Monday, April 4

Teaching old dogs new tricks

Most of us operate out of the factory default mode. We seem to be wired this way regardless of all the books we have read, or conferences and trainings we might have attended. We act marginally, at best, on the ideas generated from all the information shared with us. All this information, as interesting or helpful as it may be, usually has little bearing on what is actually put into practice and applied. It is indeed quite a task to teach old dogs new tricks. And yet a huge chunk of my time seems to be spent attempting to do just that!

Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." The key is training early on; not when people are set in their ways. This certainly applies to the way we do missions, make disciples, and be church.

It amazes me how much effort and money is spent on meetings and sending people like myself to conferences. I certainly enjoy these opportunities, but do all the talks, speeches and handouts ever really impact much of what actually gets implemented once we get back home?

I literally have shelves and filing cabinets full of papers, studies, manuals, documents, and reports that do little than take up precious space. I don't have the heart to toss any of it--most of it really is great material. But what percentage of those thousands of saved pages has any bearing on what we are actually doing? Probably less than 1%!

If teaching old dogs new tricks doesn't work, why do we continue to try and do so anyway? As someone said, it is easier to give birth to a child, than try to raise the dead.

So what am I getting at?

What I try to practice in my own life is anytime I attend a meeting, event, conference, training, or read a book, I try to grab hold of 1 or 2 ideas. I carry with me a notebook and jot these ideas down. As soon as feasible, I begin testing the ideas by sharing them with fellow co-laborers. When others begin interacting with me, the idea often evolves or morphs into something that we can definitely use.

What has changed in our way of teaching and training church planters is to try and get them to do the same. Grab hold of a few key ideas and run with them, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide in the fleshing out and implementation within the given context.

It is unrealistic to think that people are actually absorbing and learning all the stuff we share with them. Just because something is said doesn't mean it has been learned. Instead of trying to assimulate large quantities of information, I believe it is more profitable to grasp a couple of ideas and implement them, even if it means leaving out a lot of important information we think they are needing to know.

For example, last year I read Neil Cole's "Church 3.0" a great book packed with tons of helpful, practical stuff for anybody involved in church planting. Out of all the interesting information and advise for starting churches, three ideas got starred. It has taken a year of trial and error and revamping for our context, but these are now being implemented along with the corresponding fruit.

1) "Groups of three" (he calls them LTG) as an evangelistic tool for not-yet-believers, and a discipleship tool for believers.
2) "Seven Signs of John" as an evangelistic tool.
3) The natural order of social groupings (in particular, consensual decision making is best done by 3-5 people.)

I don't even remember what it was Neil wrote, but we latched on to these three. A year later they have been integrated into our own church planting ministry. (Read the book if interested in learning more!)

Latching on to a few key ideas and working them out in one's context bears a lot more fruit than a steady stream of new information pouring in daily. Write down ideas as the Spirit brings them to mind. Like cream rising to the top, eventually a few ideas begin to urge us, "do me."

How do you go about teaching old dogs new tricks? What have you learned from your own experiences?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Guido,

Academically you might want to read DIFFUSION OF INNOVATIONS by Everett Rogers. Biblically speaking...perhaps new creations should never let themselves become old dogs! The story of what the Holy Spirit did in and through the lives of some rough characters in the books of Luke and Acts reminds us that all disciples of Jesus can and must change.

Esteban

GuyMuse said...

Esteban,

I have long had that title down as one of the books I would like to read, just haven't done it yet. Thanks for the suggestion.

Don said...

Ouch :) I hear you and have thought the same thing - my only consolation is that in each conference/training there are some who get exactly what they need. There are some who do not.

Seeing lack of implementation is a challenge. People acknowledge that they need to xzy but they keep doing abc. The neat thing is when you can see some people actually take ideas, MAKE IT THEIR OWN, and implement it how it needs to be implemented in their own context and situation. Take what is good, leave the rest.

The key to seeing people put new ideas into practice isn't found in a 2 day or even a two week training EVENT. It is in the personal followup. The coaching, the mentoring, they walking along side (even if the along side is a long distance away).

Good post - it may hit me close to home but that is ok.

Don said...

Ouch :) I hear you and have thought the same thing - my only consolation is that in each conference/training there are some who get exactly what they need. There are some who do not.

Seeing lack of implementation is a challenge. People acknowledge that they need to xzy but they keep doing abc. The neat thing is when you can see some people actually take ideas, MAKE IT THEIR OWN, and implement it how it needs to be implemented in their own context and situation. Take what is good, leave the rest.

The key to seeing people put new ideas into practice isn't found in a 2 day or even a two week training EVENT. It is in the personal followup. The coaching, the mentoring, they walking along side (even if the along side is a long distance away).

Good post - it may hit me close to home but that is ok.

J. Guy Muse said...

Don,

Excellent observations, especially the importance of personal follow up and walking along side of those we are training. While I still do group trainings, I have found that focusing on the 20% who "get it" instead of giving everyone equal attention, gets better long-term results.

Anonymous said...

Guido, The world, especially the institutional religious world, is full of people like Nicodemus who really do not want to change. We teach, train, model and lead all the while praying that the winds of the Spirit will blow. And for those who have been born of the Spirit we pray that they will not be bewitched by trying to change themselves. Any legalistic attempt on our part will only cause outward conformity. We begin and finish the life in the Spirit. Practically speaking I usually have some kind of personal and/or mentoring plan but I have seen the greatest changes in myself and others when I have pleaded for the Wind of the Spirit to move and do His work. Any so called disciple of Jesus (Ms included) that does not continue to change and transform might not be born again! Esteban

J. Guy Muse said...

Esteban,

Good point of we begin and finish the life in the Spirit. When all is said and done, it is really what the Spirit has impressed upon hearts anyway. Even in my own case of sharing that I only really end up with a thing or two from each event, I do believe it is the Spirit who is blowing upon these "starred" items that makes all the difference.