Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Learning Attitude

Learning by doing
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Is learning by doing better than learning through courses?

Recently I reacquainted myself with a common formula used among trainers. It is the 70-20-10 model for learning and development. The model is based on research back in the 1980s on what were the most significant learning experiences for effective leaders.1https://trainingindustry.com/wiki/content-development/the-702010-model-for-learning-and-development/.

The research showed that leaders learned most (70%) through hands-on-experience at work when they accepted challenging assignments and worked on problem-solving. This included learning from taking risks, experimenting and making mistakes.

The next greatest source of learning (20%) came from working with others. This would include collaborating with others, giving and receiving feedback and receiving coaching and mentoring. The last 10% was learning through educational courses, seminars and books.

Spurring on one another - Learning to be disciples and disciple-makers

Who spurs on the missionary to love and good deeds?

Over the last year or so, I have been thinking about what it means for missionaries to be both disciples and disciple-makers. I recognized that we can easily make the mistake of assuming that at some point in our Christian life, we graduate from being disciples to become disciple-makers. But through an in-depth study of the Gospel of Matthew, it became clear to me that we never stop being a disciple of Jesus. We never graduate from his school of discipleship. Just as we need to keep learning how to be better disciple-makers, we also need to continue learning to be better disciples.

Disciples in Disciple-making

In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard said

First of all, it is clear that, if we would make disciples, we should be disciples. … To plan on making disciples, we need to know what one is and how people become disciples. We need to know these things by personal experience, as did the first generation of Jesus’ people. They had been made disciples. And we need to be standing in the position of Jesus’ students and co-workers, so that our efforts in making disciples will be appropriately guided and strengthened by him. They are, after all, to be his disciples, not ours. So we are, then, disciples in disciple making. We learn from Jesus how to make disciples as he did.”

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (p. 328). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

So what we can do practically to help one another continue to learn from Jesus? How do we help one another be diligent students in Jesus’ discipleship school? Does each disciple just have to figure this out on their own? Or can we learn together in some way?

A lot more preparation required

My wife loves to host people.  She is a great cook, and will often spend most of the day preparing a meal for our dinner guests. My participation in the preparations is decidedly less.  Maybe all the guests are thankful for that.  Admittedly, I don’t know much about how to prepare a great meal for guests.  But I have watched someone who does!

In a parable-like format, Proverbs 9 presents two different women inviting people to a meal.  The same invitation rings out in both Prov. 9:4 and Prov. 9:16:

Let all who are simple come to my house!

Not a victim, but a learner

In two previous blog posts, I have been talking about crucible experiences that God often uses to perfect us. But as I have noted, difficult life experiences in themselves do not refine us. Our response to the crucible experiences of life and ministry is what allows the crucible to become transformative.

Crucibles are used in refining gold out of crushed ore.  In doing some study on the process, I have learned that borax is often used as a flux for smelting gold out of crushed ore.   Borax reduces the melting point of gold, thus making it separate more easily and quickly from the other minerals in the ore.  The question I have asked myself, “How can we add borax to our crucible experiences in life, so that we can extract the ‘gold’ more quickly and easily?”

How do I choose which books to read?

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Harry S. Truman.

Reading has always been a hobby of mine.   One of my most memorable Christmases as a child was the one where my brother and I each were given 12 books by our parents.   I believe all of them were used books, but that made no difference at all to me.  The anticipation of being able to read as much as I wanted to read throughout the Christmas holidays overshadowed any other gifts that year.   For not only did I have 12 books to read; I had 24 for my brother’s books were fair game as well, once he had read them.

Sharpening the Saw or the Axe

One of my key responsibilities as the head of SEND U (SEND International’s training department) is to champion lifelong learning within our organization. One of the things we have been promoting, first of all with our team leaders, and now with the entire membership is the importance of every missionary drawing up their own personal growth plan.  This growth plan (sometimes called an Individual Development Plan or IDP) would be put together every year (maybe in January after or as part of a day of prayer).   To help our members with writing this plan, a few of us have been working on a short road map or guide, including a self-assessment tool and a template for creating an individual growth plan.  This road map is still a work in progress but you can download the latest version here.   But I think that before we can expect our members to work on their growth plan, we probably need to answer a couple of questions.

Learning and Servanthood

This past month, I read Duane Elmer’s book, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility.  Elmer, a former faculty member at Missionary Internship (now MTI) has written a number of helpful books about the process of transitioning into another culture and working effectively as a cross-cultural missionary.   Cross-cultural Servanthood addresses the question of what we need to do so that we are actually perceived as servants by the cultures to which we have come.   As he points out, servanthood is culturally defined, so our efforts to serve others may actually be perceived as superiority and condescension by the host culture and national church. Elmer has heard many host culture people say, “Missionaries could more effectively minister the gospel of Christ if they did not think they were so superior to us.”   How do we unconsciously communicate superiority, and how can we avoid this and demonstrate Christlike servanthood?

One of the chapters talks about the importance of adopting a learning attitude.   As missionaries, we often are infected with the “right answer” virus.   One of the symptoms of this infection is that we find it difficult to learn from those whom we perceive to be less educated or less spiritual than us.  Unfortunately, in my personal experience, the more experienced we are as missionaries, the more virulent this virus becomes.  Elmer says to combat this virus we need to take a big dose of humility and learn about others, learn from others and learn with others.   Although learning about others is important, we need to move on to learn from and learn with the people of the host culture to which we have been called.

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