Friday, May 11, 2012

On Transformational Learning

Carey D. Froelich, D.Ed.Min.

The term transformational learning caught my attention about ten years ago primarily through the works of Robert Mulholland, and it implies that study of Scripture should lead to lives “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Mulholland has written that studying Scripture is intended to be a means—perhaps the primary means—by which believers can be conformed to the image of Christ. In Shaped by the Word he discusses the difference between reading the Bible for information versus reading it for spiritual formation. With elegant simplicity he summarizes what should be our purpose in gathering for Bible study: “The point is meeting God in the text.” (55)

Transformational learning is a teaching practice that encourages learners to “become a part” of a biblical narrative and thereby experience ancient lessons personally more than historically. It serves as a counterpoint to information gathering, which tends to be the classic result of most Bible study sessions. The familiar role of the teacher in these traditional classes is to distribute facts and opinions about the passage of scripture being studied; the pupil’s job is to collect this data. The underlying thesis of this comparative approach to lesson planning is that students often leave the typical Bible study session with a spectrum of thoughts about the scripture, but far too infrequently leave with a sense of having been changed by an encounter with the Living Word of God.

Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector (Luke 18:9-14) provides a Biblical example of the difference between information gathering and transformational learning. The Pharisee—who was “confident of his own righteousness”—had the background and preparation to provide him with all of the information he needed about the scripture. The tax collector probably had little formal training in the Law of God, yet it was he who had “met God in the text.” He—not the scholar—was transformed by the Word so that he knew his sin and his need for the mercy of God.

At  the church I’ve served for the past twelve years, we have been attempting to encourage our adult teachers to intentionally focus on transformation instead of information—to help members “meet God in the text.” A recent lesson from Amos 4:1-5 offered teachers two distinct choices. As the Prophet addressed Israel’s superficial worship practices at Bethel and Gilgal, the teachers could have invested class time in helping members understand the significance of these twin “worship centers” and their place in the religious history of Israel. That information is valuable and helpful. However, the suggested lesson plan urged teachers to use the superficiality of Israel’s worship practices to challenge members to examine their attitudes about corporate worship and the depth of their private devotional experiences. The text became the basis for members to compare the shortcomings of an ancient people with their own perspectives on coming into the Presence of the Living God.

How do we measure “success” with such an approach? It is a fair question. Although we live in a time that constantly seeks objective measure to verify outcomes, transformation into the likeness of Christ is necessarily subjective and very personal. Teachers can listen for changing attitudes through members’ comments, or they can watch for signs of change, for example seeing acceptance where judgment and prejudice have previously dominated. We cannot control the outcomes—that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our task as Christian educators is to do everything we can to help our students meet the Lord of the text in the text. That’s transformational learning.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bubba, Tebow and Celebrity Christianity

By Randy Stone

My wife has convinced me. She claims America is more likely to be reached through celebrity Christians than evangelists. I have committed my life to serving in the local church. I believe if America can be reached, it will be through individuals in cities, towns, and communities, working together, meeting needs, and sharing Christ.  But mass evangelism is on the decline. Where are the modern day evangelists? Billy Graham, and dozens of others to a lesser degree, were able to fill stadiums to hear the gospel message. Not so in America today.

This past weekend, two prominent athletes made news on Easter Sunday. Bubba Watson   (I love that name) shocked the world by winning the Master’s, his first major golf tournament victory. He is a confessing Christian proudly declaring his faith.  Between 15 and 20 thousand people packed into Celebration Church in Georgetown, TX (outside Austin) to hear Tim Tebow on Easter Sunday morning.  Recently, Kylie Bisutti, a Victoria Secret model, made national news when she walked away from lingerie modeling because of her Christian values and desire to honor God and her husband.  What’s the big deal?

People today, especially young adults and teens, are much more familiar with celebrities and sports figures than with evangelists and preachers.   We are seeing a fascination with Tebow’s bold followship of Christ and Bubba Watson’s identification with Jesus, and Kylie Bisutti’s embrace of Christian morals.  The world doesn’t understand why these and other celebrities are willing to stand up for the name of Christ. Perhaps that is the very reason God is giving these individuals a platform to share their faith and the life changing message of Christ.

The church is still the Body of Christ and has a mission to fulfill. But for now, maybe God will use these and other celebrities to make His Name known in our land. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Staffing For Success Part 2

Randy Stone

The right staff blend can make or break a church. Staffing for success is a spiritual requirement and a managerial art.  I will propose several guidelines under three main ideas.

Order of Hiring

     Complement the pastor’s strengths and weaknesses.  The second staff person to hire should be either a “lay mobilizer” or worship leader depending on the strengths of the pastor and the make up the church.  If the pastor is a good organizer and equipper of lay leaders a worship leader may be in order. If not…consider hiring a staff member who can work with multiple teams. The three legged stool for success has:  a pastor to lead, feed, and care for the sheep, a lay mobilizer who can assimilate new members, organize for spiritual growth and organize for  service to the church and community, as well as a worship leader who leads people to worship Christ corporately and personally.

     Consider the church’s gifts, talents, passions and abilities. Take an assessment of your congregation. Do you have lay leaders who can take on a specific ministry area rather than hire a staff person?  In this economy and in the economy of the church building a “staff” of quality lay people before spending money on workers has the greatest benefit. Don’t hire staff just to “fill the holes” in congregational strengths. If God has not gifted your church in some areas ask “Are we really supposed to be doing this?” Hire staff that will equip and train workers and leaders in your congregation. Ephesians Chapter 4 is clear that the leadership call is to prepare members for ministry.

     Determine where God is working. Add staff in areas where God seems to be working or believe he wants to work. It’s much easier for staff to be successful if they enter a ministry with momentum and possibilities rather than decline and retreat.

How to Hire
Jim Collins in his excellent book Good to Great says you must get the right people on the bus if you want to move your organization forward. What does that mean for churches? Three or four qualities should be considered.

     Call.  Does the person we are considering for a staff position have a clear call to Christ? A specific ministry? People type? Geographical area?

     Commitment. Does this person demonstrate a commitment to Christ and the mission of the church? Are they willing to go the extra mile for success?

     Character. Does this person have integrity of lifestyle and moral foundation that will sustain them?  Do they have a good reputation with former churches, employers, and/or the community?

     Competency. Can this person do the job they are being asked to do? Do they have a record of success? Do they have the skills, experience, training, and preparation to handle the responsibilities and authority that accompanies the position?  If not, can they be trained for the job?  Who will coach them? Construct a plan to help new staff members be successful. It is vital for them and the church.

     Chemistry. Will adding this person enhance or hinder the ministry leadership team already in place? Will they contribute by supporting all the ministries? Are they “lone ranger” staffers who prefer to build their own ministry (often to the detriment of others)? Expect the new staff members to add value to the other ministries. If they cannot they will eventually damage your team.

Pay Properly
Failure to provide a consistent compensation plan will diminish staff morale and tenure.

     Consistent with the Cost of Living. New staff members should be paid enough to comfortably live in the community the church serves. Key cost factors include: housing,  transportation, medical care, and education. Be sure to allow room in the budget for basic salary, benefits, and continuing education.

     Commensurate with Responsibility. Staff members should be compensated according to a criteria established by the church. Consider responsibilities, career experience, and educational attainment. One size may not fit everyone on staff.

     Annual Adjustment. Staff should know what to expect in regard to annual cost of living changes and performance increases. Establish a formal salary plan.  Determine the markers for merit pay and communicate them. Make sure all staff understand what can be expected from year to year. Staff evaluations are necessary in a highly productive staff environment.

I’m convinced that many of our churches would be much more effective in evangelism, discipleship, and ministry if the church staff was healthy and productive. Too much of the church’s energy is spent replacing short term staff members, managing staff disagreements, or resolving leadership disappointments with staff members. I hope these guidelines will give you some direction as you build your church leadership team.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Staffing For Success Part 1

By Randy Stone
I receive calls almost weekly from church staff or search committees requesting an employment reference for a student, former employee, or colleague.  Several of these calls pertain to open positions for age group ministers, such as Youth Pastor or Children Minister.  When I inquire about the church to see if the person under consideration is a viable candidate or a good fit for the church, I tend to discover that many of these search committees are filling a staff slot and the pastor, personnel, or leadership have not taken the appropriate and necessary steps to determine a realistic and effective staffing plan. In order for us, as the church to be successful in our ministry, we must be very intentional about our staff additions.

How do you hire staff in your church or congregation?  For the majority of my life and ministry, the typical hiring pattern consists of Pastor, Worship/Music, Youth, Children, Associate Pastor. Then what?  Unfortunately, employing staff in this sequence may create some unintended consequences, such as: 

1.      Inefficient allocation of financial resources. When churches add staff to work with specific ministry areas or age groups it relegates a significant portion of the budget to small or limited segments of the congregation. For example a youth pastor usually has only 10-12 % of the Sunday morning attendance in their ministry, few or none of which contribute to the general fund, and all increase the amount of funds necessary to support the ministry.  Some ministries contribute and others cost. A conscious effort must be made to keep a correct balance of the two.
2.      Increase in “turf wars” and “siloism”. Staff members by nature of their calling, passion, and expectations, will invest heavily in their own ministry area.  Most churches desire staffers with those passions, but few of those hired have the capacity to see the “big picture.”  As a result competition for people, financial, and communication resources is a natural by-product.
3.      Confusion with communication.  The number and quality of messages changes as new staff are added. Congregants begin to hear messages from individual staff members about priorities of the church which may not be consistent with each other or the overall priorities of the church.  The communication skills and access of staff to members will dictate the messages heard and received. For example, worship leaders have consistent and quality time with members in corporate worship while other staff may feel “pushed out” of the communication loop.

Developing a staffing plan will take some thought, time, attention, and involvement by key committees in a church, but the rewards are worth it. A quality team working together for the benefit of the church and its mission will increase morale and mission effectiveness.  Next post I will suggest some hiring guidelines.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stepping Into Glory

By Dr. Randy Stone
On October 26th, of last year, my family was called to my mother’s home. She was in renal failure and wasn’t expected to live much longer. Mom had suffered with Alzheimer’s for a number of years, but the past few months the decline had been especially rapid.  Hospice had provided some quality care and prepared all of us for this time.

Over the next five days, I, along with my siblings and her husband of 12 years, watched and waited. Every day the nurses and aids came by apprised us of her status and predicted her overnight death. The caregivers told us to expect dramatic symptoms of erratic breathing “like a fish out of water,” and other gruesome physiological manifestations. 

My family and I accepted Mom’s departure from this world when her breathing and heart stopped on at least three occasions during those days. Each time we thought she was gone, her breathing started again. Her final breath was the last of a series of shallow ones.  With her last breath a smile replaced the once drawn lips as she stepped into glory.

In the next few days, my brother and I discussed the absence of gasping breath and painful contortions predicted by the nurses. Our conclusion was a simple but profound one. When the doorway of death is cracked open, the torment that awaits the unbeliever is revealed and they cling to this life, struggling for every possible breath. But when the doorway of death opens for us and the glory of God shines through to our face…it’s easier to release the things of this world and embrace the next. We then can step into glory with a smile on our face and lungs full of heavenly air.

Since my mother’s death the blog posts have been absent. It has been a setback for me.  Expect the posts to this site to resume with greater regularity from this point forward, and look for some special guest contributors later this spring.