Why Are We Still Doing This? Moving From Fragmented Formation to Engaged Discipleship: Part I
June 9, 2016—Years ago I ran into a problem. I would facilitate a great conversation in adult Sunday school and seem to make a break-through in understanding, arrive the next week and feel like we would have the same conversation all over again.
What was going on? Why was it one step back for every step forward? Why didn’t anything stick?
I realized along the way that we weren’t doing discipleship at all. We were doing classroom education.
Discipleship involves reflection as life unfolds. For the followers of Jesus, life was daily sidebar conversations about what just happened and what was expected to happen as they wandered into and out of ministry moments. There was no classroom for an hour followed by “see you next week.”
Seeking a better way, I was introduced to Brain Rules by John Medina. Medina uses insights from neuroscience to explain why our work environments and schools are structured for poor performance- and our churches too! Insights include the expected (we don’t pay attention to boring) and the challenging (it isn’t possible to multitask). Beyond those, and by no means exhaustively, here are relevant insights:
- The human brain evolved to work on the move. It’s a survival trait that didn’t go away when we left behind the caves and trees and built houses and skyscrapers.
- We are explorers. From our earliest days, experimentation is how we learn.
- We remember things that stimulate more senses. Vision most of all.
- We need to repeat things to remember them and remember best when we are adding new information onto the memory gradually- over time.
- We remember something better in the same environment in which we learned it.
- We need sleep. Really.
- And stress shuts it all down.
These don’t likely feel new to us. But they describe how we often engage the gathered faith community. Learning things in a sanctuary doesn’t look anything like my normal life. David Lose explained why he started working on the Narrative Lectionary: it began when he and some colleagues remarked, “you know, if we wanted to make sure no one learned the Bible what we would do is break it up into small disconnected pieces and read it all out of order.” (As in the Revised Common Lectionary.)
Why do we do this and then wonder why confirmation kids don’t know if Abraham comes before Moses? (Not to mention a tendency to pull single verses out of their larger narrative contexts to defend our preformed opinions.) Similarly, why am I surprised that the insights of a classroom are quickly lost in a life lived in the boardroom, the get-all-the-kids-to-school-on-time room, and a world where college admissions officers run our lives.
I was constantly repeating the same lessons with no better results because I was all about reflection with no engagement of where it was to be practiced—in the place we would want to remember it![See Part II of Why Are We Still Doing This? Moving From Fragmented Formation to Engaged Discipleship! Andrew offers some great ideas for ways to make the Gospel come alive.]
About Andrew Kukla, MDiv ’03: I am the proud father of four wonderful children, loving husband to Caroline, brother to three mostly wonderful sisters, and son of two parents that gifted me with a foundation of love and freedom.
I also am a Presbyterian pastor and former philosophy major with a love of too many words (written with many grammatical errors and parenthetic thoughts), Soren Kierkegaard, and reflections on living a life of discipleship that is open to all the challenges, ups and downs, brokenness and grace, of a chaotic and wonderful life founded upon the love of God for all of creation.
The opinions expressed within this post are only my own and not those of the places I serve. In fact unless you are reading this right when I post it – they may not even be my opinions anymore. Faith isn’t static, and certainly not my limited understanding of it – that is why I call my blog “Wrestling with Discipleship” and it has yielded me no few limps as well.
The Center for Lifelong Learning offers an abundance of courses and events for pastors and lay-persons seeking vibrant learning and cohort opportunities specifically created to build and enhance skills in Christian education and formation, church leadership, spiritual formation and spiritual direction. Our courses are designed for people at all stages of their ministry. Check out our current classes HERE.
Image detail from Lucas by Chuck Close