Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Lifelong Learning Page 1 of 7

retirement sabbatical
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Retirement Sabbatical: Identity and Calling

In a previous post, I mentioned starting retirement with a sabbatical. In this post and the next, I will explore the benefits a sabbatical brings at the start of retirement. Specifically, I want to describe the anatomy of a sabbatical resulting in discerning identity and calling in retirement. Then, the following post will explore coaching and mentoring in retirement. In other words, this post deals with our self-awareness, and the next post our relationship to others.

Anatomy of a Retirement Sabbatical

I have a confession to make. I’ve never taken a sabbatical. Furthermore, I’m not retired yet (that comes on January 1, 2022). Yet there are helpful guides for taking a sabbatical. In chapter two of An Uncommon Guide to RetirementJeff Haanen outlines nine practices to consider as we plan our retirement sabbatical.

1. Prepare

A retirement sabbatical needs to be intentional. Notably, Haanen suggests taking two to three weeks just to structure our sabbatical (p. 43). Likewise, C. J. Cagle emphasizes planning:

reimagined retirement is one that is planned, structured, lived, and continually reexamined in the light of sound biblical doctrine, principles, and practices. It is a retirement lived for the glory of God, his kingdom, and the good of his people.

C. J. Cagle, Reimagine Retirement, kindle loc. 814.
effective organizational cultures
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What makes an organizational culture effective?

Cross-cultural workers spend a lot of time thinking about, discussing, and examining cultures. Ethnography is a foundational skill for missionaries. But I have found that we are much less adept at understanding and describing organizational cultures, even the cultures of the organizations in which we serve. What does an effective organizational culture look like? What kind of organizational culture would lead to greater fruitfulness and well-being of our members? Even more mysterious is how leaders can nurture the organizational culture they would like to prevail. Or can we even change or develop our organizational culture?

I have just finished “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” by Daniel Coyle. I believe that this book begins to answer some of these questions, at least for me. Coyle set out to discover the reasons why some groups, teams, or organizations accomplish far more than what we would expect of them if we only looked at the sum total of the individual talents of their members. His research has resulted in an excellent and fascinating book about group culture. Coyle believes that these cultures don’t just “happen” but are intentionally created by learning and practicing a specific set of skills.

In his book, the author describes 3 essential “skills” of highly effective groups:

effective organizational culture
  1. Build safety
  2. Share vulnerability
  3. Establish purpose

Coyle devotes a section of his book to describing each skill. Each section includes multiple stories about great teams and organizations. Then it concludes with a set of suggested action steps for developing that skill.

Build safety

The first skill is all about the value of belonging. As cross-cultural workers, we are very familiar with the feeling of not belonging. Thus, we are often not able to contribute fully to the discussions and decisions in the cultures and communities in which we live. We long to belong, to be accepted, to be valued for our contribution. Even as we recognize that we will always be outsiders, we want to become “acceptable outsiders.”1 See Joann Pittman’s article “Learning to Be an Acceptable Outsider” for a better understanding of this term. We want to feel that it is not only safe to live in these communities but also safe to contribute meaningfully to its well-being.

Teaching and Learning: a review of two great books

Two great books on teaching and learning have been published in the last two years. They complement each other well. In 2020, Duane and Muriel Elmer’s The Learning Cycle: Insights for Faithful Teaching from Neuroscience and the Social Sciences was published by IVP. And this year (2021), Baker published Craig Ott’s Teaching and Learning Across Cultures: A Guide to Theory and Practice. The authors bring both extensive research and experience to the discussion of teaching and learning.

The Learning Cycle by Duane and Muriel Elmer

The Learning Cycle book

In a sense, this book is a capstone of Duane and Muriel Elmer’s writings and ministry.1 Many of Duane Elmer’s books have been foundational training materials for cross-cultural missionary service. See a review on this blog of one of his books, Cross-Cultural Servanthood. Duane created “the learning cycle” as part of his doctoral research at Michigan State University (p. 6). Subsequently, Muriel added the “barriers to change” to the cycle. Furthermore, they have both practiced the model throughout their teaching careers in various contexts. The insights from neuroscience do not dominate the text and come from “the more stable insights from the brain literature.” (p.11)

The Learning Cycle Model

online training skills
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Online training: sharpening your skills

Online education and training have been around for a long time. But over this past year, many of us have had the opportunity and necessity to experience online training like never before. This is also true for the training of missionaries getting ready to head to the field. Facilitating an online training session is inherently different from facilitating a training module face-to-face. Since online instruction is likely here to stay, those of us involved in training missionaries should continue to sharpen our skills for facilitating online. Here are some things we have learned in the past year that help promote an effective online learning environment.

Use a variety of methods

A good principle of education is to use a variety of different teaching methods. Doing so connects with the various learning styles of your learners. This principle also holds true online. Asynchronous courses with forum discussions have existed in online learning for over 10 years. Some learners will thrive in this kind of setting, particularly if they like to carefully think through their answers before responding. In an asynchronous environment, they can read books, blog posts, and watch videos, reflect on them, and then respond when they are ready in writing through forum posts.

More recently, video conference platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Teams have become popular ways to facilitate. In this setting, other types of learners will thrive. They have a set time to connect and a more immediate response in the discussion.

So, when you design an online curriculum, seek to cater to as many personalities and learning styles as possible. Maybe your training course can include both asynchronous forum discussions and some live video conference sessions as well.

Break the ice

It may feel natural to introduce yourself to a fellow learner or a facilitator in a physical classroom setting when you first walk into the room or during a class break. But this can feel much more awkward in a virtual setting when you enter a virtual “room” that is already “full” of people, and no one is in closer physical proximity to you than anyone else.

the mentor's character
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The Mentor’s Magnet

Editor’s note: A number of years ago, I received a CD of a dozen articles on the topic of mentoring. This collection was entitled “Mentoring Pillars” and were written by Jim Feiker. Jim and his wife Bev served with SEND International for 12 years (1988-2000) in a mentoring and training capacity. Jim passed away back in 2012, leaving behind scores of people whom he had mentored and coached. His legacy lives on in their ministries. But Jim, with editorial help from his wife, also wrote extensively about the art of mentoring.

Cross-cultural workers realize that mentoring is vital in discipling new believers and in training church leaders. As an organization, we have also become increasingly aware of the need for older missionaries to mentor younger co-workers. Those of us from the Boomer generation will soon be passing on the baton of leadership to millennials and Generation Z. So, ore multiple reasons, we all need to become more proficient in mentoring.

As I have focused my attention recently on strengthening mentoring within SEND (see my recent blog post), I revisited these “mentoring pillars.” Recognizing how full of wisdom they really are, I was surprised that I could not find them published anywhere on the Internet or in print. With Bev Feiker’s blessing, I have decided to post a number of them in our blog over the next few months.


The Mentor’s Magnet – A life manifesting Christ

Over the years God has put a particular burden in my heart for mentoring young men and women. This vision, birthed when I was 18 and discipled the first person I led to Christ, has grown and matured through my various ministry contexts with The Navigators, as a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor, with SEND International, and now with Barnabas International. Mentoring has been a thread and primary focus in my ministry over these 50 years. I have learned most about mentoring through failure and just watching God at work in lives.

coaching or mentoring
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Do I need a mentor or a coach?

In the last while, I have been thinking about how to strengthen our mentoring within SEND. In a recent analysis of leadership development within our organization, I noted that we needed more intentional mentoring of developing leaders by our current leaders. This is a gap in our current leadership development. Thinking about how to fill that gap has naturally led me to try to define mentoring. How is mentoring different from coaching? SEND U has already sought to create a coaching culture within the mission. More than 200 people in SEND have received some type of training in coaching. So, do we need both mentors and coaches?

Defining coaching and mentoring

A significant difficulty in answering this question is that the definition of coaching varies so much. For example, Lois Zachary and Lory Fischler in their mentoring fable, “Starting Strong” say,

Coaching is more instructive, but mentoring is more of a relationship. It’s not about me telling you what to do and you doing it.

Lois Zachary & Lory Fischler, Starting Strong: A Mentoring FAble, p.21.
lifelong learning
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Cultivating Learning Attitudes

Part of SEND U’s vision is: “Every SEND missionary will be proactive in creating habits of lifelong, intentional learning focused on both character and skill development.” What attitudes does a missionary need to cultivate in order to get personal buy-in to this vision? I suggest that cultivating attitudes of humility, openness, civility, and commitment provide motivation for personal buy-in. Moreover, these attitudes are the soil in which habits of lifelong, intentional learning will grow.

Humility

Humility is an essential attitude for learning, for without it we will not recognize the need to learn. Furthermore, humility helps us remain teachable. On my desk I have a quote from John Calvin as a reminder to stay teachable:

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