Monday, October 19, 2009

Paradigm Shift in Education and Discipleship

There is a game-changing shift in adult education that is well underway. In thinking about how education in general and discipleship in particular have changed over the years it has struck me that we're seeing a paradigm shift in both. Later this month I'll be starting a new course at Rockbridge Seminary - The Theology and Practice of Discipleship. We'll be considering the basis and practice of pursuing an intentional strategy for encouraging the development of fully-devoted followers of Christ within the church. In doing so we'll be considering the change in the landscape of adult education.

In essence, both education and discipleship are shifting away from the transmission of prepackaged bundles of information with the topics and answers provided by an authorized teacher, to personalized and pragmatic learning that is far more interactive, answering real-world questions and addressing challenges in the same context where they are faced. For followers of Christ the ultimate goal of spiritual formation has not changed - to be more like Christ, loving God and loving people - but the methods by which this is pursued are definitely changing.

Consider traditional seminary education. What comes to mind? People hearing "a call to the ministry" who put their life on hold for several years to prepare for a vocation as clergy. There they will follow a set curriculum emphasizing subject mastery, learning as individuals taught by a professor, proving themselves via tests which probe how well they have received the information. Sounds exciting? Good preparation for leading a congregation today? Some would say there is a better way. Rockbridge Seminary Online is an innovate new paradigm seminary in which students learn in community, engaging at a deeper level in their current ministry without putting life on hold. The professor is more of a guide than a teacher, and each students develops their own personalized learning plan. Sure, there are still core courses and electives, but the goal is to develop ministry competencies that span the purposes of the church and meet the needs of the people they serve.The student learns how to be a life-long learner, integrating their learning with the ongoing challenges they face while in ministry.

How has the pursuit of discipleship changed within the church? The old paradigm emphasizes programmatic education on Sunday morning and Wednesday night, curriculum and topics determined by church leaders, and teaching people the right answers to defend the faith. The new paradigm views living as and growing as a disciple as a 24/7 process, done in community with other believers and lived out in the community, led by a shepherd or guide rather than a teacher. People have less time to go through comprehensive programs learning everything before they need to know it, and instead want to find answers as they run into challenges. They want to take more control over what and when they learn, to face felt needs and to better serve people who are hurting. Learning is more personalized and decentralized. The tools are also changing, supplementing exhaustive concordances and commentaries and denominational quarterlies with online classes and sermons, and tools like Monvee and YouVersion. Likewise our approach to leadership development is changing, helping people to be leaders in whatever sphere of influence they serve, not just in their roles as 'church leaders'.

How can we do a better job at encouraging the development of fully-devoted followers of Christ? How can we help people to take more responsibility for their own growth? How can we do this in a way that is more relational, interactive, and ultimately fosters life transformation? These are important questions for which there are no easy answers, but ones I look forward to exploring!

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