Outside the Box


[Note: My apologies for this longer than usual post. I thought about breaking it into two, but decided against that because it would lose continuity.]

‘Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  Luke 9:23

“Outside the box” is an expression most of you have heard before.  Usually it’s “thinking outside the box”, or, in Australia, it’s called “outside the square.”  The phrase is thought to have come from management consultant’s decades ago and it is a metaphorical way of describing creative thinking which may be unconventional or different, or even from a different perspective.

Of my three children, my daughter is the one that comes to mind. I had lunch with one of her college friends and when our conversation turned to her.  I think I said something like “Liz thinks outside the box” and his reply still amuses me.  He said “Liz doesn’t know what a box is!”  I have to agree with him.  Very perceptive.  I have always maintained that Liz has more creativity in her smallest finger than I do in my entire body.

What “outside the box” means is that sometimes it’s important to challenge underlying assumptions, traditions or paradigms. Often, those assumptions go unnoticed, but they do influence our point of view. It also suggests that one should go beyond thinking of the obvious, and go beyond the barriers of conventional norms.

It can challenge of our ways of learning – we often revert to the way we were taught, which for most of us was a didactic teaching style.  A style where there is a teacher telling the pupils what they need to know on a topic.  Teacher/pupil model.  That model, though, actually grew in popularity during the middle of the last century.  Before the classroom model, another model was widely used – that of mentoring, apprenticeships and internships.  Much of the latter was one-on-one or one on a small group.

But for us, we now use the assumption of the didactic teaching style as the best way to be systematic in education.  I would challenge that assumption, and would ask one to reconsider the mentor model, where learning involved a relationship with another. It was the model Jesus employed with the next generation of his leaders – the disciples.

He didn’t plunk them down in a classroom and ask them to pull out their notebooks so they could take notes on his lecture.  He just said “follow me.” He walked beside them and shared their journey, and often extrapolated God’s lessons to be learned from their common experiences.

As far as I know, the only occupation that still uses mentoring is the medical profession. The legal profession used to employ it, but it has been abandoned.  There are now initiatives for voluntary mentoring of older lawyers with younger ones, and I applaud those because just learning “the law” is not enough, and learning where and how to apply the law with a specific client is an art. Interestingly, didactic teaching – the model of the lecture is the least effective method of learning (see my post entitled “Get it, Got It, Good”), where actual learning from a lecture is only about 5% of the content.

On the other hand, learning to do it by practice – the hands on experience – results in a 75% retention.  Even just using a discussion group model results in a five times better learning curve than the lecture model. Yet our educational system scrapped internships and mentoring which had proved to yield a better learning experience.

The point of the above is that mentoring is now considered “outside the box” to conventional thinking.  Even our seminaries fall into this line of thinking.  That’s why I sometimes refer to them as “semetaries”, much to the amusement (or chagrin) of my colleagues who attended them.  Mentoring – in all its forms – is a better model for transformational value transfer.

It can occur in a one-to-one relationship of one older with one younger, a peer mentoring relationship, or even a group mentoring experience.  Mentoring is not easily adapted into a “program” which is what conventional thinking would try to make it so it can be “taught” systematically in a classroom context.  That’s inside the box:  we want to distill learning into a systematic equation where you take steps in a logical progression.

Unfortunately, life is not a logical progression, and certainly not linear (at least that’s my experience).  Life has twists and turns, where sometimes the lesson that the didactic teacher would have you learn is set up for next semester, but you need it now.  You can’t wait.  Where do you turn?   Mentoring isn’t linear either.

I have been meeting with many younger men in my life, and every experience is different because their needs or challenges are all individual and often defy neat compartmentalization.  No one is the same – either in experience, temperament or their place in life.

In his 1991 book, Church Without Walls, Jim Peterson tells the story of having spent several years as a missionary in South America. On his return to the U.S., Jim and his wife settled in Colorado Springs, CO and joined a local church.  As he and his family left his house every Sunday to go to church, he noticed that most of his neighbors were not church goers and were in their yards cutting their grass or just chatting with neighbors.

He decided to spend time with them – in their yards initially, then inviting them for coffee, and ultimately starting a bible study. The reaction by his friends in church was instructive:  he was condemned for not being in church on Sunday. Yes, you read that right.  Although he was doing relational evangelism with his neighbors, he was criticized for not adhering to the norm on Sunday morning.  In his book, he used an analyses of form and function to describe this phenomena. Stay with me here – this is really not all that abstract. Every function ends up having a form.  Worshipping God on Sunday is a function that ends up looking like your typical church service on Sunday morning. That form becomes the tradition and the norm – it’s what is “inside the box” as it were.  Over time, the form of a church service becomes so calcified and rigid that we forget the function which is to worship and glorify God in all that we do, and we are commanded to make disciples. I’m not knocking corporate worship, mind you, but it can’t stand in the way of reaching the lost who aren’t in church.

Jim Peterson was thinking outside the box.  He knew that if he attempted to get his neighbors to church he was unlikely to succeed, but If he met them where they were (i.e. in their yards on Sunday morning), he might have better success.   Just as Jim was thinking outside the box, we have gotten ourselves “in the box” when it comes to discipleship training.

Much of it is didactic – teaching in classrooms, from the pulpit and elsewhere. Given that the retention rate of didactic teaching is the least (5-10%) effective method of learning, one has to wonder if the way Jesus taught could be useful today.

Jesus didn’t herd his disciples into a classroom and have them take notes.  That’s content transfer.  Instead, he mentored them – walking beside them and sharing life together. Guess what:  it worked then, and it works today, only we have abandoned His teaching model so that it is now considered “outside the box”.

Traditions often act as barriers to innovation. That’s why it’s important to sometimes step back and take a look at the tradition to see whether or not it is impeding other biblical functions.

Peterson’s book was written about the time that many of our millennials were born. Its message was prescient then, and applicable today.  We have observed the phenomenon of the growth of mega churches in America – churches with membership of more than 6,000.  Their design and model is to provide welcoming place, often providing “seeker” services, as well as Christian coffee bars, Christian exercise classes and even Christian yoga.

Their model is premised on being welcoming to the non-believer.  But studies show that the millennials of today don’t trust institutions of any kind, including religious ones, and therefore aren’t likely to darken the door of the church as their first Christian experience.

Tim Keller, the head pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, has it right when he says: “We don’t need any more churches today. What we need is more Starbucks.”  In other words, evangelism in the new millennium will require Christians to go outside the walls of their fortress church buildings to meet the next generation where they are – often in coffee bars, at work or in the gym. If they won’t come to us, we have to think “outside the box” and go to them, just as Jim Peterson did with his neighbors in Colorado Springs.

What Peterson did was relational evangelism. He built friendships and relationships first, and then shared his life second.  Millennials want authenticity in relationships.  If you have developed a transparent relationship with them and have earned their trust, they will let you speak into their lives and hearts. Without that trust and relationship, you won’t be heard.

While doing leadership training abroad, I have told pastors two things intended to get them to rethink their priorities.  The first is that the average attendee in their church only remembers at most 15% of their sermon, even on the best day.  Other studies show there is only 5% retention. The second is that most ministry does not take place within the four walls of their church.

Ministry takes place in the home, in the workplace, at the market or at the gym – where lives intersect with other lives the other 6 days of the week.  Tim Keller and others have seen this disconnect and are now emphasizing market place ministry.  His recent book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work is an example of taking Christ into the workplace, not just the church.  Getting outside the box, if you will.

Professors love lectures, and pastors love sermons. Tim Elmore, in a recent email mentions that the Medical School at the University of Vermont is joining other universities by embracing the “flipped classroom” which will eventually eliminate lectures entirely. The Associate Dean for the Medical School said: “If you have the evidence to show one treatment is better than the other, you would naturally use that treatment. So if we know that there are methods superior to lecturing, why are we lecturing at all?”  Wow.  That’s outside the box.  The rub as to why this change is difficult:

Professors like to lecture –it’s what they have always done. Bingo.  Mind you, I am not advocating that Pastors abandon sermons, but I am suggesting that they consider mentoring the next generation of leaders as a method of training. The “flipped classroom”  model involves having the students review content before class and then use the classroom as a discussion model where the teacher acts as a facilitator, not a lecturer.  We use this model in MentorLink in our training of pastors worldwide.

I have been working with the Secretary General of the Apostolic Church in Cameroon. It is a denomination of about 190,000 people and is in 92 countries. My friend, Njie Assam Peter Tabe, has embraced mentoring and the MentorLink approach of leadership development, yet he is having trouble convincing others in leadership because the concept is “outside the box” and not the norm for training their leaders.

The guiding principle of MentorLink is to teach from the inside out, where most leadership training is just the opposite – teaching from the outside in.  What I mean by that is that typical teaching is content transfer hoping that it will trickle down to the heart. Our method starts with the heart knowing that It is “outside the box” to many.

Jim Stump authored The Power of One on One: Discovering the Joy and Satisfaction of Mentoring Others.  Jim mentored students and athletes at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA for three decades.

The quote that caught me was the following: “You change the world by reshaping hearts and lives from the inside out. By walking with people on a daily basis teaching them how to live by modeling a Christ like life.  You change the world one individual at a time.”  Inside out – that’s where transformation occurs. That’s the Jesus model.  That’s what we’ve been doing at MentorLink since its inception in 2000. We facilitate self-discovery, and it’s wonderful to watch it happen.

The challenge here is to think about what traditions and conventions around you impedes or acts as an obstruction to the Jesus method of teaching through mentoring the next generation of leaders.  He modeled it with his disciples.  It worked then, and it works now, only we have come to view mentoring as outside the box.

All of the recent studies about learning validate that His approach as being more effective than what our seminaries and educational systems have adopted over the past 75 years. If you have never mentored another person, I challenge you to consider it if you want to be more like Jesus.  You might surprise yourself by thinking outside the box.

Bill Mann

FURTHER STUDY: Jim Peterson’s book Church Without Wall: Moving Beyond Traditional Boundaries: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0891096639/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

Jim Stump’s book – The Power of One on One: Discovering the Joy and Satisfaction of Mentoring Others – is a wonderful book for those considering mentoring to read to see and feel what his mentoring experiences were.  It is available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Power-One-One-Discovering-Satisfaction/dp/0801015847/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479294768&sr=8-1&keywords=jim+stump

Jolene Erlacher has written an excellent book entitled Millenials in Ministry which provides an excellent overview based on interviews with 30 millennials from different denominations who served in 10 different states and 5 countries. It is important, as she notes in the forward because “ [u]nderstanding and relating to individuals whose worldview, preferences and expectations differ from our own is difficult and often ends in miscommunication, frustration and pain.”  Available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Millennials-Ministry-Jolene-Erlacher/dp/0817017526/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479294832&sr=8-1&keywords=erlacher

WORSHIP:  Listen to Hillsong United singing From the Inside Out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZ-fghqc8Oo

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post.  I often don’t get much feedback, yet many who read these have told me they enjoy my posting. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.

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