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.

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