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Context and ContentMalcolm Webber
In our previous Letter, we presented a summary of the “5C Goal” and the “4D Process” of healthy leader development.
As we saw, Jesus did not simply sit his emerging leaders down in a classroom for months on end and lecture them. Instead He designed an extraordinary collage of learning experiences for them:
He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3:14-15)
This is how Jesus built leaders: He created a transformational context around His emerging leaders:
- A spiritual environment, involving relationship with God (with Himself, as well as with the Father through prayer).
- A relational web, involving relationship with a mature leader (Himself), and relationships with others (the community of the disciples).
- An experiential context, involving challenging assignments, pressure and a diversity of learning opportunities.
Then, in that transformational context, He instructed them – the content of development. Thus, context + content = the process of leader development.
The importance of context can be seen in the following story (the names and personal details have been changed in this otherwise true story):
Bjorn is a Swedish immigrant to the U.S. He married a Swedish woman and they both live in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They have one son who is now six years old.
Bjorn and his wife want their son to speak Swedish as well as English, so at home they try to speak Swedish to him as much as possible. They instruct him about the Swedish language, and encourage him, “You need to speak Swedish!”
However, at school and in the local neighborhood, the only language spoken is, of course, English.
The little boy knows a few words of Swedish, but speaks English most of the time – even when he’s at home, communicating to his parents who speak to him in Swedish. They are saddened by this and do not understand why he can’t seem to learn Swedish very well.
In other words, context plays a powerful role in learning! Consequently, we should give as much attention to designing context (the relational web and the spiritual and experiential environment) as we do to designing the instructional content.
This must be done intentionally, carefully and diligently, or else we will often revert back to the easy default of simply talking at our emerging leaders and calling it “training.”
Our ultimate goal in leader development design is to seamlessly merge context and content into one united collage of transformation. In a good design, context will become content, content will become context; like many colors all coming together in one ray of light, like many threads becoming one garment.
A wonderful example of this is found in 2 Timothy 3:10-17. In this passage, Paul described how he built Timothy. Please notice that all four “dynamics of transformation” are present: spiritual, relational, experiential and instructional. Paul did not simply give lectures to Timothy, but he designed an extraordinary collage that consisted of relational, spiritual and experiential dynamics:
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings… the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (2 Tim. 3:10-11)
And it was in that context that Paul emphasized the teaching of the Word:
and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:17-17)
Like Jesus, for Paul, the teaching of the Scriptures was not effectively accomplished in an artificial environment, separate from the realities of life, relationship and experience.
We say we believe in the Truth and power of the Scriptures, but when we try to build leaders through instruction only, we violate the very Scriptures we claim to be teaching!
If we are to build healthy Christian leaders we must rediscover the biblical art and science of design. We must design transformational environments that are strong spiritually, relationally and experientially, and, in that context, deliver biblical instruction.
For more information see our learning opportunities!
In our next Letter, we will continue in this area of leader development.