There’s a big difference between taking a “course” and taking a “workshop.”
A course is usually based in the head – intellectual, linear, and designed to take you from point A to point B in your understanding. If we’re honest, most education in the past hundred years has been a series of courses to prepare kids for the workforce. Churches operate with this very same mindset: pastors work from a curated lectionary and create “sermon series” to build on an idea over several weeks, curriculum is designed for small groups, book clubs, and Bible studies, new and prospective members undergo “membership classes,” and so on.
We are a culture that likes courses; they’re easy to understand, easy to design, and easy to defend to our bosses, our boards, and our stakeholders. “If you do this, you’ll learn this. And if you learn this, you’ll be better off.”
Now, to be sure, courses aren’t bad things. They are one tool in the toolkit. The problem is that they have been over relied upon because they’re easy. Courses offer linear thinking, the promise of growth, and tangible results.
An example: I’ve seen again and again churches mistaking the process of discipleship with the process of “getting learned up.” Instead of an embodied experience rooted in the church’s specific context, the process of discipling too often looks like a class curriculum to be engaged with, once a week, in the building, for six weeks.
I don’t mean to be flippant but…ain’t nobody becoming a disciple in this model. This isn’t a model built to offer a transformative experience; it’s a model designed to create conformity. In truth, the folks who lead these spaces aren’t training people to “be like Jesus” – who was always out and about in the muck of life – they’re training people to be “more like us.”
Churches need to flip the script and change the model they’re operating with.
It should feel like a workshop.
A workshop is designed to be experienced: messy, challenging, collaborative, vulnerable. A workshop requires you to try new things. A workshop is a tinkerspace where you can test-run your ideas, explore new frontiers, and have focused conversations with others. It often doesn’t have clear success criteria because participants engage with it and learn a vast amount of different, unexpected things.
The outcome of a workshop, much like life, is mostly uncontrollable.
Churches should feel like a workshop. When participants engage with a church, it should be hands-on, relational, and focused on experiencing the Divine in new and embodied ways. As a project-based learning teacher, I know first hand that young people learn more through doing and it’s the exact same with adults.
Instead of discipleship classes held exclusively in a church room, churches should be discipling by getting their hands dirty, out in the muck of life. Or what if discipleship was built around creating a tinkerspace – participants practicing having compassionate conversations with folks who disagree with them on hard topics? Or participants taking a real-life problem and workshopping possible solutions together they can get started on?
Instead of sermon series, what if there were experiences based in the sacred story? Why talk again about the Israelites migrating from Egypt – instead, how about the entire community goes and advocates for refugees in the right here and right now? Or – once again – what if the community broke into small groups to research the causes of forced migration, developed a local solution or way to support, and then implemented it?
Here’s the point:
In a content-saturated environment like we’re currently in – where we can hear the best lectures from the best speakers for free without leaving our homes, we rarely need more courses.
But in an isolating environment like we’re in, we definitely need more workshops. We need more spaces where we can collectively get our hands dirty, talk with others about what it means to be alive, and be accountable to each other for the ways in which we’re showing up in our communities.
And in a world filled with so many issues, so much harm, and so much injustice, a “learning with courses” mentality does nothing but continue the status quo. Churches need to take the risk of changing their structure, knowing that more discipling will happen in a week of workshops and embodied engagement than in three months of business as usual coursework.
Yes, this kind of change will create intense pushback…but as pastors know, literally every change creates intense pushback in a church. So why not?
Want inner work guidance in your email every week?
Check out The Wednesday 1-2-3, my weekly email offering one contemplative and embodied teaching, two questions for your inner work, and three resources to go deeper.