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Third Way Preaching and Education 2

posted by Scot McKnight

Preaching.jpgWe are pursuing on this blog a set of posts on the church’s educational ministry and how a Third Way approach to preaching can reshape and revitalize preaching’s impact.

* I believe most preachers think sermons have an impact.
* I believe most preachers pray and prepare in order to have an impact.
* I believe most preachers believe God’s Spirit is at work during reading and preaching the Word.
* But I also believe this: most preachers do not shape their preaching and teaching with an educational theory at work that can measure how and how not the preaching ministry is accomplishing its hoped-for goals. As a result, preaching and teaching remains at the level of hope and belief and … at times exasperation.
So I’d like to make a few suggestions for pastors and churches. That we have “and churches” matters deeply if we want to talk about the educational process. If you’d like to read a book on how education is being reshaped in the direction of focusing on learning, I recommend heartily Maryellen Weimer Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. The book provides the big picture ideas at work.
Big idea: if you aim nowhere, you get nowhere. If you know your goal and map your way, you can chart progress and get to your goal. Much of contemporary preaching has no guiding goal and finds itself precisely in the same spot ten years later.

So, first…


Develop a comprehensive set of outcomes. What are outcomes?

Measurable behaviors you’d like everyone in your church to be able to “do” as a result of the educational ministry of your church. Outcomes are “measurable” and they are about “behaviors” and most educators think and believe that behaviors reflect being. So, the big question is this:
What would we like our folks to be able to do as a result of this sermon or this educational theme or this class… etc?
Outcomes begin at the broadest level: Love God, love others, live in the Spirit.
Then second level outcomes include concrete manifestations of those bigger outcomes:
1. People who love God pray (etc).
2. People who love others serve others (etc).
3. People who live in the Spirit are gifted to serve (etc).
The third level of outcomes include more concrete behaviors:
1. People who love God pray — confessions, adoration, etc..
2. People who love others serve others — responding to neighbors, etc.
3. People who live in the Spirit are gifted to serve — gifts of the Spirit manifest etc.
The fourth level of outcomes is assessments: How do you know if folks are developing in these areas apart from assessment and evaluation? So, folks need to develop assessment tools that measure if folks are praying or serving or using their gifts … and the answers lead individuals and groups to look at themselves, reshape their assessments, and the move forward..
Develop a a comprehensive set of outcomes from the bottom up instead of from the top down.
The biggest mistake is made when the pastor, or the pastor and a few others, decide what the outcomes “ought to be” and therefore they teach them and expect folks to fall in line. It is fundamentally important for this to be a dialectical process of the lay folks and the leaders working together on what everyone believes they’d like folks to be able to do.
Only when the lay folks are involved can this vision, or set of outcomes, be owned and embraced and become a living reality that shapes everything at the church.
Every sermon, every class, every Bible study serves the outcomes developed by the church.


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Kevin McGill

posted November 13, 2009 at 12:13 pm


I like what you said, “Develop a a comprehensive set of outcomes from the bottom up instead of from the top down.” But what would be some examples? Having a hard time playing it out in a sermon.



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RJS

posted November 13, 2009 at 12:21 pm


Let me push back a bit …
Such an approach in a church leads to a “glass ceiling” of sorts and loses people because one reaches a point where everything is aimed at the bottom rung lay person.
It works well in a university where one has relatively homogeneous group with a defined end goal and then people move on.



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RJS

posted November 13, 2009 at 12:23 pm


But I agree completely with the big idea – no goal, no thought, no plan, no progress.
We just need to think about it appropriately for a church context.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 13, 2009 at 12:50 pm


RJS, here comes my response:
If this is hammered out with the congregation and not a top-down approach, I think the glass ceiling can be broken. What I have found is that many lay folks want more and more but don’t know how or even that they want more. Let them define the outcomes at various levels … I think we will be surprised. What we will also find is that some won’t want to participate.



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RJS

posted November 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm


Well, I can get cynical. I don’t think that many actually want to grow with the outcomes as you specified. After all – trying to actually follow rocks the boat. More than this, I think that pastors often unwittingly undermine progress or growth in “christian virtue” by winking and accepting less than best effort. We don’t really mean it.
Following Christ means disciplined development of Christian virtue – that is what loving God and loving others, serving others, actually entails.



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Carl Flynn

posted November 13, 2009 at 1:09 pm


The structure of what you propose can be effective as an objectives-based pedagogy. The objectives must remain very broad (Level 1 or 2) in order to avoid the issues that come with more narrow, pastor/elder/leader-directed programs. If we understand the congregation as an empowered learning community as opposed to passive receivers, I don’t see how the objectives can remain very specific (Levels 3 or 4 with requisite assessments at that level). The nature of the work of the Spirit in the congregation drives how the Level 1/2 objectives are expressed in Level 3/4 ways, and as we envision the congregation as engaged learners and contributors to the spiritual direction of the congregation, Levels 3/4 may change radically in brief amounts of time depending on the discernment of the congregation.



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Carl Flynn

posted November 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm


I also agree with RJS that we might find a large percentage of the congregation (although I’m opened to being surprised) who will not buy into seeing themselves as anything more than passive receivers.



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Barb Murphy

posted November 13, 2009 at 2:08 pm


I also find that I agree with RJS–maybe in a college community you find people who know what they don’t know and want to learn–but out here in the “real” :)world–I think people want what they already know affirmed. Therefore, I think the sermon should leave them challenged, not soothed. I’m reading “Water from a Deep Well” by Jerry Sittser. The chapter I read today talked about the importance of sermons to the listerner–who can’t control the content. I had never thought about it that way before. We go to Church with the expectation that God will use the sermon to speak to us, that we are hearing a word from God. BTW, I encourage others to check out this book as it speaks to many of the topics that we discuss on Jesus Creed.



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RJS

posted November 13, 2009 at 2:40 pm


Scot,
I do think we need learner centered preaching and teaching. I just don’t have a good idea of how it can work in a church. Most of what you’ve suggested is something our church has tried over the last five years, and it might be successful, I think it is for many people, the church is growing – but it has left me cold.
What kind of assessment might work? Those with which I am familiar (and our church developed an iPlan for this purpose) seem off the mark or somewhat trivial.



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Craig V.

posted November 13, 2009 at 3:33 pm


Though I can see some value, objective outcome based education seems like a tool that isn’t up to what the church needs. I fear we are worshipping the god techne and not the Lord who gives the Spirit. Does it make you a little uncomfortable that it would be some how out of place to ask Peter what he was aiming for with his Acts 2 sermon, or am I just way off base here?



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Scot McKnight

posted November 13, 2009 at 3:40 pm


Well, Craig, since you asked…
What Peter had in mind was a goal, that’s for sure: he called folks to repent. But one sermon does not a church ministry make; and the sermon isn’t the only thing in education in a church; and those that don’t have the big picture in mind — so far as they can discern it from Scripture etc — will not map a church to travel a road that will get them all to the goal.
This is a matter of wisdom: if we are going to work with people for a long time and if we are going to teach and if we are going to preach and if we are going for an impact that transforms each person to achieve what God has for them (Paul says a few times that he teaches etc with a view to a number of things, but full maturity is one) — then we would be wise to map out what is in store and make sure what we are doing will get us there.



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Rick

posted November 13, 2009 at 3:52 pm


Good thoughts, although I am concerned that the focus would turn totally to “behaviors”, rather than our identity in Christ.



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Craig V.

posted November 13, 2009 at 4:44 pm


Scott,
I did ask and thanks for answering. Our leadership is right now having a discussion somewhat along these lines and I’m trying to figure out if my caution is constructive or reactive. I hope you don’t mind if I pursue this a bit further on your blog.
I agree that the kind of approach you describe makes more sense as an overall Christian education strategy than as a backdrop for a sermon. Nevertheless, there are questions we might ask Peter, from an objective outcome based perspective, that seem out of place. This very oddness is what makes me think we may be going off track. It is true Peter called folks to repent, but did he think about how he would measure this? Would he ascribe his success to how he was able to shape his message to achieve measurable objectives in terms of what repentance should look like? If there had been less than an overwhelming response would he have changed his message? These questions may be fruitful, but they also seem to be missing something important. We should be wary of reducing Peter’s preaching to a method.
I think the objective outcome model makes sense in some contexts but seems out of place in others. For example, would you advise such a model for a family? It’s not of course that as parents we don’t have dreams and goals for our children. It’s more that such an approach seems reductionist. Our children will no doubt surprise us in wonderful and sometimes painful ways. Would it make sense for a dating relationship? “On our first date, let’s map out what is in store for this relationship and make sure what we are doing will get us there”. What I wonder is where does it and doesn’t it make sense for a congregation.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 13, 2009 at 4:51 pm


Craig, thanks.
Part of my response is that as an educator I know outcomes don’t have to be rigid; they are flexible and open to constant revision and part of a larger perspective — so any notion of reductionism simply means the outcomes need improvement. For a family, by all means it’s possible — but it will be an ongoing thing that is flexible and malleable and moral and increasingly shifted toward the child absorbing, etc..
But on Peter, I think my point wasn’t clear: it’s one sermon and it’s hard to know what Peter would think. Yes, he measured repentance by baptism and by how that baptized person lived. I don’t think, however, that Peter’s sermon is the point. Perhaps seeing Peter’s sermon in the context of 1-2 Peter would be better. Peter clearly had ideas of what a mature Christian looked like — and 1 Peter and 2 Peter have some of those ideas.
And it is anachronistic even to apply this sort of thinking to the NT. Which is part of the whole point: today it is wise to move in this direction because it is the fruit of years of good thinking in education.



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Dave

posted November 13, 2009 at 4:59 pm


Scott, do you golf? Have you ever participated in a golf tournament that launched with a “shot gun start”? In this format 18 groups start at 18 different tee boxes. I’ve been preaching as for 12 years now. Our church started as a plant. Though we have a core group, most of present membership come from very different backgrounds: from long-term Christian/church background; long-term Christian, new to church background; new Christian, cult background; new Christian, non-religious background; etc, etc.
There are common features to each of the 18 holes. And there are dynamics necessary to successfully navigating each hole. However, water hazards, bunkers, trees, hills, cut of grass, all vary hole to hole. Wind that is a factor on hole 16, is a non-issue on hole 3. You get the idea.
So, how do I help the group facing the unique challenges on hole 2 without the other 17 groups feeling like I’m not speaking to them?
Every Sunday I feel I’m speaking to people who, spiritually speaking, are starting the day at 18 very different holes on the course of the Christian life. For instance, there are many who are serving others, many who need to serve who currently aren’t, and some who need to focus on personal/family matters primarily if not exclusively.
How do I keep from sacrificing the general on the altar of the specific on the one hand while not sacrificing the specific on the altar of the general on the other hand?



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jjoe

posted November 13, 2009 at 5:10 pm


I’ve just finished the book “The Tipping Point” and it has a wonderful chapter on all the innovations in educational theory and practice pioneered by the show Sesame Street. Decades later you can still track observable increases in the show’s primary goal of literacy. Just imagine what life would be like if most sermons weren’t forgotten by 5:00 p.m. Sunday. I’m not a preacher so I won’t comment on how those lessons come into play but it’s definitely worth a read. There are other chapters that are changing how I think about church growth, for example.
On an aside, I use firefox and my text doesn’t disappear when my captcha expires.



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JMorrow

posted November 13, 2009 at 5:23 pm


Scot,
Thanks for your efforts on this. I fully endorse this kind of reappraisal of the teaching and preaching ministry in many Christian churches. From a missional standpoint I think it is absolutely necessary.
I value the power of preaching. One of the reasons I joined a Presbyterian congregation in college was because of the intellectual engagement of the preacher. However, in the years since then, I have found sermons (and this may just be my own tradition) about performance, or sometimes platitudes, more than about moving an individual or a community towards something. People shuffle out every week and remark about how nice the sermon was, but few are using the sermon as preparation for entering into mission the other six days of the week. A young adult like myself feels frustrated because so much energy is put into preaching as performance, there is very little energy left for preaching as preparation.
I hear the concerns (from RJS and Craig in particular) that 1.) this cannot be a one size fits all kind of approach, and that 2.) it must avoid micromanaging the learning and discipleship process, but I implore folks to give it a try and seek this. We are in a culture, particularly that of the emerging generation that values goals, action as well as relationship. They want a faith that doesn’t just make sense intellectually, but that also makes a difference. Linking learning to outcomes seems to me a compelling way for combining the two. I’m not speaking of “5 ways to a better you,” Rather I’m thinking about the series on Acts, or the Fruits of the Spirit, or the lectionary texts that give us the pretext for starting a new ministry, or understanding our own vocations. I’m not saying give up the pulpit sermon that speaks to many, but I’m saying decentralize the preaching ministry so that it may become these many points of preparation given throughout the week.



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RJS

posted November 13, 2009 at 5:29 pm


Dave,
You put my various concerns quite clearly there. Yes we need outcomes and intentional preaching, teaching. But how an outcome based approach works in practice is not clear.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 13, 2009 at 5:51 pm


Dave, I like any analogy to golf. So, my comeback: yep, once, and it’s not the real thing for me.
So, my pushback: yes, everyone starts in a different place and teachers recognize that to some degree. Esp if you teach a diverse class — as I often do.
The issue is not place of origin or place where someone is, for good teachers can take students where they are to where they need to go. Furthermore, they know different students need different things and different approaches. So, preachers need to know this even more (do they?). They also need to use a variety of methods and starting points.
The issue for me in this series though is having a goal or a set of outcomes that give shape and direction to all education and preaching in a local church.



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rebeccat

posted November 13, 2009 at 7:54 pm


I think that a big part of the problem is that we teach, but in most churches there are limited opportunities to actually learn how to do the things which are taught. Sure, there may be prayer groups or service projects or whatnot, but these are often places where those who have already pretty well mastered the skills and lessons that are taught go. I think that there need to be more activities which offer people the expectation and opportunity to begin to practice what is being taught. What about using a midweek service to lead people through actually trying traditional prayer practices of meditation? Or doing some sort of confession during service – even if it’s as simple as having people write their confessions on paper that is collected and burned to symbolize offering and forgiveness? I don’t think it’s enough to tell people what they ought to be doing. I think people probably need to be lead in actually doing it – at least for those baby steps. So, perhaps less passive taking in and more active working it out during our times together would be useful.



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RJS

posted November 13, 2009 at 9:41 pm


Scot,
I should probably exercise some discipline and not comment on these posts, as they hit a sore spot with me … and I have a hard time being objective.
The last part of your post – when I cool down and read the whole thing – makes an important point; the part about a dialectic process and working together with lay people (and not just a hand selected small group of “lay leaders” or “prospective leaders”) being involved in the creating the vision.
How can this work? Is it really practicable for pastors to “lead” in this way?
My experience suggests that the more common scenario is that a (very) small and intimate leadership team tells the rest what they are going to do – and that they are going to like it. The implication, of course, is that it is rebellious and even sinful to not want to, or worse yet to refuse to “play along.”
The process is handled like a classroom where the teacher knows best – after all neither you nor I involve the students in planning the curriculum.
I do rebel at this – and most of the programs planned don’t resonate with me on any level. I resent being told to “fill in the blanks.”
So – I ask, not as a troublemaker but in earnest – how can this work in a real church? Is there any real chance in a medium sized church, say 400? Isn’t it completely unworkable in a mega church? A dialectical process with 4000 people?
How can a pastor really engage people in a vision so that is is owned and embraced and becomes a living reality that shapes everything at the church?



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Bob Smallman

posted November 13, 2009 at 10:47 pm


I know this is going to sound really snarky (or fill in the appropriate adjective for you), but this strikes me as a particularly American, goal-oriented, efficiency-focused discussion. There, now I feel better!
I do think we preach for life-changing results. My aim — for my whole ministry, not just my preaching — is “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me.” But my experience is that these things are very hard to measure, and, indeed, to control. Indeed, I am constantly amazed by the unpredictability of the Spirit, working through the word in the lives of my people, sometimes in ways I couldn’t have imagined. So I’m not saying that we should be unconcerned about outcomes, but I think we have to be careful about getting too clever about these things.
I know I’m seriously naive about these things (and by nature genetically un-goal-oriented), but I somehow have faith that if we faithfully preach the whole Word of God (I prefer generally to preach through entire books to keep things in context and teach people how to study and understand the Word for themselves), people will somehow try to follow Jesus and figure out how to do it.



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Scott L

posted November 13, 2009 at 11:11 pm


I love a lot of everything I read above. I particularly like Bob’s comments. I think Scripture gives us the freedom to be strategic in what we do, yet I also think we can complicate it. Is there some evidence in the NT that Jesus or Paul or John or Peter instruct in that way, or that they encourage us to instruct in that way? If no, it doesn’t preclude it, but that may lend more weight to what Bob is saying.
And RJS, if shepherds know their flock and are listening to God, is it a bad thing for them to decide what the outcomes should look like? I love the idea of getting participation in the process at all levels of the church, but do we see that demonstrated through Jesus or Paul or….?
And I would like to know this: What church(es) do you think is doing this well?
Thanks!



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jane

posted November 13, 2009 at 11:22 pm


Rebeccat, I think you have something there about helping people practice the changes you are preaching to them.
When I worked as a dietitian, one of the most important counseling trainings I ever attended was how to help people practice the skill in front of you – so you would know if they could repeat it on their own. We professors so this in classes all the time…but how to do this in congregations, with sermons? Perhaps the lay leaders could help with this, too, Scot? Maybe we could structure services to allow people to respond to our sermons (even providing a sermon notes page – not fill-in-the-blanks pages is a step); allowing time for q and a with sermons is very helpful in my experience. Or perhaps our small groups can give people ways to work out these concepts in practical ways (by serving each other and with each other, for example, one group meeting a month).
I also share the concerns about measurement that were expressed because I’ve struggled with them for years. But perhaps congregational participation in designing and carrying out the actions – or at least giving more applications is a middle way…



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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2009 at 7:00 am


Bob,
Well, I don’t think it’s snarky, but I do think it’s a touch naive. As you work hard to learn languages (in Western contexts and modes of thinking), so we work hard at spiritual formation to learn what we can.
My guess is that you use Catechisms — a highly developed form of education and confessional perception. My guess is that you use other programs in the Church for a variety of developments…
My point is that it is wiser to think through what we are called to do and to do those things as well and as knowledgeably etc as we do anything else in life.
None of this, of course, reduces the significance, even priority, of the Spirit’s unction and power to make the deepest changes possible.



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Bob Porter

posted November 14, 2009 at 12:35 pm


Scot, I appreciate what you are doing.
As I reflected on the overall content of this discussion, several thoughts come to mind:
1. I see a number of similarities to the ?purpose driven? approach.
2. I resonate with the need for measurement, which is an enormous challenge in its own right. One of the most interesting approaches I have seen is the Reveal work that has been sponsored by Willow Cheek.
3. I continue to believe that ?modeling? of the desired behaviors by leadership is one of the most effective teaching methods (certainly it was one of Jesus? main emphases).



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Matt Stephens

posted November 14, 2009 at 2:48 pm


How many of you, Scot included, find Frankena’s analytical model helpful in this process? I recently finished my Philosophy of Ministry using Phil Sell’s “Map for Ministry,” an application of Frankena to ministry in particular, and found it pretty helpful. There are still some things I would tweak, such as adding a “corporate outcomes” component, rather than just individual measures, but I think the model is a good start for moving through five stages from worldview/beliefs to strategy. I highly recommend Dr. Sell’s article to all.



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LMF

posted November 15, 2009 at 12:06 am


I read this blog often. Yet, have never posted. I can’t resist with this thread.
It is my opinion that we miss the mark when we assume that one teacher or one group of leaders can determine all the various and needed learning outcomes for each individual in the entire community of faith. We will always miss something. We need to work to build a mentoring culture where each mentee grows in their ability to assess their growth needs and the various learning resources (or mentors) that will help them. We must teach God’s people to look at the whole of their life (emotional, physical, economic, social, intellectual, etc) and work to identify learning resources that can help them. And, of course, we all agree that in the end — growth only can occur because of the Holy Spirit. But, we as humans, have a big responsibility to receive all that God wants to give — which is not passive. 2 Peter 1 tells us that with the faith (given to us by God) we have all we need for life and godliness. The text goes on to say that we are then to add many things to this faith — our response.
Mentoring is a way of discipleship/learning that we neglect.



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tom connors

posted February 23, 2010 at 6:05 pm


Do you think Bloom’s taxonomy is a viable tool[providing it concurs with scripture]for preaching assessments?



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