Towards a Missional Pedagogy: Intentionally Implied Curriculum

Towards a Missional Pedagogy: Intentionally Implied Curriculum

“Praxis” is not a new idea.  It is at least as old as Hegel, and probably much older than that.  It isn’t so much a teaching method as it is a learning method…a way of life actually.  The process begins with the examination of our assumptions about the nature of the things – the world, God, God in the world, heaven, humanity, meaning, suffering…you name it.  The world we live in probably has an objective reality. But so much of how we interact with it is determined by the lenses that we see the world through that it is really hard to know exactly what “it” objectively is.  The lenses determine our actions in response to what we see as much as the world itself does.  That doesn’t mean that everything is relative.  It just means that a lot of what we think we know is culturally determined and operates just at or below our level of consciousness.  Socialization is a powerful process, and the levers that control that process bear close examination.

What do we believe about God? Who is Jesus Christ? The beliefs influence our behaviors in every aspect of life.  Jesus meant to use the word “Way” because the “way” we live matters and is the only true measure of what we actually believe. Once we have a grip on what we think we believe, Praxis compels us to act on that set of beliefs…to live them, to follow their “way”.  We intentionally move from reflection to action…or maybe more precisely to interaction.  The realities of our interactions challenge and conflict with our initial assumptions.  The interactions are the context of our learning and our understanding.  To use Hegelian terminology, we begin with an examined hypothesis and we put that hypothesis into practice (hence, “Praxis”).  Eventually, given our limitations and limits of initial understanding, our “hypothesis” meets its “antithesis”.  What we believe no longer matches what we see.  We can no longer live that hypothesis with integrity, and we must spend time reflecting on our hypothesis in light of our actions and experiences and form a new hypothesis that we will take back out into action.  We move from reflection to action to reflection to action to reflection, and so on, until what is believed to be real is bearing fruit in the context in which we live.  Do we ever reach real “synthesis”? I don’t know.  I haven’t.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.  It just means that the process of learning and growing and understanding is much longer than we think it is. Full participation in the present Kingdom of God has both a steep and a long learning curve.

In the past, methods of discipling have largely skipped a good deal of the intentionality at work here.  They have denied their own implied curriculum (i.e. what we are teaching but aren’t saying that we’re teaching).  But more than that, even when the Sunday School model/classroom model of Christian Education has functioned at its best, the foundational assumption of the model is that what is being “taught” will be reinforced in the culture in which it is lived out.  We took young people out of the water of baptism or out of the spiritual practice of confirmation and we plunked them down in Sunday School classes for one hour per week and taught them from curriculum written by people who lived their faith in the generation before the generation we were telling these kids to live their faith in.  Things didn’t match up.  The result was that the kids (and adults) who were being educated in this method were largely walking away from their faith because, 1) Their faith wasn’t their faith – it was their parent’s faith, 2) What they were learning wasn’t relevant to their context of living, and 3) culture was constantly assaulting everything we were teaching with a conflicting message about everything and we were drastically underestimating the power of cultural socialization and its pressure to assimilate. We were also underestimating the cost and pain of that conflict to our young people and new disciples.

The curriculum that we were purchasing and teaching out of was the lens that we were trying to stick on the faces of disciples, and that kind of curriculum is always “stuck in time”. That kind of curriculum isn’t God’s Living Word.  It is a culturally contextualized interpretation of scripture.  And there is a giant difference.  Using that kind of curriculum as our sole means of influence is like putting somebody else’s glasses on disciples.  Either they stumble around and feel dizzy all the time, or they take the glasses off and operate under the illusion that they’re no longer looking through a lens at all.

So here’s my suggestion.  What if we took new believers who have come to faith in the mission, and invited them into the study of scripture (what it actually says) and got them to reflect on scripture’s meaning in light of what they were experiencing in the mission?  Then we invite them to likewise reflect on the mission in light of what they are reading in scripture.  My suggestion is that that process begins with the Gospels (but doesn’t end there).  The learning and influence is bi-directional.  The experience of mission (action) informs our understanding and interpretation of scripture, and our understanding of scripture informs, challenges, and shapes the way that we engage in the mission (reflection and new hypothesis).  We are then challenged to take our new understanding back into the mission and incarnate our beliefs with our intentional efforts to live what we believe.  In other words, there is no learning without action, and our actions are shaped by our reflection on those actions viewed through scripture.

Too often, disciples do one or the other, but not both.  In our “churches” we get people who study scripture all the time and become phenomenally gifted in the rote knowledge of the text.  But they, all too often, really don’t put their understanding of the text into practice in a way that really challenges their interpretation of it.  In fact, many do not even acknowledge that interpretation is ALWAYS at work in our understanding of scripture. We ALWAYS read scripture through lenses prescribed by culture.  On the flip side, mission without reflection in scripture does not produce spiritual growth.  It just produces more of the exact same and, eventually, it produces boredom and/or burnout.  Mission without scriptural reflection isn’t mission.  It’s “outreach”, and we’ve already established that outreach will kill your church.  The spiritual growth produced by reflecting on experience in light of scripture provides motivation.  Without growth as motivation, there really is no motive to continue in the mission once the initial emotional experience plateaus.  And, it will plateau without spiritual growth.

All of this learning impacts daily living – family, school, work, economics, participation in government, etc.  In fact, all of the learning in going from reflection to action in mission to reflection and back again shapes our daily living and drastically reduces the impact that cultural socialization has on our understanding of everything.  Daily living is no longer the primary learning lab.  The mission is the primary learning lab.  Without participation in the mission, the forces of culture are simply too great and they overpower what we can do in one hour per week of Sunday School.  The mission makes our understanding relevant.  It also makes it our own.  We are owning our own understanding and lenses rather than simply putting on someone else’s glasses.

Reflection. Hypothesis. Mission application. Reflection. New Hypothesis. New mission application. And so on.  We are grinding our own lenses…or more precisely, the Holy Spirit is prescribing lenses appropriate for our interaction with the culture that Christ is trying to reach and influence.

(To be continued) Where am I wrong in my thinking here?  What’s missing? Is this worth a try? Please, give me some feedback and accountability here. Some of you are familiar with Paulo Freire and others who have advocated Praxis methodology over the years, as well as similar methods like Immersion learning and Encounter methodology.  I am learning, too.  Object AND subject.



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