Tuesday, July 02, 2002

building a learning community

Learning Community is a new learning organization that a few of us are creating at Grace Community Church in Columbia, MD. As I've commented before, it's also a new kind of org- we think. It will have something of the look and feel of traditional adult education with two significant differences: 1) We intend to select facilitators (we are tending to avoid academic nomenclature) that will create a learning environment rather than merely an information download environment. Our workshops will be interactive and communal. They will be small groupesque. 2) The facilitators will provide individual spiritual guidance outside of workshops to each participant. We do not view our org as an end in itself but as a segue to worship, spiritual friendship (aka discipleship) and service. We believe success comes when the phone rings at 3 AM and it's someone saying they really need to talk 'cause they want to go out and score. Success is not defined as a well-run classroom session with great, compelling information and scintillating discussion (though we want that too). Rather our relentless focus will be on what happens outside the workshop, not the workshop itself. In our workshops and by individual, pastoral attention outside of the workshops, we seek to inspire a hunger in our participants for God, community, and for spiritual friendship. As the facilitators interact with their participants individually, he/she keeps two categories in their minds : 1) has the participant recognized their wholeness in Christ? What is the next step in this regard in the participant's spiritual journey? Is there a person to whom they need to be introduced? Is there a small group in which they might fit? And (only if absolutely necessary) do they need to take another workshop? 2) What is their place in the kingdom? What is their vocation? What is their passion? What is their giftedness? Where can they serve? As the facilitator interacts with each participant inside and outside of the workshops, he/she holds these categories in mind, constantly exploring the question of what the next steps are for their participant. We are seeking to convert participants 1) to a renewed (or new!) appreciation of their wholeness in Jesus, 2) to spiritual friendships (in or out of small groups) and #) to a missional focus.

In developing this organization, the Learning Community Leadership Team has been focusing on two questions: 1) What are our non-negotiable core values? and 2) What operational distinctives flow from these core values? (In selecting these two areas of initial focus, we've been influenced by Jim Collins). We've answered question #1 and are at the point now of being ready to answer #2. But we've taken opportunity of the transition to consider a bit how to find our facilitators.

As the Leadership Team, our most important responsibility is the targeted selection of these facilitators and vision casting and nurturing a culture of spiritual friendship in the facilitator community. I believe that our most powerful tool for doing this will be microcasting this vision one-on-one with each facilitator and making sure that we model a healthy spiritual friendship with them.

We've been thinking about how to find these facilitators and have considered casting a wide net. We went to the senior pastor and a couple of staffers and elders, handed them each a church directory and asked them to mark all the names of folks they believed would be effective facilitators. We've also considered vision casting and fishing for facilitators by an announcement during a Sunday morning service, followed by a 12 minute meeting afterwards in which we talk about what we are looking for. Then we would see who is interested and vet them.

This past Wednesday night, however, we started to think that our approach to this was too programmatic. I think the modern/postmodern distinction is sometimes simplistically reductionistic, but if I were to evaluate our org on that basis I would say that we are creating modern structure with postmodern "guts." We will look like standard Sunday School, but what goes inside and outside the workshops will be more transpropositional , relational, and organic. Thusly, it dawned on us that our leadership development strategy must take a similar approach.

In light of that, at our last meeting, the Leadership Team started thinking that maybe we were going about this whole finding facilitators thing all wrong. Maybe each of us should "make one, find one" over the course of the next 6-12 mos and grow our future leaders one-on-one. I do think we will craft a Leadership Training Workshop to showcase some of the great material that's out there (e.g. The Leadership Challenge, The Ascent of a Leader, etc.), but I think that our primary modality will be each Learning Community Leadership Team member and then every facilitator developing an intentional, formative spiritual friendship with potential facilitators. That's the "make one" I mentioned. As far as "find one" goes, I think each of us must also check and re-check our radar screen for those qualified today to create the kind of environment we're trying to craft.

We are quite zealous to build an organization that 1) will do some real good and 2) will outlast us. By God's grace and with the Spirit's empowerment, perhaps we will be able to do #1. But we know that if we don't give intentional focus on leadership development and targeted selection, we are unlikely to accomplish #2.

If you have any thoughts on this, send me an e-mail!

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