training preachers: formal & non-formal

It is 'literally like food for me ... like someone put batteries in my heart.' This is how a young Bosnian woman, Mirjana, reflects on the impact on her of the biblical preaching to which she was listening.

How do you train preachers to have that kind of impact?
Food and batteries? Yes, please!

Increasingly, educators speak about formal and non-formal ways of teaching. I was in Taiwan a couple of weeks ago - and this issue emerged in the discussions. It got me thinking about it again. Examples of the 'formal' would be the seminary, or theological college - for me, a bit like the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) where I have taught MA & MTh & DMin modules in Homiletics (Preaching). Examples of the 'non-formal' would be the training offered by the Langham Preaching ministry in which I have been involved as well.

So, yes, I have been in the privileged position of being involved, at the same time, in the formal and non-formal training of preachers. I believe in both approaches. But the two approaches are so different from each other. Thinking specifically of the SAIACS and the Langham models of these recent years - and intentionally over-generalising in order to make my point and to invite helpful critique - here are some of the contrasts (with a little help from my Langham friends):

The formal builds on a class every morning for a month.
The non-formal builds on an intensive week every year for three years.

The formal covers lots of material, moving through it quickly.
The non-formal covers less material, returning to it repeatedly.

The formal works with graduate students in the English language, facilitating a fuller engagement for me.
The non-formal works with 'grassroots' practitioners in local languages, limiting that engagement for me.


The formal is motivated by compulsion, as students are required to take the module.
The non-formal is motivated by choice, as learners choose to participate in the training.

The formal sees the allocated learning time weighted towards theory, with plenty of written assessment.
The non-formal sees the allocated learning time weighted towards practice, with no written assessment.

The formal has an eye on accreditation agencies.
The non-formal has neither eye on accreditation agencies.

The formal sits among multiple, successive, intensive learning foci (modules) spread over two years.
The non-formal tends to be a single learning focus spread over numerous years.

The formal has a more static vision: train the preacher as one skill among many, with little follow-up.
The non-formal has a more dynamic vision: train the preacher to be trainers of others, with follow-up.

The formal has the teacher working with new students every year.
The non-formal has the trainer working with the same preachers every year.

The formal often finds students to have had little preaching experience, offering before-the-job training.
The non-formal often finds participants to be immersed in weekly preaching, looking for on-the-job training.

The formal can create a continuous learning context that helps learners remain engaged.
The non-formal can create a discontinuous learning context that leaves learners disengaged.

The formal can engage a wow: 'this specialist expertise is so amazing, I could never pass it on to others.'
The non-formal can engage a wow: 'this accessible learning is so amazing, I could pass it on to others.'

In this way the formal and the non-formal can both complement and compliment each other.

Bottom line?! Growing as a preacher - be it through formal or non-formal means - involves more than mere participation in a course or seminar. It requires the practicing of what is learned and is assisted further when that learning is reflected upon and then passed-on to others. However all this is kindling for the inner fire. The spark is provided by listening to good preaching ... preaching that does more than provide mere inspiration - it fans aspiration.

nice chatting

Paul

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