some first thoughts on models of discipleship

I am enjoying the Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (PGDipLATHE) designed for Tutors in Oxford University involved in teaching adults.

One train of thought has begun to percolate in my mind which relates to current educational trends and NT models of disciple-making.

Much education literature emphasises the shift away from teacher-centred education to student centred learning.  The old joke about a lecture being “the transference of the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the student without passing through the mind of either”, coupled with a suspicion of power and authority in the hands of the teacher, has precipitated a pendulum swing in the opposite direction.

Consequently a Learner (rather than Teacher) focussed education concentrates on empowering and enabling students to focus their learning in a pragmatic and applied way.  It emphasises problem solving and integrated thinking.  Good education means that the teacher is not so much one “in authority” but rather “an authority”; facilitating learners by helping them access useful and applied knowledge.

Like pendulum swings, staying at one end of the axis is unlikely to be balanced.  I like the oft quoted comment of Cambridge preacher, Charles Simeon, “the truth is not in one extreme or the other extreme, nor in the middle, but rather holding both extremes at the same time”.

My preliminary thoughts about teaching and discipleship, with one eye on the Scriptures and the other on modern education, are as follows:-

1.  The Bible believes that there is an authoritive word from the King, communicated through his messengers.  The common NT word for preacher is best translated “Herald”.  His job, rather like that of the town crier, was to issue a summons from the king which was not up for negotiation, but rather expected the dutiful submission of his subjects.  Such preaching recognises the there is a top down, authoritive word which needs to be humbly heeded.  Hence, preaching is still needed in today’s pulpits, but it will only be effective when it is the king’s summons which is heard, and the congregation is not stung by all the bees flying from the preacher’s bonnet!

2.  At the other end of the pendulum, we would do well to recall that the Jesus’ final charge to his disciples was “to go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18-20).  Discipleship language is all about relationship.  The learning experience of the disciple is like that of an apprentice, in relationship with the teacher, allowing the agenda to be shaped by a shared life in which teaching is applied.  It requires time-investment from the teacher and patient teasing out of God’s agenda in the details of the disciple’s life.

Both the ministry approaches to teaching and learning (Preaching and Disciple making) it seems to me, are essential in Church life and require us to be active at both ends of the pendulum swing.  We need to diligently announce and apply the summons of the King to his hearers; we also need to invest our lives in the intimate relationships implied by disciple making.

There is plenty more thinking to be done on this matter, but I have been stimulated by noting the timeless wisdom of the varied ways in which the Bible encourages teaching and learning, and which find some resonance with modern educational trends.


2 thoughts on “some first thoughts on models of discipleship

  1. Simon Vibert March 29, 2010 / 8:42 am

    Penny Vinden The first half of your blog seems very similar to the last half…but then repetition is meant to be at the heart of good teaching, so some say.
    Sat at 11:02pm · Simon Vibert aha – good point … i think i double posted and have now rectified – hope it was worth reading TWICE!!
    Sat at 11:13pm · Tom Price It’s the didactic vs. critical learning method question right? I have a big interest in this subject. This was the big question around 15-20 years ago in educational psychology. But I think things have moved through a couple of discussions since then, through kinesthetic (learning by doing) and blended learning models. Modernity loves its techniques and systems. This is the learning system… x+y=z

    Jesus is rather more interesting and multifaceted than modernity. My view is that Jesus and Paul seem to vary their teaching approach based on the personality of the learner. They make use of all the ‘discovered’ styles of learning, but change the mixture depending on who they are teaching.

    Simon, I would be fascinated to know whether you have every visited l’abri and if you had what your analysis/understanding of the learning styles that they are finding fruitful in peoples lives are there….
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    One thing that we often miss is the use of questions in learning. It’s the first thing God uses in Genesis 3 after the fall, and Jesus asks quite a few too (was it 284 of them?).
    Sat at 11:14pm · John Allister As Tom suggests, the Teacher-centred / Learner-centred model is a massive over-simplification and somewhat old-fashioned.

    Back when I did my teacher training (a decade ago now), the focus was on individual targeted learning outcomes, achieved basically however the teacher wanted, which is a much more flexible approach than a simple teacher-centred…
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    or learner-centred model. And some of that is about engaging different people’s learning styles – though the usual list is incomplete (my primary learning style seems to be combative, for example).

    Tom’s point about engaging with the individual personalities you’re teaching is spot-on, even when trying to convey a lot of propositional truth that you know and they don’t. But (speaking from experience) that’s a lot easier in a class of 10 than a class of 30. And it must be harder still doing it by podcast!
    Yesterday at 9:16am · Simon Vibert Yes, I would say, “a massive over-simplification and somewhat old-fashioned” could represent a “combative learning style”!
    I think that it is true that the discussion has moved on somewhat, although the “coaching” model remains very much in vogue, starting where students are at and taking them on from there.
    Adult education should look somewhat …
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    different to teaching school kids and the essentially relational aspect of disciplemaking is surely more important than any learning style?
    I’ve not visited L’Abri, Tom, but I sense a strong desire to help individuals gain a personal apology for the faith, which must make for good equiping and grounding.
    Yesterday at 1:07pm · John Allister Absolutely – you’ve got to start where people are at, but I think that good lecturing does that. That’s one of the reasons I think teaching preaching somewhere like Wycliffe must be a really tough job (especially lecturing on preaching) – you’ve got people coming in with all different levels of experience and knowledge, and it’s difficult to aim it so that everyone gets something useful out of it. Either that or do different streams, which then doubles the prep workload.

    Agreed that the relational aspect of disciplemaking is key. But learning styles is part of that – e.g. how can people best use their quiet times? Are people more likely to need time reading the Bible aloud / writing notes on it / listening to sermons / reading notes / reading commentaries / using Biblical worship music / etc?

    Adult ed isn’t that different to working with 18 year olds. But that’s very very different to working with 11 year olds….
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    (Oh, and I assume that if people ask for comments, they’re willing to take them.)
    Yesterday at 2:18pm · Simon Vibert Agreed! I think that my tentative thoughts at the moment are that the truth is in both extremes… and that imbalance in ourselves is notoriously difficult to spot. Teaching and Learning are obviously flip sides of the one task of making disciples.
    Yesterday at 6:37pm · Tom Price If anything, the individual psychological needs of learners becomes clearer in adulthood. They are able to say when something isn’t working for them. They are more able to choose to apply themselves to subjects which might be indirectly beneficial. They are able to give clearer and more decisive feedback about what they need. And they are likely to have a much better general self-awareness. All, this is hopefully part of a mature learners advantage. Perhaps this would in theory allow more of a focus on elements of the learning process that are harder to involve at a younger age. For example, many adult learners enjoy learning through receiving detailed critical feedback through tutorials, but such an engagement at a younger age, might be too intimidating for a 12 year old student.

    If I were allowed to develop your model further I would distinguish between Knowledge and Process/style. In the area of Knowledge the Teacher is on top, but not always. For example I learn a huge amount from the OCCA students during the lectures. But I am trying to communicate a certain thing to them, which they are trying to understand, I and do understand. When it comes to process although I think that the Teacher has information to communicate, he/she must do so in an attitude of service, and so this swings the model in the area of process/style over to a Learner centred model. This isn’t to become relativistic at all, but rather tests the Teacher’s abilities to communicate the unchanging through the changing. I would make a further modification to the model and introduce plurality at the level of Teacher and Learner. The Teacher teaches, from an authentic community, so that the knowledge is authentic and the motives are clear (1 Thess chapters 1-3), and the Learner always learns in a community, so that some instruction comes from peers, who also supply accountability and encouragement.

    Two further remarks: I find that theological instruction / teaching inside the church and many Christian organisations is 40-50 years out of date – depending heavily on the older Teacher centred (didactic learning model). I have heard it explained as a theology of sanctification a few times before. …
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    Lastly, L’abri’s model/approach is worth studying and looking at, because they approach teaching – in community – and have a strong focus on Learner and Worker (in their language). They are very relational, and also incorporate unusual learning elements with huge effectiveness and fruitfulness. For example, it is usual at L’abri to be reading and praying in the am, talking over a long lunch with Workers, and then doing manual labour, while chatting about it further in the pm. It is fascinating to me because it is the most fruitful approach I have come across, as well as the most enjoyable and anti-technique. You should pop down to meet Andrew Fellows and Jim Paul Simon. I think you would find it really interesting to go for a weekend.
    Yesterday at 8:58pm · Steve Morris My comment about Christian teaching and training is that there seems to be too much broadcasting and not enough receiving…far too much talking and input…or maybe I’m just too old to take it all in 🙂 We are almost scared of giving leanrers time to think/feel/react…rest/play and have some fun.
    Yesterday at 9:23pm ·


  2. Max Boyer May 27, 2010 / 7:39 am

    Hehe am I really the first reply to your amazing read?!


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