There is a big difference between taking a “course” and taking a “workshop”.
A course is usually head-based – intellectual, linear and designed to take you from point A to point B of your understanding. If we’re being honest, most education over the past hundred years has been a series of courses to prepare children for the job market. Churches operate with this same mindset: pastors work from an organized lectionary and create “sermon series” to build on an idea over several weeks, the program is designed for small groups, book clubs and Bible studies, new members and prospective members undergo a “sermon series” course, etc.
We are a culture that loves classes; they are easy to understand, easy to design and easy to defend with our bosses, our boards and our stakeholders. “If you do this, you will learn this. And if you learn that, you will be better off.
Now, of course, classes are not wrong things. They are a tool in the toolbox. The problem is that we have relied too much on them because they are easy. Courses offer linear thinking, the promise of growth, and tangible results.
An example: Time and time again I have seen churches confuse the process of discipleship with the process of “learning”. Instead of an embodied experience rooted in the specific context of the church, the discipleship process too often resembles a classroom program to be committed to, once a week, in the building, for six weeks.
I don’t mean to be flippant but… no one becomes a follower of this model. It is not a model designed to provide a transformative experience; it is a model designed to create conformity. In truth, the people who run these spaces are not training people to “be like Jesus” – who was always in the mud of life – they are training people to be “more like us”.
Churches must reverse the script and change the model with which they operate.
It should look like a workshop.
A workshop is designed to be lived: messy, stimulating, collaborative, vulnerable. A workshop requires you to Try new things. A workshop is a DIY space where you can test your ideas, explore new frontiers, and have purposeful conversations with others. It’s often doesn’t have clear criteria for success because participants engage with them and learn a lot of different and unexpected things.
The outcome of a workshop, like life, is mostly uncontrollable.
Churches should look like a workshop. When participants engage with a church, it should be practical, relational, and focused on experiencing the Divine in new and embodied ways. As a project-based learning teacher, I know firsthand that young people learn more through Do and it is exactly the same with adults.
Instead of discipleship classes held exclusively in a church hall, churches should make disciples by getting their hands dirty, in the mud of life. Or if discipleship training was built around creating space for tinkering – participants practicing having compassionate conversations with people who disagree with them on difficult topics? Or participants taking a real problem and coming up with possible solutions together that they can start with?
Instead of series of sermons, and if there were experiences based on sacred history? Why speak Again about the Israelites migrating from Egypt – instead how about the whole community go out and defend the refugees here and now? Or – again – what if the community split into small groups to research the causes of forced migration, develop a local solution or means of support, and then implement it?
Here is the point:
In a content-saturated environment like the one we find ourselves in now – where we can hear the best lectures from the best speakers free without leaving home, we rarely need more lessons.
But in an environment of isolation like the one we find ourselves in, we definitely need more workshops. We need more spaces where we can collectively get our hands dirty, talk with others about what it means to be alive, and be accountable to each other for how we show up in our communities.
And in a world filled with so many problems, so many wrongs and injustices, a “learning with lessons” mentality only maintains the status quo. Churches must take the risk of changing their structure, knowing that more discipline will occur in a week of workshops and embodied commitment than in three months of classes as usual.
Yes, this kind of change will create intense pushback…but as pastors know, literally every change creates intense pushback in a church. So why not?