For those who care, I'm co-hosting a new group on Facebook called "Forming Faith, Growing Disciples". It started last week and so far there are 140 members - mainly from the Uniting Church in Australia. You can find the group here.
I'm going to borrow an idea from the website "Building Faith" by Sharn Ely Pearson. It's called A Christian Education Handbook, a sort-of DIY manual for doing Christian education in a congregation. Sharon provides a framework for making your own resource manual, and a whole bunch of downloadable resources to assist you to get started.
My research project seeks to link Christian education with the purposes of discipleship and mission. Given that focus and the cultural differences between the US and Australia, I imagine a resource a bit different from what Sharon offers. Nevertheless I think its an idea worth developing and trialling here.
I assume that many church leaders still use paper, and get a bit lost with all of the electronic resources available. Nevertheless, such an idea isnt limited to a ring binder. An iBook might be an accompanying possibility.
What do you reckon? Would you be interested in collaborating on this?
The series of films produced for the "Practicing Our Faith" project of Valparasio University are now available on DVD through theworkofthepeople.com. Titled "On Our Way", the DVD features 13 sessions exploring Christian practices, along with a free discussion guide. Presenters include Dorothy Bass, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Joyce Hollyday, Susan Briehl and a bunch of others.
Topics include an Introduction, Doing justice, Peacemaking and nonviolence, Discerning God's call, Care for Creation, Making a good living, Friendship & intimacy, Living as community, Honouring the body, Knowing and loving our neighbours, Living in the presence of God, Singing our lives to God, and Study...
"It seems typical of apprenticeship that apprentices learn mostly in relation with other apprentices. There is anecdotal evidence that where the circulation of knowledge among peers and near-peers is possible, it spreads exceedingly rapidly and effectively. The central grounds on which forms of education that differ from schooling are condemned are that changing the person is not the central motive of the enterprise in which learning takes place. The effectiveness of the circulation of information among peers suggests, to the contrary, that engaging in practice, rather than being its object, may well be a condition for the effectiveness of learning." J. Lave and E. Wenger, "Situated Learning", Cambridge University Press, 1991, p93.
If this is correct, a key role of educators is to establish peer learning environments whereby learners have siginifcant freedom and resources to explore what it means to engage in practice, drawing upon the expertise of the teacher as required. I take the last point as meaning that performance is not simply a result of good teaching, but rather a requirement within a peer-oriented learning process. It is important to note that, as Lave and Wenger's case studies demonstrate, the nature of those 'apprenticeship' processes may vary significantly.
The authors also refer to the ways in which the masters or experts may withhold both expertise and opportunity to learn as a way of maintaining power (not simply as incentive to the learner).
None of this is dissimilar to the kinds of things that Greg Whitby and others are saying about the ways in which technology is helping to shift teaching and learning to a more learner-centred philosophy and practice.
Of course, Christian educators have been teaching in such ways in the past in various settings. Yet the more 'academic' the setting becomes, the less such kinds of apprenticeship have been evident (IMHO).
The question is what this means in a congregational setting. To what extent to leaders/teachers create peer environments or opportunities in which purposeful experimentation around discipleship practice take place?
Lave and Wenger's "Situated Learning" (Cambridge University Press, 1991) includes 5 quite diverse studies of apprenticeship - Mexican midwives, Liberian tailors, US navy quartermasters, butchers and members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
"In all five cases described in the preceding chapter researchers insist that there is very little observable teaching; the more basic phenomenon is learning. The practice of the community creates the potential "curriculum" in the broadest sense - that which may be learned by newcomers with legitimate peripheral access.
Learning activity appears to have a characteristic pattern. There are strong goals for learning because learners, as peripheral participants, can develop a view of what the whole enterprise is about, and what there is to be learned. Learning itself is an improvised practice: A learning curriculum unfolds in opportunities for engagement in practice. It is not specified as a set of dictates for proper practice. In apprenticeship opportunities for learning are, more often than not, given structure by work practices instead of by strongly assymetrical master-apprentice relations."
As I read this stuff, my brain is running both training for ministry and equipping for discipleship through the authors' lens. In terms of discipleship, it seems to me here that 'strong goals for learning' and 'engagement in practice' are key dimensions - in other words, purposeful participation. When I consider ministry students, learning as improvised practice seems critical. The relationship with a mentor or supervisor is less critical than is the opportunity (and responsibility) of 'playful' and experimental involvement in aspects of leadership.
There is so much other good stuff in this book. I skimmed it a few years ago and am now re-reading it properly.
I've written a unit for our new Certificate program called "Engaging in the Christian Life". It's a competency-based introduction to spiritual disciplines as a basis for a life of discipleship. The word 'competency' might sound odd alongside 'spiritual disciplines'. In this instance the competency is around learning some basic skills/approaches/understandings that relate to practices of spiritual growth. I've really enjoyed writing the unit, and now I'm tracking some distance students through it.
It's been a fantastic experience seeing bits of their journal writing. The unit is quite experiential. They meet regularly with a 'spiritual friend' for reflection. Early on, they engage in some five-day daily prayer and reflection exercises. They work through Vicky Balabanski's video material on discipleship in Mark's Gospel (here), and consider how growth in discipleship might be related to growth in spiritual disciplines.