How can training for ministry be truly effective?

One of the perennial questions facing the church today is the effective training of its ministers. That challenge is usual thought to relate to those called to ordained ministry—but (as the recent report of Archbishops’ Council to General Synod on lay leadership highlighted) it actually applies to the whole people of God, since all are called to ministry by virtue of baptism.

The latest Grove Pastoral bookletContext-based Learning for Discipleship and Ministry, is by three members of the staff team at Ridley Hall in Cambridge (Eeva John, Michael Volland and Robin Barden), and explores the model of ‘PC3’ training as emulating the way that the first disciples learned from Jesus—by combining Participation, Classroom, Context and Community.

One source of inspiration for thinking about learning for discipleship and ministry is to ask the question, ‘What can we glean from the New Testament about how the first disciples learned?’ In the gospels we read that the disciples were active participants in, as well as witnesses of, Jesus’ ministry and mission over a period of three years—they learned through sustained participation. Jesus was frequently addressed as ‘teacher’ and the gospels relate how he taught congregations in the synagogue, crowds in the open air and the disciples in private—the disciples learned by listening to and engaging with Jesus’ teaching in a range of versatile classroom venues. Jesus and his disciples travelled from place to place, so that Jesus exercised his ministries of teaching, proclamation and healing in specific settings, from individuals in homes to public encounters in the marketplace—the disciples learned through immersion in real contexts. The disciples, and others accompanying them, ate, travelled, prayed and ministered together with Jesus—they learned in community.

PC3-based learning is an attempt to capture an approach to education for discipleship and ministry that involves these four elements: active participation in ministry and mission; classroom learning; im- mersion in a context and learning in community.

The authors explore the relevance of this for different kinds of learning, and then explore each of these dimensions. Perhaps the most interesting and surprising of these is the ‘classroom’ aspect of learning, often a neglected aspect of Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching in contemporary discussion.

Participation is at the heart of the PC3 approach: learners participate in the classroom, in the context and in communities of learning. A jarring experience provokes learners to delve into the theology they have learned in the classroom, or participation in parish activities stirs learners to re ect on practice, or an impatient ‘So what?’ question in the classroom prompts deeper reflection on what is happening on the ground or within oneself. This approach to learning triggers conversations that connect experiential, academic, vocational and re ective learning in di erent ways at different times. Equally importantly, however, participation refers to the learners’ participation in ministry and mission…

Classroom: Jesus was frequently called ‘teacher’ and there are many references to Jesus teaching in the gospels. In Matthew, for example, ‘…Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues…(Matt 9.35) and ‘…When Jesus had nished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities’ (Matt 11.1). In Luke’s ac- count of the walk to Emmaus, Jesus gives the two disciples a tutorial: ‘And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself’ (Luke 24.27). Sometimes the disciples requested extra help, as when he explained the Parable of the Seed Sown by the Farmer. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is recorded as speaking about wanting the disciples to know the ‘secret of the kingdom of God,’ suggesting a deeper knowing: not just seeing, but perceiving; not just hearing, but understanding. This kind of knowing is transformative—it leads to changed behaviour in response to the gospel.

Of course, both the classroom and Jesus’ teaching took many different forms…

Context: The disciples accompanied Jesus as he taught, ministered and proclaimed the gospels in a wide variety of contexts, travelling from town to town, encountering individuals and crowds, at funerals and weddings, suffering from illnesses and demon-possession, involved in domestic disputes and religious wrangles. This meant that all their learning was framed in specific, real and immediate contexts. These encounters were intermingled with Jesus’ teaching and his—often helpless—attempts to create space for the disciples to take time out to reflect, rest and pray. There was nothing contrived about the reality of the contexts into which the disciples and Jesus were thrown, although Jesus often chose to engage with people and places that were uncomfortable for the disciples and disapproved of by religious leaders.

The mix of ministry, mission, learning and reflection in a PC3-based approach emulates the reality of the Christian life of discipleship and ministry…

Community: As if to embody the truth that the call to follow Jesus is a calling on the whole of life, the rst disciples ate, travelled, prayed and lived together during their three-year ‘apprenticeship’ with Jesus. While this represented sacrifices for the disciples, it was also a costly call to vulnerability for Jesus as he exposed the whole of his life, day and night, to his disciples. Paul, too, writes to the church in Thessalonica about being ‘delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.’ Similarly, the disciples in the early church are exhorted to be a learning community where there is teaching and learning, prayer, worship and mutual accountability: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God’ ( Col 3.16).

The PC3 approach presupposes that such willingness to share each other’s lives beyond the classroom encourages deeper, more transformative learning…

The booklet explores each of these in more depth, and then goes on to look at who such learning can be for—not just those training for full-time licensed and ordained ministry, but sector ministers (such as those work with youth) anyone in the church who is going to engage in some form of public ministry—and in fact the whole people of God and those who have oversight of them.

The fourth chapter then looks at the ‘drama of learning’ and the roles and responsibilities involved in making this approach work well. The final short chapter explores the virtues and qualities required in learners who participate, since learning is not simply something technical that happen mechanically. Those virtues include attentiveness, curiosity, patience, fearlessness and humility.

As learners immerse themselves in the reality of the world and the church, submit to one another in community and learn what it means to inhabit the kingdom of God, they become catalysts for the transforming power of God in the church and the world.

This booklet is going to be essential reading for anyone concerned with learning in the church at any level. It can be ordered, post-free in the UK, from the Grove website.

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2 thoughts on “How can training for ministry be truly effective?”

  1. Good article with a lot of useful advice. I’d like to have seen more emphasis on the Bible as the source of learning though. Surely learners”need to immerse themselves” first and foremost in the Word of God, which not only gives theological truth but practical application in the world? Or have I missed something you said?

  2. “Mission is the mother of theology,” and its been in the times when I’ve had to think my theology through in response to real life situations and engagement, often with those not yet part of the body of Christ. The mission to see His Kingdom worked out in the context that we are sited in, then with action and reflection on that action informed by good teaching. That is a basis for some very effective learning.


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