Monday, May 09, 2016

Learning to Feed Yourself

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”—Maimonides

What is your paradigm for learning?  I grew up on a content-oriented approach to learning where one is expected to master a body of knowledge.  Too often this meant information flowing from the mouth of the instructor to the ears of the student to the notebook page without any meaningful involvement with the content on the student’s part.  Education was something we “did to people.”  We educated them.

Too often, those of us who are in the people helping professions—teaching, mentoring, coaching, consulting, counseling—think of ourselves only as content providers.  We deliver the goods and someone else uses them.  This assures the provider of ongoing employment without making any appreciable change in the life of the recipient who becomes simply a consumer.  This may be good for the provider but a poor transaction on the part of the customer.

If we really want to make a difference in the world, we must help people to be more than consumers.  They must learn how to develop their own strategies for coping with the issues they face every day.  If we believe that each individual is created in the image of God, each person has the capability to be creative, proactive, and responsible when it comes to facing life’s challenges.

I was reminded of this as I began to work a project related to pastoral tenure.  The attrition rate among pastors is higher than it should be and is a matter of concern for denominational judicatories, theological educators, and helping professionals.  As I was working on this project and getting some feedback, I suddenly realized that I was coming at this from the perspective of “What can I DO to or for pastors?”  This is the wrong question.  I should be asking, “How can pastors help themselves to confront the challenges they face daily?”  Or, “What skills or abilities does a pastor need to survive and prosper in her setting?”

Whether I see myself as an itinerant educator or as a coach, my role is to help pastoral leaders discover the resources within themselves in order to solve their own problems.  In so doing, they are developing the ability “to feed themselves.”  Does this mean that I am working myself out of a job?  I suppose it does, but I don’t think that is a bad thing.

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