Learning to Teach Others at One’s Worst

I have been teaching seminary classes off and on for a few years now (back as far as 2009… 2008 if one includes student teaching). With a ThD now, I have been seeking to be a better teacher in seminary. Typically, I get pretty good reviews in classes… partly because I typically have been teaching classes I enjoy and feel comfortable with subject-wise.

However, this year, I have expessed willingness to teach classes that are not part of my comfort zone. I was asked to teach “Principles of Church Growth and Church Multiplication.” Not really  my favorite subject. Although I have been involved in a couple of church planting efforts, and a number of others indirectly, I don’t consider myself a church planter. Additionally, I have real problems with much of what is called the “Church Growth Movement.” I may be more positive about the “Church Health” wing of the movement, but that is not enough to make it a topic I appreciate.

education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I noticed that there was a larger number of seminarians in my class goofing around in class. I could feel that this class wasn’t really coming together like I was used to. The only other time I had that problem was a Missions History class I taught several years ago. So I did the same thing I did with that class.

I asked students to critique me and the class generally. I encouraged the students to be negative… don’t just give positive things (as some from Southeast Asia are prone to do). I got back a number of comments that formed a trend. Here they are:

  1. I don’t make much eye contact with the students.
  2. I often spoonfeed information to the students
  3. I talk too fast
  4. I pump out material too much material and don’t encourage enough group discussion.
  5. I do a lot of “Ummmssss”
  6. I backtrack on myself, saying one thing and then stepping back and changing the perspective, and saying that it is really the students job to decide for themselves. <Not claiming my professorial authority.>
  7. Sometimes being late or appearing unprepared.
  8. Only take attendance sporadically.

Looking over these comments, decided to see what commonality there are.

First,  what comments would I throw out. I think I have to throw out #6. The comment is sound… it is something I do. But it is something I do, and hope to continue doing. I am frustrated by the tendency in Seminary of a professor acting like his/her opinion is the only one. That is not an authority I wish to claim. However, perhaps leaving an issue open, without inviting open discussion may not be useful. Perhaps moving towards a more Socratic approach would be better for expressing uncertainty without appearing to lack authority. Something to think about.

Second, what comments confuse me a bit. Comment #2 does confuse me. The comment itself is sound… I do sometimes spoonfeed especially when it comes to exams. I tell them what they need to know on the exam and quiz them accordingly. What confuses me is that historically, that was what students at this seminary wanted. I am wondering whether the culture is changing. It confuses me, but I appreciate the comment. Maybe I should expect more from the students… many of whom are excellent.

Third, what comments may have interconnecting causes. I can see two related sets:

1.  Not making eye contact and pumping out information. I am an introvert by nature. I can talk to a group of 1000 people without feeling much nervousness. But I get quite nervous with most one-on-one conversations. I have never liked making eye contact. In the Philippines that is generally not a big deal since eye contact is not a big thing. However, I suspect I have allowed myself to do that even more in this term. Eye contact makes communication personal, and that is uncomfortable to me. Also, as long as I am pumping out information, this leaves little time for questions… and questions are also more personal. Again, I think my tendencies in this area were probably exacerbated by the fact that ithe class is not a strong area of mine academically. The added discomfort combined with my temperament made things worse.

2.  Talking fast, using “ummsss” and pumping out information (with little discussion) also points to another issue. I have a tendency to focus on cognitive training… passing on of knowledge. I am an analytic learner and so like information. I never really cared that much for discussion times that sometimes could devolve into pooling ignorance. So I like to fill up the lectures with lots of information. As such I talk fast and only occasionally encourage discussion. The Ummmsss come partly from me talking fast. Admittedly, my talking fast is partly from being originally a New Yorker. However, if I intentionally had less to say, I should be able to control my speed.

Fourth, What’s left? Tardiness and preparation, and Taking attendance. Tardiness (yes I was a bit late on occasion) had several causes… some of which I have little control over… 8:30am is a difficult time for me… especially on Wednesdays. Still, that could be fixed. Preparation? Actually, I did prepare rather well for my classes. I feel that it was more my manner of presentation that gave the impression of lack of preparation… especially when I go into “stream of consciousness” mode. I did have one or two technology failures… maybe trying things out the night before would reduce this. Taking attendance. At seminary one is expected to show up for class so attendance is normally taken. I often take attendance, but skip sometimes. This is a pet peeve of mine. If a student spent good money of their own (or the money of others to be trained… what possible reason could that person have for not showing up every time (if at all possible)? I don’t get it. But I have to face the fact that some see the world differently than I.

So what do I do next term? Next term I am teaching Cultural Anthropology. This is one of my favorite courses, and one I am quite comfortable with. That helps, but I still should make some changes:

  • Give less information in class. Happily, I consider cultural anthropology to be more of a cognitive paradigm than an academic field of study so less information should work quite well.
  • Find a good textbook. I have a lot of trouble finding textsbook I like. But if I can find a good textbook, I can emphasize and test on these reading more than on my lectures. If I can’t find a good textbook, I will just have to assign chapters from several books (lot of good cultural anthropology books but few to none that cover the gamut of the subject well.)
  • More student participation. More discussions, more student presentations.
  • Set my standards higher for tests. Let them master the subject and be prepared for whatever I throw at them academically.
  • I will still keep my opinions as opinions… but I will try to express my opinions in a way that demonstrates their value rather giving the impression of being demeaned.
  • Take attendance every time and grade accordingly.

In truth, I enjoyed teaching the class. It forced me to restudy and learn important topics in missions that I sometimes ignore. I also enjoyed learning things in my teaching that need improvement. It is fun learning from things when they come together great. But one does tend to learn more from struggles. I gave a lecture on “Intro to Failure” this term where I noted that failure is when one does not learn from one’s mistakes. I made a few mistakes (and did a number things right as far as that goes).

“Sexy” Missions and Marketing, Part 3

<Continuation of thoughts on what makes some missions more “sexy” than others… not a recommendation to do things this way. Just noting this reality. Machiavelli, in The Prince, gave concepts of the way politics IS, but NOT necessarily the way it SHOULD BE. I will give some conclusions as to what I think Missions should be in the final part of this series.>

Henry Morton Stanley meets David Livingstone i...

Henry Morton Stanley meets David Livingstone in Ujiji, 1871. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

5.  Sympathetic. Groups that seek to protect endangered species know this. They need a sympathetic species. Giant Pandas or Manatees work well. They have a “cuteness” about them, even if not actual beauty. They are docile and are endangered due to the inconsiderate behavior of humans. California condors are majestic but they are unpleasant to look at close up. They also eat carrion (necessary but unpleasant role). Black-footed ferrets may be cute but they eat prairie dogs who are even higher up on the “cuteness’ factor. In missions, AIDS babies are more sympathetic than adult AIDS victims. Those exploited are more sympathetic than those who “do it to themselves.”

People who move to other countries (not our own) without proper papers (“economic refugees” or “poltical refugees”) are more sympathetic than similar people entering our own country (“illegal aliens”). I have even seen comments from others that appear to suggest that the very idea of ministering to illegal aliens is flawed because you are helping people breaking the law. Those who are victims of human trafficking are more sympathetic if they were abducted against their will or completely fooled. They are less sympathetic if there was SOME level of consent (whether more or less informed in that consent). Disasters that appear to be purely natural (such as earthquake or tsunami) provide more sympathetic victims than those who (ignorantly) do it to themselves (like victims of landslides due to illegal or uncontrolled logging).

6.  Quantifiable. Yes, numbers are not sexy (I spent many years as a mechanical design engineer… trust me, numbers are not sexy). But donors still like to bet on a winner. It is easy (and lazy) to determine the winners by numbers. I was involved in medical missions for several years. It was pretty easy to explain it. In 5 years, we treated 30,000 patients, led over 10,000 in the prayer to receive Christ. Easy to explain. Now we have a pastoral care center. I can list how many were trained. However, can’t really give numbers on those helped by pastoral care, stress defusing, and spiritual counseling. Additionally, much of the success stories are confidential.

An evangelist can list how many people they preached to, and how many “walked the aisle.” Disciplers are often far more effective… but they are hard to quantify. Big churches sound impressive (members, attendance, offering, square meters, etc.) but it is hard to say whether it has more or less impact than a smaller body of committed believers.

Numbers can be useful, and a good metric can aid in issues of accountability. However, it is risky when numbers become a lure… bait. Numbers can be wonderfully informative, but also wonderfully manipulative.

7.  Faddish.  In the late 1800s, the lectures and writings of David Livingstone, and the articles of Henry Stanley, made mission work in “The Dark Continent” an exciting venture. Wouldn’t it be exciting to travel into the jungle, find a little village, stand under a large tree and preach to the locals. There was little interest in places like South or Central America at that time. In more recent times, other things have caught on. Right now, human trafficking is a big deal. Church planting movements have their unique appeal. Living in the Philippines, I can tell you that SOME disasters become faddish. It seems to have to hit a critical mass of images, coverages, and support by media celebrities.

8.  Viral. Being viral includes many of the above factors, but it is still worth a separate status. That is because viral is where advertisement  ultimately gets carried out by the viewers. Humor often helps to make multimedia viral. However, in missions, shock or exaggeration is often utilized. So it helps to show people more desperate, living conditions more deplorable, and damage the most extensive. Most of mission life, just as in real life, is not viral. The abnormal is viral, so one must show abnormal aspects of missions to be viral.

Concluding Thoughts

I don’t like missions and fund-raising for missions that utilizes tactics that false advertise or use techniques that abuse and trick the potential supporters. I wish there was greater discernment in both missions and missions support.

On the other hand, what I have described above… this is reality. One can have an opinion about it… but it may not change anything. As I noted before, Nicoli Machiavelli wrote about how politics works… that is the reality… not necessarily how things should work.

As a friend of mine wrote recently,

The current trend within western missions, is marketing strategy. Each year mission agencies spent thousands of $ … just on promotional materials, presentation materials, DVD’s etc… to try to attract potential supporters and retain existing ones. Today’s missionary has also succumbed to such stategies as well to seek supporters for their mission work. In a sense the church, mission agency and the missionary (not all) have adapted secular methodologies to attract partners hoping that it will result in support for the work. While some would argue that mission methods have to change and adapt to applicate ways of operating in today’s world. Ideally when a missionary is to be sent forth, they should not just be sent with the blessing and prayer of the sending church, but also should be adequately provided for in such a way that the missionary can be as best prepared for the task ahead. To place the burden and responsibility upon the missionary to raise their own support in my view something outdated and uncalled for. It often creates completion among fellow-missionaries seeking support from the same church networks, which can create tension and uneasyness. Additionally it can place the missionary in a very uncomfortable situation whereby they are not good salesman, and can become frustrated that while they have a strong call on their life, and are effective in what they are called to do, but often can’t raise the support they need because they are not good at selling themselves. Personally I don’t feel that it is a biblical practice for someone in the church to have to sell themselves and asking for people to support them, just so that they can be sent out by the church whom have encouraged them to go. Support should be a natural part of sending out a missionary and that the church should also be a part of the solution in finding and raising support for the missionary.

I think there is a lot of truth here. But marketing strategies are with us. Some do them well and some do them poorly. Not sure there is a way to tip the scales and remake the system. Perhaps the best we can do is show proper wisdom and discernment when it comes to missions. When one does use marketing… at least ensure it is honest (even if it is a bit manipulative). Who knows… maybe doing things the right way will catch on…

 

“Sexy” Missions and Marketing, Part 2

<Continuation of thoughts on what makes some missions more “sexy” than others… not a recommendation to do things this way. Just noting this reality. Machiavelli, in The Prince, gave concepts of the way politics IS, but NOT necessarily the way it SHOULD BE. I will give some conclusions as to what I think Missions should be in the final part of this series.>

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Visceral. We tend to make decisions based on what “hits us in the gut or heart” more than what we come up with through reasoned analysis. We connect with loneliness, hope, pain, and love. They hit us on a level that leads to action. Images of a small child walking the streets of a disaster zone crying in search of her parents (who will never be found) is more poignant (hits us harder) than a picture showing a collection of dead bodies from the disaster. As Joseph Stalin said (in Russion presumably)… “one death is a tragedy,” (a painful visceral experience) “one million is a statistic” (a tragic but abstract concept).

I remember as a child watching TV and they would have commercials from “Christian Children’s Fund” Sally Struthers would be walking through a desperately poor community with children sick, starving, and dying. It seemed like a powerful (sensual) pull for the viewer. But seeing so much suffering led people to move people away from a visceral reaction. They place is too poor. There are too many there. It has been like this too long, and probably will never change. There is too little I can do. In more recent years, the strategy changed. They would still go to a poor location, but would show one child. That one child looked nice, appeared to be relatively well fed (but not fat). Had a nice smile…. wearing very adequate, if simple, clothes, and holding a school book. The narrator would point out that Juan, or Isabel, or whoever (name given to ensure personalization) has a good home, good food, good water, good healthcare, and an education because someone sponsored him (or her). You could do the same thing. This hits home far more viscerally. I am so glad that that child has hope… and through me another child could have hope.

Another commercial was shown in the Philippines I felt was extremely effective on a visceral level. The commercial was set apparently in a squatters’ area of Manila. Very out of place in this community was a large middle-aged white man (I can’t say why, but to me he looked Dutch). As he is walking about he comes across an elementary age Filipino boy. He takes the child by the hand and starts walking through the narrow passageways that make up this community. Most watching this would have a painful pit in their stomaches. Child prostitution and human trafficking are a huge problem here. Pedophiles from Western countries flock to Southeast Asia because of poor enforcement of laws protecting the citizenry. <As a white middle-age (and moderately overweight) Westerner living in the Philippines, I find it especially offensive that I look like the stereotypical sex tourist here.> Finally, they come to a non-descript door in a dank alley. A feeling of hopelessness sweeps over of the viewer that the last moment for rescue is about to pass. The door opens and one finds a brightly lit classroom full of children. One discovers that it is a school for street children. The fear, hopelessness, and relief that one goes through makes the commercial that much more effective.

4. Meets emotional needs. I said in the last post that I have never read a book on Marketing, but I have seen bits of “Empathic Marketing” by Mark Ingwer. It points out how much of customer response is based hidden emotional needs. He listed 6: Control, Self-expression, Growth, Recognition, Belonging, and Care. There can be others, of course. The Personality Research Form (series E), developed from Murray’s Needs, has 20 (if one does not count Infrequency and desirability). But consider Inger’s list. Sponsors for mission work often want recognition. People like to get a brass plate on buildings and things.

People often want a sense of control and belonging. I recall an elderly relative who was a widow with no children. She found joy in getting political party letters and religious group bulletins. They would give her the (sadly very false) sense that she was part of the think tank… a team player. She felt like she was part of something very much larger than herself. It met her need for control and a sense of belonging. Sadly, reality was that it was  manipulation by political and religious marketers.

Striking the chords of one’s emotional needs (even needs one is only vaguely aware of) makes missions attractive, alluring, desirable… sexy.

<More will be in Part 3>

“Sexy” Missions and Marketing. Part I

English: A business ideally is continually see...

English: A business ideally is continually seeking feedback from customers: are the products helpful? are their needs being met? Constructive criticism helps marketers adjust offerings to meet customer needs. Source of diagram: here (see public domain declaration at top). Questions: write me at my Wikipedia talk page (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

This post is inspired by a few incidents in the last few months where the issue of “sexiness” of certain mission work came up. Sexiness here doesn’t (normally at least) have anything to do with sex. Rather, the slang marketing usage is here referenced. It has to do with the attractiveness or desirability of the work to those disconnected from the importance or effectiveness of the work. This got me thinking.<Warning:  Do NOT assume that I am making recommendations here. In the final part, I will give my opinions on the issue. The rest is simply describing things as I feel they presently exist.>

 

I don’t really know anything about marketing. (This alone may be enough of a reason not to read this post.) I never took a class in it and have never read a book on it. I got some modest training in TQM (Total Quality Management) in my engineering days, where I learned that

 

  1. Every person you provide a service for is your “customer” and
  2. One should never seek to satisfy customer expectations. Rather, one should always seek to “delight” the customer.

 

Delighting isn’t simply about doing more, it is also about setting the expectations lower. Promise less, do more. If a cereal box says it has an awesome toy inside, it is likely that that toy will be judged critically to see whether it meets the expectation of “awesomeness.” On the other hand, if the cereal box was purchased with no expectation of a toy inside, and one is found, it will tend to delight even if the toy falls well short of the standard of awesome. Or, take for example if I was asked by my boss to design a cooling system for an electronic cabinet, he would ask me how long it would take. I would think to myself that I could probably do it in about 4 weeks. I would tell him that I could design it in 6 weeks, and then finish the work in 5 weeks. The result is that everyone is happy (delighted… hopefully). I am not stressed and my customer got more than he expected. Marketing involves luring in new potential customers, and then retaining old customers. Marketing is often more focused on new customers acquisition than old customer retention (anyone who has dealt with phone companies and banks in the the US has felt the rapid transition from being courted to being forgotten).

 

So what does all of this have to do missions? Missionaries have customers and potential customers as well (by the definition above). Missionaries serve God, but I will, for this post, ignore this “customer” relationship. Missionaries also serve mission agencies. They serve supporters. They serve the people they work with.

For this post, let’s focus on the relationship with present supporters and potential future supporters. In the case of potential future supporters, the focus is on enticing new “business.” For present supporters, it is retention and expansion.

So what is “Sexy Missions?”  I would, first of all, not bring into the equation the core of missions. Core issues have to do with the purpose of missions, and the effectivity of missions. One can have effective missions that is sexy or not. One can have ineffective missions that is sexy or not. I would also not include related issues such as content, theology, or efficiency. Again, I am using the slang understanding of sexy to involve alluring, attractive, or desirable from a marketing standpoint.

Anyway, here are a few characteristics that come to mind. Remember, I am not a marketer… this is just based on my observation. Note, the following items are FAR from independent from each other. There is a lot of overlap, but the ideas have value thought independently.

1. Concrete. People seem to find that which is concrete (or of substance) more sexy than that which is abstract (lacking substance). People are more attracted to church buildings being built or schools set up. They are typically less attracted to development of curricula, or discipleship programs. I think part of it is easier to picture in one’s mind. One can picture a building more easily than a program or a social grouping. This is one reason, I suppose that when one is asked to picture a church, one pictures a building, even though we understand that a church is first of all a social grouping, and many churches exist without a building (but no Biblical church exists without people). Talk about a radio station and transmitter in a mountaintop in a distant land and it tends to excite more interest than the programming of that same station.

2. Sensual. This is related to the first to some extent. I am using the term “sensual” because it has a double meaning. In one sense, sensual means to be something that can be sensed. We appreciate things we can actually, not just potentially, sense. We like things we can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. I have a friend who is a missionary whose website has no pictures. Just black letters on a white screen. The ministry he is involved in has opportunity for great pictures and sounds (working with orphans and children from broken homes). He, chose not utilize pictures and sounds because he did not want to exploit the children. I respect that, but it is not surprising that his website gets few hits. I have known of missionaries getting a group of people to raise their hands in response to some question (such as “Who likes ice cream?”) and then uses the picture as showing people responding to the gospel. This is of course highly immoral. But the reason they do this despicable thing is that people can’t see changed hearts, but they can see raised hands.

A second meaning for sensual is alluring (particularly visually). Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but people learn quickly that some images have an aesthetic that attracts curiosity and interest, while others don’t. Ugliness may be shown at times, but often as a “before” picture to be followed by a more alluring “after” picture.

<Will continue with part 2>

 

End of the Year Thoughts

2013 has come to an end. I am just going to throw out some fairly random items to close out the year.

Maligayang pasko!

Maligayang pasko! (Photo credit: gwen)

I.  The following shows the top posts over 2013. I am not sure what to make of them. “St. Boniface and the Peregrini” seemed to be caught up in some search engines for those who had interest in the term “peregrini” disconnected from its Celtic missions roots. “Cleansing the Church’s “Court of the Gentiles”?” seems to be because it became a popular tie in to a huge number of spam messages. Why? Don’t know. “Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon” get’s triggered every holiday season since it is Tagalog for “Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.” I am sad that “Prophecies and Typhoons and Plagues (in no particular order)” has gotten so many hits. Unfortunately, there seems to be a morbid fascination in Evangelical (or at least Apostolic) Christianity for doomsday prophets. For outsiders, it is fun to point fingers at others and say “See… that’s what you get when you mess with God!” It lures people into trying to link bad news to divine judgment and the end of the world. I still believe that Jesus call to be faithful to the end rather than trying to time God’s coming is the best advice. I wrote a joyous post on God’s protection of islanders in the face of almost certain devastation… got very few hits. Sad.

St. Boniface and the Peregrini (Part 2) 320
Presentation. Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership (book summary) 185
About Me 179
Cleansing the Church’s “Court of the Gentiles”? 177
Medical Mission Events in the Philippines, Part IV 177
Medical Mission Events in the Philippines, Part I 169
Fallacies and Questions Surrounding Redemptive Analogy 142
From Power Encounter to Love Encounter 123
Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon 116
Prophecies and Typhoons and Plagues (in no particular order), Part I 105
Quotes from George C. Hunter III on Evangelism and Church Growth 84
Church on a Mission (Two Quotes from David Bosch) 78

2.  It is likely that before year’s end, this blog will reach 20,000 hits. That may not be that impressive for some, but as someone who makes no real attempt to optimize SEO, and one who doesn’t make much of an attempt, normally, to be topical, it kind of feels good. However, it is still true that I write more for my own benefit. It helps me clarify my thoughts. I think better through the keyboard than through the weird meanderings of my mind and voice. If someone benefits from it other than myself, that is great. If not… well, I hope none are the worse for the experience.

3.  I feel like it is time to move to the next step of sorts. I have been asked to write an introductory book of missions. I suppose that it is time to do it. The Philippines doesn’t have that much on Missions that is locally produced. We tend to recopy what others have done elsewhere. I believe that a Missiology built on local church foundation rather than an international or ethnological foundation, would be more functional (and perhaps even more “accurate”) for Filipinos. Philippines is growing as a mission sending nation but is limited somewhat by external models of mission on one side, and post-colonial/missions attitude in churches on the other side. I am not at all sure that I can fix that. If I can help add to the early stages of dialogue, it would be an effort well invested.

4. I pray that Christians worldwide would embrace Interdependency rather than dependency or independence. That they would see wielding love as more Christlike than wielding power. That they would not fear doubt but grow in faith through doubt. That they would see right doctrine, right ethics, and the fruit of the spirit (Mind, Body, Spirit) as different facets of the same jewel that is a godly life.

Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disaster Response for Religious Crisis Care Providers

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3/disaster-response-presentation-new&#8221; title=”Disaster Response Crisis Care Overview” target=”_blank”>Disaster Response Crisis Care Overview</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3&#8243; target=”_blank”>Bob Munson</a></strong> </div>