Action Learning vs. Academy Learning


Our missional learning community discussion the other night was around the questions; How does spiritual formation relate to missional church? And how do we train disciples to look like Jesus? In preparation for our time together I looked once again at Alan Hirsch’s chapter on <discipleship in The Forgotten Ways and found the above diagram (The Action-Learning (Discipleship) vs. the Academy) found on page 124.

This diagram illustrates the primary distinctive between “attractional” and “missional” church and why recent discipleship has been to say the least, lacking within our cultural context. In addition, it is key to understanding some of Willow Creek’s recent research in their book Reveal, an in house study on themselves and numerous other congregations as to how well they were doing in bringing believers to spiritual maturity.
The modernistic premise seeded in the Greek concept of knowlegdge (diagram – right side) is to believe that right thinking will somehow evolve into right acting. The criteria necessary to produce right acting in the spiritual formation of better disciples is to parcel out more information and knowledge in the form of conferences, workshops, sermons, Sunday school classes, books, and media presentations (and the list continues). Unfortunately this has been the current mode of operation within the western church for several centuries. Never have we in the west been exposed to the plethora of good and even great information (Bible teaching) with such accessibility; and at a level unknown to the rest of the church, and yet with such dismal results.

Willow Creek a church expression recognized for its achievements and reflective of multiple congregations across the North American landscape documents the deficiency of this old thinking and behavior, a by-product of Greek thinking. Right thinking rarely if ever results in right behavior, which in this case would be spiritually formed disciples able reproduce themselves. Deep respect goes to Willow Creek not just for conducting this study, but for actually publishing the results. I have yet to read Reveal but understand it acknowledges that what is being done programatically in regard to spiritual formation “is not working” to the degree they had hoped. Evidence that the old way of thinking and behaving could be reason for the current failure.

What is needed is a discipleship approach more along the Hebraic lines that Jesus practiced. An approach that incorporates and embodies the practices of modeling and mentoring within a framework of missional community. This begins with a focus on right actions (practices) resulting in right thinking. Jesus provided the knowledge and informaton necessary for his disciples completing their mission, but it is always framed within a “learning by doing experience.” Spiritual growth rarely occurs in the context of taking in more information, but that is too often our only mode of spiritual formation. Dr. Joseph Aldrich often stated that we in the west are “educated well beyond our ability to obey.”
I’m not advocating the removal of the academy (information/knowledge), but lets first focus on the action piece of spiritual formation. Observing Jesus’ life and ministry, the spiritual formation of his disciples occured while they were out on mission. A hands on approach, apprentice type of learning. For every classroom teaching there needs to be a practical application and corresponding action plan in place. The result is disciples that are spiritual formed and looking something like Jesus.

3 Responses

  1. […] thinking about Action Learning vs. Academy Learning (with a good diagram). I can’t help but wonder if the old Hebrew vs. Greek thinking is a […]

  2. If I may make some extremely speculative thoughts, as a gymnastics coach my athletes have to do the skills to learn them. The goal of training is to develop neural memory so that the muscles move automatically in the skill so the athlete does not need to think about them.

    I am convinced that the spirit has a direct connection to the body. Much of what is called spiritual discernment is an intuitive reading of body language. I think, too, this is why cultures over the millennia have worshiped sex as a spiritual experience. I am not saying sex is a spiritual activity, only that ancient cultures have believed this.

    Nonetheless, I am convinced that discipleship transformation into a mature Sonship with Christ comes only by doing the word, and not hearing it only. It is the doing that strengthens spirituality in a believer, and increases sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

    It is obvious that the Greek approach of intellect does not build the spirit. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. Biblical love is action, not emotion. The Hebraic approach of doing is rooted in the patriarchal knowledge of God.

  3. Alex,

    Great thoughts!! Thanks for sharing your observations as a gymnastics coach. Extremely applicable to our cultural context.

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