve, "Mentoring New Missionaries", EMQ). Learning is more than a passing along of information. It is a doing and a living.

Have you ever worked hard to teach a five week class on evangelism in your church only to be disappointed to learn that no one actually put the training to use and shared the gospel with anyone? I know I have. What if, instead of teaching the 5 points on evangelism, you actually took one or two people out with you and shared the gospel with real people as the training? Your students would see the information in action. They would be encouraged. They would be challenged. Instead of giving the 3 points on Bible study, actually sit down with your disciple and walk through how you do your quiet time. Do you lecture on preaching? Try and actually prepare a sermon with your student, deliver it, watch it later and critique it with your student. This is real mentoring/discipling/teaching/equipping/apprenticeship training. I've found that it works a whole lot better. What other areas could this approach be applied to?

What do you think? Have you ever tried this type of approach in your teaching? I'm wondering how to incorporate more of this approach to the teaching I do right here in the U.S. Yes we are technologically advanced but are we really taking our classroom experience and using it in ministry? If not, what can we do to become better communicators of God's Word? There is room for evaluation and improvement in all of our lives.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"I made a bad decision today. I ate a greasy hamburger for breakfast." Months later that quote is all I'm able to remember from one pastor's sermon on "Deciding for Christ." I'm not alone as several church members continue to talk about the humorous introduction to the sermon. It's not so humorous that no one, including me can remember anything else about the sermon! Do we as pastors ever ask the question, "Does anyone actually remember what I am saying every Sunday morning?"

Missionaries are beginning to realize that there are many factors over and above language that complicate the transfer of a message from the sender to the receiver. Cultural barriers to the message include everything from the proper "social bubble" distance to the subtlest of non-verbal communication. Those working in oral cultures, pre-literate peoples who communicate best through story form, have nailed down three keys to shoot for when communicating. Will the people be able to 1) understand what I am saying, 2) remember what I've said, and 3) be able to retell it to others later. If the missionary is able to meet these three goals, the message is likely to be successful.

What about those of us communicating in the U.S.? How about those of us communicating the ultimate message - the gospel - in our churches and on the street. Do we step back and ask these three questions of ourselves? What good is it to deliver the most well done 8 point, 13 subpoint sermon ever conceived if one week, one day, even one hour later all the people can remember is that you ate a hamburger for breakfast?

I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I have begun to incorporate some oral communication techniques into the teaching I do. I have tried linking scripture with a relevant story. I've tried a repeat and recall method. I've tried incorporating pictures into the message. I think it is working! If people remember you ate a hamburger for breakfast but can then link the details of the sermon to that illustration, you have succeeded. If they can only remember the hamburger...well, not so good.

No matter what the context of our preaching and teaching, we should always ask ourselves if the people are understanding what we are saying, can they remember it more than 5 minutes, and could they retell it to friends, coworkers, or themselves later on when they need the Word in their life. We have to stop assuming we are master communicators or that it doesn't matter how we say what we say because everyone has grown up speaking the same language as us. Preachers, of all people, should see the most value in striving for effective communication.

As a side note, I was quite surprised to find that most of the people in this survey indicated that PowerPoint presentation in conjunction with sermons distracted them. PowerPoints are useful for helping those people get your ongoing subpoints but do they really help them get the overall point of the message? Also, do most people ever read those notes they took on their church bulletin ever again? Decide for yourself.

So those of you who speak and teach, begin to ask yourself and your hearers just how effective you are in communicating. Will your people remember more than just an obscure story you've told at some point in the past? Let's all work to be better communicators.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Lord Will Provide

I'll begin with an update to the previous post. It turned out that the camshaft had broken in the engine of our car. This and the parts connected with it caused some major damage to the innards of the engine. We were left to decide whether to spend mega-bucks on another engine, surpassing the value of the car or selling the car and getting another one. The Lord worked out several things over the course of a few days and we made our decision.

The repair shop offered an unusually high amount of money to buy our broken car from us. We went to our bank just to see what kind of rate we could get on a loan. It turned out that we had a great credit score and were able to get a low rate. We went to a dealership and I'll have to admit I was ruthless with the salespeople and we got a great deal on a good car. We are now the proud owners of a Kia - let's hope some of the money goes to support those Korean missionaries... The salesman "assured me of Kia's Christian values..." I was able to share the gospel with the salesman right at the table in the middle of the busy store. He knew I went to seminary and asked me if Islam and Christianity believed in the same God. The Lord (pbuh) was very good to us!

We've been enjoying the car, especially me because it is a stick shift! My wife Beth hadn't driven a stick in many years so we have been practicing. She is doing a great job! We took it to my parent's house in Ohio last weekend and the ride was comfortable and it got pretty good gas milage. We'll be going to Wisconsin for Christmas so we're definately putting the car through its paces.

In other news I interviewed for an in home chef job last night. There is a family with 5 kids and they are continually overwhelmed. Rather than hire a nanny or manny (what do you call a male nanny?) they decided to farm out the cooking duties so the mom could focus on her kids. I love to cook, they have a huge kitchen with excellent quality cookware, and it is something I can do with Beth so we will take the job if they offer.

I have sent my resume to several churches in hopes of being able to pastor one of them. Just today I recieved an email asking me if I am avaliable to preach in one of them at the end of the month. I'm excited to be able to do that. Silly me to wonder if any of this stuff was ever going to work out. Our God isn't called Provider for no reason!