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Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), by Jane Vella, will challenge you to adopt principles of listening, learning, and teaching, useful for leadership, relationship, and ministry.
Vella educates adults; however, she does not simply teach. And she does not merely stick to her own cultural group. She facilitates learning in many cultures and for many different groups, mostly community development projects.
I’m personally very familiar with this kind of work and many of the places and people Jane Vella writes about. Vella’s books are important to me because my goal for summer outreach teams of interns is for the students to have the best learning experience of their lives. I want students to gain a deep revelation of who God is, His love and grace for the world, and their calling to engage the world in response to His amazing grace. Vella refers to this kind of learning as the ‘quantum’ concept, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
To teach effectively, we must listen.
To teach effectively, we must listen.To truly listen, we must ask open-ended questions.
Our Student Mobilization Centre (SMC) team is in the process of writing their own job descriptions. This is a very open process, requiring each of the members to engage, initiate, and define their contribution to the whole. That process and this book has helped me realize I need to be even more effective at listening and giving open questions when teaching.
Open questions need to be put to the ‘safe’ environment; they are usually best when posed in small groups. For example, when I teach I ask participants the question,
“What was your best learning experience?”
When forming small groups to process questions, Vella encourages teachers to define learning tasks and follow through on them so that the participants truly participate in the learning process. Defining the learning task is done when we apply Vella’s Assessment Principles, which is simply done by asking questions.
Applying Vella’s Principles
Who needs What and defined by Whom? or ‘WWW’
Vella’s key assessment principle is the question:‘Who needs What and defined by Whom?’ This assessment is best accomplished by building questions into the application process, either before or immediately after acceptance to a training program or internship. Prayer for participants and decisions about what should be emphasized in a training experience can be made with greater effectiveness when we ask the right questions, keep record of responses, and assess the information gathered. This WWW assessment is not only for training; it is also an important leadership tool for assessing the needs and capacities of our team, their staff and their projects.
Field Ministry Internships (FMI), a principal program of the SMC, is a serving/learning outreach project for university student teams. Students integrate their field of study with a cross-cultural ministry over an eight-week summer intensive. Jane Vella, her books and other web resources for Dialogue Education, have confirmed that many of the aspects of our FMI program help students gain that quantum learning experience.
For example, to help students feel ‘safe’ we form small teams of 4 to 7. During the first few days in the host country, we typically send small teams out on a scavenger hunt in order to expose them to the new surroundings and help them learn how to get around with some measure of independence. However, this exercise is also a bonding experience that takes place within the safety of their small team.
Another reason for small FMI teams is that they may integrate well as a short-term team on a long-term field project. In this way, the students also gain a greater level of participation in the serving/learning process. The students design their own field projects on site as they learn to observe and listen to nationals and long-term project leaders. They are taught to assess the needs of the long-term personnel and projects while they are serving.
The safety challenge for FMI is the uncertainty of a cross-cultural experience. This challenge is overcome when FMI participants are safely embedded into the long-term project team. Within that safe environment for learning, FMI participants become more deeply involved in the learning process, which raises the creativity and energy level. Participants are therefore offering more of themselves in service and learning more about the contribution God has specifically called them to make during their summer internship, and perhaps, over the course of their lives.
3. Listening: Student Participation in the Assessment
Applying the Assessment Principle is a leadership challenge. We set the example of Listening and we invite our participants into the Learning process by giving them a Leadership assignment: Participate in an Assessment.
Before reading Vella, FMI was structured with four phases:
- Orientation – an intensive seminar, like a mini-Discipleship Training School, and project preparation.
- Cultural Awareness – the first few days at the site of the field project, getting acquainted with the new surroundings/people, including a scavenger hunt.
- Ministry - while serving the field project, participants write a proposal for a 5-year ministry project.
- Debriefing – the final few days reporting, saying good-bye to new friends, and evaluating.
I have since added a fifth phase, an Assessment Phase, just after the Cultural Awareness phase and before the Ministry phase. The assessment of the project was originally assumed by the FMI leaders. However, students had little appreciation for that important phase. To better equip the student participants for leadership in learning, we now require them Listen and to document their Assessment before writing their project proposal. By doing so we are showing more respect to the field project and the community they serve. We also show more respect to the FMI students, giving them more opportunity to participate and take responsibility for their project proposal.
These are only three principles, however Vella’s books outline 7 steps for course design (PDF download). I commend this amazing teacher and her principles to you as you develop training in your context. Pay particular attention to the key words, RESPECT and ENERGY, which are at the top of my list of priorities for equipping students for the life-work and calling.
If you or your group would like to learn to apply these principles for outreach and training, please contact me. If you would like to know more about the Field Ministry Internships program, and the Student Mobilization Centre network of Youth With A Mission‘s University of the Nations, send me a note.
I am expecting quantum changes as we train emerging leaders for every arena of society in response to Christ’s command to ‘make disciples of all nations’. (Matt. 28:19)
Cultivating Communities of Practice, by Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), is one of several required books I read for Fuller Theological Seminary‘s MA in Global Leadership. The following are my reflections:
I have a great interest in how organizations, particularly those with Christian leadership, work and how they respond to change. This book is rich with practical insight as to how non-profit organizations, churches, and christian ministries may develop in a globalized society.
One trend I have observed helps me see the way forward. In recent years several international conferences, training courses, and outreaches have been convening around points of passion and global human need, like water, women’s issues, slavery, and children at risk. YWAM International and other Christian missions agencies have also begun to look at a new mapping paradigm for global strategy called Project 4K wherein the map is divided into about 4000 geographic units, Omega Zones, highlighting those areas still requiring engagement.
What appears to be needed is a new cross-platform, multi-disciplinary team approach to properly engage each of those geographic regions.
Through the Student Mobilization Centre‘s School of University Ministries & Missions, we are equipping field leaders who will be able to coordinate multi-disciplinary field project teams. During the past 15 months, we have presented this 12-week training program in India, USA, Korea, and Colombia. I leave today to teach on Missional Collaboration for the final week of the school. Participants in the SMC school learn how to collaborate with leaders and communities to harmonize outreach teams to serve broad-based long-term community development project goals while mobilizing students for field based learning.
YWAM’s University of the Nations operates according to what Wenger, et al conclude in Communities of Practice; that is, “useful knowledge is not a downloadable commodity.” It requires participation.
The best learning experiences are in the context of relationships, especially those experiences with others that at the same time unfamiliar and familiar. In my experience, students learn best when taken out of their familiar culture to serve and learn in a context that challenges their expectations and status quo learning experiences. They also learn best if put in a situation where they are challenged to work together with those who share their skill set, academic training, and/or missionary goals.
By cultivating these communities of learning and serving, I believe we will ourselves learn how to do world missions and how to participate as a global church in the twenty-first century. By developing this field project model of university ministry, placing students as interns into a wide array of community development projects with national leaders who require their service, we will all learn, we will become a community of practice.
By requiring students as part of their internship to research and write about their cross-cultural serving-learning experience, we will thereby share knowledge gained both with the field project leaders and with the universities and professors that sent the students. These project teams will help us steward and share the knowledge gained. These long-term community development field projects could serve as “laboratories” for curriculum development as well as cross-disciplinary field project leadership development.
By working together across cultures toward a big vision of collaborative ministries, leaders of missional communities, churches and organizations, will increase their ability and speed generating and implementing creative ideas for community development, evangelization, and training.
To accomplish this, we will need to form missional communities in university settings, and cross-platform, multi-disciplinary, communities of practice at field sites where internships may be hosted and field project staff leadership may be trained.
The most essential element of this field-based learning community is the authentic cross-cultural ministry that must be the foundational intent and the fruit of the project.
Where missional communities of practice exist, the witness of the Kingdom of God will be evident in a much greater way, both in the university and at that field projects’ community. These communities of learning and leadership equipping may in turn affect a change in the whole of the Christian missionary enterprise through an integrated development model of field ministry and leadership equipping.
This book is ‘salty’. I am thirsty for more with each page turned. Even more so, I am hungry for the practical outworking of this vision within the context of my own life and ministry. That is why I am developing a seminar and a 12-week course on Missional Collaboration. The challenge to me is to deliberately form communities of practice in my ministry context, the universities of the world.
Learning, the kind of learning that can only transpire in vibrant community through service to the needs of neighbors, is foundational to the purpose of the Church. The modern university was borne out of such communities and, by design, served to benefit the Church. Pope Innocent 12th, 1243 AD said, “Universities are rivers of knowledge that feed and fertilize the universal church.” The attitude of the Church toward universities was at one time positive, however many in the Church today overlook the missional origins of the university. Jesus told his followers to “Go, make disciples,” that is to say, “Go teach students.”
Paul’s testimony of the “school” he ran for a few short years in the lecture hall at Tyrannus shows the mentor teacher role can be extremely effective with a wide area of influence in a relatively short period of time. Though we do not know much about the dynamics of that “school”, we must assume that there was mobilization toward practical application of what was taught. Paul, it may be assumed, mobilized his students to spread far and wide with a living witness of his message.
The formation of communities of learning was a response to Jesus’ command and core methodology for ministry and our task of completing the Great Commission. However, because many church communities have “failed to revisit the theological and biblical underpinnings of our mission,” we have reduced the scope of the Church and the scope of our mission. (Taylor 2001:7) “Crippling omissions,” such as reducing the gospel to proclamation, created Christianity without regard for culture or the nations. (2001:4) The mission for the Church is to make disciples of all nations, including the powerful institution of the university, which will in turn “feed and fertilize” the Church.
How then shall we again engage university communities, not merely to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God with students, but in addition to obey all that Jesus commands, extending his reign beyond individual hearts, into all the world, every nation, tribe, and tongue?