Monday, May 4, 2009

The Learning Curve

I was at a training event for Rethink Church this weekend and one of the other learners at the event raised the question/concern that just as churches are getting the hang of websites we have Facebook and that is followed quickly by Twitter and who knows what is next. It is hard to stay on top of the new technologies and possibilities for ministry. Only having been in the ministry for the least 3 years I can only imagine what is like for people who have been doing it for a lot longer. The impression that I have gotten is that the changes in how technology aids ministry have increased, with notably fewer changes in the 80's than the 90's and even more changes in this decade than the 90's which brought the advent of email and websites, though churches often took their time getting on board with both of those.

One of the biggest challenges I think for the church is that our learning practices are not built for this sort of rapid learning. Churches, like many other institutions are generally adverse to change. Often it takes pressure from leadership and official workshops and mandates to get people to take seriously the need to do something new, like have a website, or a Facebook presence. The problem is that by the time our leadership has seen the need and figured out how to train for it, it is really too late. We often use the language of people being life-long learners. What I always think of when I hear this is taking classes, doing workshops, engaging in formal opportunities to expand my knowledge. Institutions across professions encourgage this by rewarding and often requiring continuing education credits. Unfortuntely the kind of education we really need is something that we cannot get credit for. I am not aware of a formal system to get credit for learning how to use Twitter and researching what churches and other groups are using it for. The classes on things like that happen in conversations with other clergy struggling with the same questions. They happen on message boards and blogs, as groups of people talk about success and analysize failures.

Life-long learner is good. It is good from a practical standpoint and it is what we are meant to do spiritually. At the same time maybe what we need more of is an attitude of life-long experimentation and collaboaration. Light of the Lakes is in the midst of doing something different. We are not the first church to do it, but we are certainly one of the first. We are in a position to try new things and look at things in different ways. For the church to do the best it can to be the Church, we need to keep that attitude of holy experimentation, to not limit ourselves to what has been done and what is proven to work but instead to free us up for trying new things, to work together and fail together, and to share what we learn in that to help the Church grow and reach new people. Because that is really why we are called to learn, collaborate, and experiment, to fullfill our great commission, not our continuing education requirement.