>Learning Church

>Can the Church be anything other than a “Learning Organisation”? It would seem so as the metaphor of the “learning Church” is one that has become something of a buzz word – presumably because the Church was something other than a “learning church” – like a “teaching church”, or an organisation that had stopped learning.

Membership of the Church is called “discipleship” which has learning at its heart. We are disciples of Jesus – called to learn his way(s). Disco is the Latin for “I learn”.

It was Peter Senge who promoted the idea of “learning organisations” in the 90’s. He wrote of organisation “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to learn together.” (Senge, 1990, p.3). Senge was writing as a generation was coming to terms with the accelerating pace of change which would leave the unlearning organisation extinct and the unlearning person behind.

George Lovell writes: “To be effective and to experience vocational fulfilment in this changing context, clergy … must reflect critically, imaginatively and systematically, on their own and with others, on the work, ministry and mission in which they are engaged or contemplating.”

In a really stimulating training session yesterday at Woodchurch High School, Andy referred to our age as the “exponential age” in which the pace of change virtually goes off the scale. We’ve seen nothing yet! He showed us the way technology is shaping change (shifthappens uk) and referred to some of the implications of the new technologies highlighted by Mark Pemsky.

Pemsky refers to students as “digital natives” who think and process information so fundamentally differently from ourselves. The way they relate to one another is fundamentally different and would have been seen as science fiction even 10 years ago. The way these digital natives think, and the way their brains have developed is likely to be different from us – born to a different age – and from virtually a different planet. We can enter their world but we enter as “digital immigrants”.

What has all this got to say about Church and about belonging? Digital natives do belong together – but not as we know it. They have a culture – but a culture that as cultural immigrants we find it hard to penetrate. What does it say about mission and how we might begin to bridge that generation gap? It brought to mind the beautiful work of Vincent Donovan who with tremendous love, humility and respect shared the gospel with the Masai thinking that the principles he adopted may have something to teach us about how we relate to this new age from which so many have become alienated. Interestingly Donovan, way back in 1972 – an age ago – wrote this:

“Never be afraid to ask questions about the work we have inherited or the work we are doing. There is no question that should not be asked or that is outlawed. The day we are completely satisfied with what we have been doing, the day we have found the perfect unchangeable system of work, the perfect answer, never in need of being corrected again, on that day we will know that we are wrong, that we have made the biggest mistake of all.” (p197)

>Taking learning to task

Jane Vella very helpfully takes “Learning to Task” distiinguishing between “teaching tasks” and “learning tasks”. She points out what most of us already know. That is, active learning is the most effective and active learning is done through “tasks”. Confession time now. I confess all the hours I have put in to the teaching task and how little I have put into developing learning tasks. I have worried about what I have to present – is it clever enough, is it full enough, is it understandable? What I should have been worrying about is developing the opportunities for active learning.

She writes:

Socrates knew it. Jesus knew it. The Buddha knew it. Every open question asked as the peripatetic crowd in white togas strolled around Athens, every parable put to the crowds at the lakeside, every subtle image set for unravelling in the heat of India was a learning task….
African youth in their cohort, facing a challenging route to manhood, are given a set of learning tasks. Astronauts who are facing an inviting universe move through a gruelling set of learning tasks. A new mother, apprehensive and humble with her infant in her arms, faces a daunting daily set of learning tasks.

Jane Vella suggests four types of learning task.

Induction tasks – they are tasks to connect us with what we already know and with our unique context.
Input tasks – they are tasks inviting us to examine new input – concepts, skills and attitudes.
Implementation tasks – they are tasks that get us to do something directly with that new context – implementing it.
Integration tasks – these tasks integrate this new learning into our lives, applying what we have learned to our life and work.

In the back of my mind I have a model framework for our liturgy – it’s sadly a bit like a song I can’t get out of my mind. The overall framework is “hospitable” – with four sections. First, there is what is called “the gathering”, then there is the “Liturgy of the Word” (here’s the teaching), then there is the “Liturgy of the Sacrament” and finally that little bit at the end called “Dismissal”. Without too much force I find this mirrors thr four types of task.

Induction tasks – “Gathering”
Input tasks – “Liturgy of the Word”
Implementation tasks – sharing the Peace, gathering round the table, sharing the one cup
Integration tasks – going in peace to love and serve the Lord and live the Gospel.

There’s a challenge here. And the challenge is how to switch from “teaching tasks” to ” learning tasks”. If Jane Vella (with Knowles, Freire et al) is right, effective discipling depends on that switch.