“The church is always more than a school…
but the church cannot be less than a school.”
Historian Jaroslav Pelikan included these critical words on the first page of his five-volume history of Christian doctrine. Around VantagePoint3 circles, we would tweak Pelikan’s language a little bit by saying—the church is always more than a learning community, but the church must never be less than a learning community. We are formed to worship, to fellowship, to be sent out into the world in Jesus’ name—all essential tasks of the church. But we must recognize that the church is also essentially a place of ongoing education. From the crib to the grave, a church community must be a place where we learn to make sense of our lives and of the world, where we explore with a fresh imagination what our lives could really become, where we learn together to follow Jesus and his way of life in the world. The church is always more than a learning community, but never less.
Sadly it seems that many adults are simply surviving, hoping to get by with what they already know; learning is for children and teenagers, or so they think. There is often very little expectation of further movement and development in their adult lives. We desperately need communities whose life together challenges such notions; we need churches where the cultivation of a lifelong learning posture is Discipleship 101.
A learning posture of the heart and the mind does not discriminate between Sunday morning sermons and Tuesday night dishwashing, between classroom lectures and dinner table conversation, between sunsets and supermarkets. It is a cultivated paying attention, which operates within the everydayness and everywhereness of life. And when practiced over the long haul it is what the ancients called the way of wisdom. Or as Christian educator Steve Garber states, “we understand that the deepest lessons are not learned in text books, but instead are discovered as learning meets life.”
I have a hunch that as a reader of this blog you lead adults and care about their ongoing development. With my “Practical Pam” hat firmly on, let me encourage you with my top three non-negotiable adult learning tips. You will notice similarities between them.
I challenge you to identify an upcoming adult meeting, small group, or important gathering, thinking about how to integrate these strategies as you lead.
1. Ask and Include.
Resist the urge to be the answer-man/woman. There is so much more to be gained by asking and including participants’ input before you begin, when you gather, and all along the way. “Why did you choose to come? What expectations do you have? What will make this a good use of your time? What do you hope for?”
In the process of including others through our questions we gain so much more than answers. We demonstrate our ability to listen, earn respect, observe, build enthusiasm, show that we are in this together, and create a warm, safe, trusting environment.
2. The power of dialogue.
A couple of statements we repeat around VP3 are, “conversation creates culture” and “the answers are in the room.” Both mandate a way of being together that put a priority on contribution from everyone, through a process of questions, reflection and generous conversational space.
I would like to have a dollar for every conversation I have with a friend, a facilitator of one of the VP3 processes, a pastor or leader, and even with myself, around “what are you thinking about for next steps?”
Deep in the DNA of my spiritual life, and therefore the lens I see others’ personal spiritual DNA, and also the “BIG C” life of the church, is that we ought to be thinking about our next steps for growth. There are always next steps. Jesus talks about things that grow all the time. There is an expectation that we, too, will grow. And in my language, I’ve adopted the words, “What are your next steps?”
To a friend it may sound like, “So, what’s your next move?”
To a facilitator of The Journey process, “Are you helping each of your group participants think about their next steps after The Journey concludes?”
To a Pastor and church leader, “Are you thinking about your church’s next steps for adult spiritual growth? Do you find yourself thinking about some kind of pathway for that growth?”
Let me pull back the curtain on ways we may find our selves thinking about next step conversations.
19 years ago I followed a nudge to do what I could to help pastors and the leaders in local churches pay greater attention to the development of their adults. At the time I knew part of the concern was a leadership one, and so much of what I put my hand to was couched in the language of “leadership development.” And, in some respect, I was on to something.
“The Journey has changed the way I think about my role as pastor.
I have a greater boldness about my mission and calling.”
In a recent coaching call with our Sioux Falls The Journey Facilitator Retreat crew, we heard great testimonies of the impact already being felt and seen within Journey groups across South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota. At a point in the conversation when the facilitators were talking about how the process was impacting them, the above quote is how one of the pastors replied.
I took the opportunity to talk with that pastor and I asked him if he would be willing to answer a few questions and share about his experience implementing The Journey in his church for the first time…
One of the highlights of my fall so far has been leading an adult Sunday School class on Jeff Manion’s book The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions (Zondervan, 2010). The book is about those hard seasons of disorientation in our lives, those times that have a before-and-after character. Like, before mom had cancer, after mom had cancer; before I lost my job, after I lost my job; before we lost the house, after we lost the house; before the accident, after the accident. These moments are life altering and their effects often last for decades.
By walking with the Israelites and Moses through their wilderness wanderings, Jeff Manion invites us into an exploration of the soul shaping potential of these painful and confusing transitions in our lives. A lot of things can grow in the wilderness despite its bleak and barren appearances. We learn to turn toward God and speak honestly in our pain and confusion. We learn to trust God in the dark, when we can’t even see the road in front of us. The wilderness can provide fertile soil for encountering God’s provision and gracious discipline in our lives. However, growth is not inevitable in the wilderness. Like the Israelites in their land between Egypt and the promised land, we can turn away from God by trying to survive on our own instead of turning toward God in trust.
Manion points out over and again that our time in the land between can result in a deeper richer faith, but it can also lead to bitterness and resentment and spiritual stagnation. How we respond to these difficult times matters immensely. Are we turning toward God or away from God as we face these difficult circumstances? Will we learn to trust God even in the dark?
All said, I highly recommend this book for its capacity to invite a deeper exploration and honesty and prayerfulness about the things that matter most in our lives. For a number of us at Trinity Baptist Church in particular, reading and discussing this book together has cultivated a rich conversation with the Lord and with one another.
The word kairos means a moment in time. It holds a different meaning than chronos, which is how we typically think of time in terms of a sequence of seconds, minutes and hours ticking along. Kairos has more to do with a right opportunity, or a ripe season, or the progression of something toward a perfect moment in time or even striking the right moment. This week five amazing people from the VantagePoint3 tribe came together to begin a timely learning opportunity for their continued growth as leaders. They are part of a creative cohort approach to seminary education sponsored by Sioux Falls Seminary called The Kairos Project.
I absolutely love learning. Sign-me-up-Sally for the next opportunity! So over the years, as I’ve accumulated a degree or two, it’s been a humbling thing to frame the diploma only to recognize that God has shifted my career trajectory and I don’t have the ideal credentials.
This humbling wave rolled up to my doorstep again last week as we gathered for our annual VP3 Team Days. This is only my second year at the Team Days table and the focus for more than half of our time together: THEOLOGY!
What the rest of the team didn’t know is that every time I hear a Pastor or colleague say, “that’s a question of theology….or theologically speaking…” I question if I know enough to contribute to the conversation because I don’t have the right degree. I even looked up what “theology” meant earlier this summer during one of my private waves of insecurity.
Brother Vic Gordon, VP3 Board Member and founder of Gospel Depth was our guest teacher and he helped me SO much! Vic’s goal for our time together was to help us be better reflectors on God and his truth for a more fruitful relationship with others.
He explained that theology isn’t something we know about from the past,
theology is HERE AND NOW.
And, he explained, that every Christian is a theologian.
Brother Vic gave us a definition of theology as:
faith seeking understanding.
How many times have you heard yourself saying, or thinking,
“I don’t think I’m going to go to (fill in the blank).”
And then, you summon the energy, obedience, or heart to show up.
Later you hear yourself saying, or thinking, “I’m glad I went.”
What’s that all about?
I think I know the answer.
I’ve been reading comments included in The Journey assessments we have received at VP3.
Here’s a few that stood out:
“Once again I am faced with the fact that I cannot make this earthly journey alone.
I see saints all around me and know that they have a story that would shock me and yet a story that God wrote, is writing, and is totally IN!!!
Understanding that each of us has a unique story makes me so much more accepting of all people….everyone has some kind of battle.”
In my role with VP3 I have the privilege of swimming in a sea of beautiful feedback about how our ministry processes are actually impacting the spiritual growth of individuals and their local setting as a whole. This includes personal stories from facilitators as well as a lot of hardcore data gathered through online assessments participants choose to complete, and a more extensive research inquiry project underway.
To be honest, those of us involved with a VP3 process KNOW a lot of good things are happening in people’s lives. But to see the impact of this ministry work “by the numbers,” well, it’s a beautiful thing. So it is with a growing confidence and humble joy I share what we are learning.
Today’s facts are about participation in The Journey process. You may have a person or two you will enjoy sharing this with as well.
The top five reasons an adult in the local church will choose to say yes to participate in The Journey are:
1. Desiring to draw closer to God and grow deeper. 2. Desiring to re-ignite life with God; feeling their life of faith has grown stagnant. 3. Searching for purpose in life. 4. Recognizing that being with others–accountability–helps them grow. 5. Trusting the person that asked them.
Based on the combined assessment data voluntarily completed at the end of The Journey, we are learning that: