Same Boat, Different Stream

by | Sep 27, 2012 | 3 comments

Schools are “failing” as you may have heard.  So are churches.  Oh, young people still go to school. And you’ll still find children and youth in church.  But they’re not always engaged–in either locale.
That came home to me recently at the Wyoming School Improvement Conference.  I was there in my other role as Educational Consultant to present two workshops on interpersonal communication.  That was neat.
Even better was learning about how much schools and churches have in common.  Turns out we are in the same boat, just on a different stream.
Both schools and churches have an uneasy relationship with accountability.  While teacher tenure may be disappearing and they’ll be evaluated on results, pastors are facing the loss of guaranteed appointments and being relieved of duty for ineffectiveness.
Related and maybe connected is the fact that both schools and churches are using centuries old forms of engaging people.  Stand up front and talk basically.  And hope the students get it.  It’s a top down approach that focuses on teaching rather than learning.  And on students consuming rather than producing.
But consider this.

Students are producing!  They are making apps, posting movies on YouTube, publishing their thoughts on Facebook, and showing their work on Instagram.  They research just for the fun of it!  They text and tweet in a way that would make ee cummings proud.  Young people are wired, networked and engaged.
Just not so much in school or church.
At school, teachers and administrators ask students to put away their technology to “learn.”  We do the same thing in churches.  But what’s the message to these digital natives?
The drop out rate from both institutions is frightening.
There’s a lot at stake. Together schools and churches form minds and spirits.  We offer critical guidance on moral, intellectual, and spiritual development.  We shape stories of the past and give voice to future possibilities.  We underscore the importance of  intergenerational interactions.  We give love unstintingly. And food.
Perhaps it’s time to change our very perspective on the Millennial generation.  Fellow presenter, Shawn Jensen asked, “If all you knew about these young people is that they author, publish, create, share, collaborate and are not afraid to make mistakes–thanks to the delete button–how would you do school differently?”
He suggested that educators include a digital native’s real life skills in the classroom.  For instance, ask students to construct a FB timeline of Abraham Lincoln.  What might he have posted before giving the Gettysburg address.  After?  How might others have responded?
Got me thinking about how we could engage students in worship and youth group via tweets, texts, and YouTube.  Instead of schooling them in our generation’s way of doing things, why not let them school us in their way?  No, we’ll never be caught up in all the social networking and technological changes that are coming our way.  But neither will they.  The point is we live in a time of constant change.  Get used to it.
We could learn a thing or two from schools.  And schools can learn from churches.  And we can all learn from the students in our care.
After all, we’re in the same boat.  Just different streams.

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  1. Dr. Tony

    I will agree that schools and churches operate on a top-down model. And it doesn’t help that the solution to the problems in both schools and churches is also top-down and ineffective.

    And I am fascinated by the ability of students to utilize today’s technology for their own personal use.

    What bothers me is that I have never seen that same application in the classroom by either the students or instructors. I won’t say that I am on the cutting edge of technology (I don’t have a smart phone, for one thing) but I have tried to put technology into the classroom and only met resistance from both students and administration.

    Also, I am leery about how we use technology in the church. Again, I see great opportunities there but are we doing it because it enhances the worship experience or because “it” is the thing to do.

    In our haste to utilize the technology, we sometimes forget what it is we are supposed to be doing.

    But you did have one thing that, no matter what it is we do, is very critical to the success of the church and that is involved the students in the process. They are members of the church and they need to be involved. When they are part of the process and people listen to their input, then there will be only one boat in the stream.

    • Rebekah Simon-Peter

      Thanks for your thoughts, Dr. Tony. We have certainly done a lot of “the thing to do” in churches, agreed. But here’s the thing. Maintaining the old forms, just because that’s the way we used to do things, isn’t necessarily right either. In Jesus’ day, debating Torah in the streets was cutting edge. In John Wesley’s day, taking a bull horn out to the mines was cutting edge. At some point, organs in worship were cutting edge. So, what about in our day?

      Another commonality of schools and churches is both are values-based institutions. If we can use technology to uphold the values we hold dear we are on the right track. Or is that stream?

  2. Dr. Tony

    You won’t get an argument from me on that. As much as I like some of the “old” ways, the reasons that I like them are for the impact or outcome they bring.

    I once wrote that I could not be against new forms of worship when I myself conducted worship services outside in the Rocky Mountains.

    If we hold onto something because that’s the way its always been done, we risk losing everything. And if we change only for the sake of changing, then we risk losing everything as well. And that is what I fear is happening in the church today; we try to show those outside the church walls that we are “hip” or “cool” or whatever term you want to use but we still present the same old message, then nothing has changed.

    On the other hand, if what we present is what we believe, then the medium, in whatever form it takes, makes it easier for those comfortable with that particular medium understand it just a little bit easier.