Monday, August 18, 2014

Using Vineyard Institutes in Your Context

One of the great things that came to light at enLive was the richness in equipping opportunities we have in the Canadian Vineyard. Jeremy Burke, who administers course delivery for Vineyard Institutes, recently sent out a letter encouraging folks on how they can use VI courses in their own contexts. Here is his letter:

Hey Everyone,

I'm so glad you took the time to drop by the Vineyard Institute table at Enlive 2014. It was an amazing conference and I'm so excited about what God is doing in our country across the Vineyard Canada family. 

I wanted to pass on some important information about Vineyard Institute Canada and invite you to ask any questions you may have re: VI Canada. Here is some information to consider as you think about where VI fits into your context. 

How would I use VI in my church?

1. Training Key Leaders: 
Have a member of your church who has a teaching gift and loves to preach but isn't sure about dedicating years to attending Seminary? It's easy to shape VI around the development of leaders in a community. You can suggest the VI course on homiletics or perhaps hermeneutics. There are lots of options for leaders developing their skills. 
2. Start with the Core:
If people are curious about VI but are unsure where to start a recommendation could be to start with the Vineyard Institute core courses (Theology of the Kingdom/Biblical Metanarrative). Taking the core courses is a fantastic jump-start into any of the three certificates offered by VI, meaning if you decide to pursue one of the certificate options you are already on your way. The core courses also provide you with a great foundation for Kingdom leadership.  
3. Launch a VI Canada Hub:
A hub is a local church that has three or more students taking VI courses. One of the advantages of taking VI courses as a group is that the students are linked together online and in person. Imagine working on Bible courses with a group of people from your local church. This additional component to the learning model provides developing leaders a chance to learn from one another along with the course material. 
When is the Fall 2014 registration deadline?
The last day to apply for courses for the Fall quarter is August 25th, 2014. Please go here to begin the application today!
Where can I find a detailed list of the courses offered through VI?
For a complete list of VI courses, including the ones offered in the Fall 2014 session, visit our course catalogue.
How much are VI Canada courses?
Vineyard Institute Canada courses are $140.00 

Many blessings,
Community Life Pastor - Ottawa Valley Vineyard
Administrator - Vineyard Institute Canada

Monday, August 11, 2014

Failure Builds the Story

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm rather fond of the indie role playing game Dungeon World. One of the things it does is redefines the concept of failure. In many of the games I've played in the past, if you fail you just fail and move on. But not in Dungeon World - if you fail you gain experience and in some way the story is advanced. It might be as simple as another monster shows up to cause trouble or as complex as you fall through a trapdoor into a room separated from your fellow players. Even dying is an opportunity for the story to advance as the player is transported to death's gate and negotiates with death itself. It is all high drama - and surprisingly the way failure plays out is more like real life.

Two years ago I took a sabbatical to complete my PhD dissertation. But truth be told we had reached a place in our church plant where there were problems I needed significant time to reflect on. In the years up to it we had a very vibrant community, for the most part. Lots of interesting people, lots of opportunities to share our gifts and wealth with others, and lots of challenges. But in the last year or so before my break we were down to one main group. We had two others that started in that time, but the amount of attention our main group required made it difficult to really nurture those groups properly. The ultimate barometer was that my wife stopped attending regularly. She doesn't take a pastoral role in our church (she's full time employed as a pharmacist) but when the church is not a place she wants to go there is usually a problem. In a real sense it felt like our 10 year project had become a failure.

In reflecting on what happened with our last main group I'm able to identify a number of problems. Many of which I rightly shoulder (not developing enough leaders, over extending my time and energy resources, not focusing enough on finances/administration, etc.) and some which just happened. regardless of how and why there are two choices as to how we deal with failure - we can let it rob us of our action (like in older role playing games, nothing is so disappointing as calculating the target number you need, rolling and coming up short!) or letting the "failure" build the story.

My friend Colin Benner wrote a book about failing forward. He starts by talking about the act of walking as a series of falls forward. Each step we take is regaining our footing from the last fall. Every step builds a bigger story than falling face first to the ground. Yet, more profoundly, we never get anywhere unless we actually fall forward. It's a brilliant insight.

Our challenge is to actually embrace this redefinition of failure. As a church planter/pastor I find that I end up at pastoral events in one of two minds. In some instances I'm living out the pain of the old idea of failure - that it means everything we did went to crap. Thankfully, I've not lived in that place a lot. The other times, I come in as one made wiser by the risk and realizing that the story is much bigger than the last failure (desolation), and that the failure actually helps the story move along. In those times I'm able to draw from all the amazing things God did in and through our community over the 10 years we were around. Learning from all that worked and especially all that didn't work but we risked doing anyway. I love the comic Matte started her last post with - the answer isn't making more mistakes but letting our failures build a richer story.

Frank Emanuel

Monday, August 4, 2014

fostering a learning community

Learn From Our Mistakes

Last week a dozen of us from Vineyard Montreal (that's nearly half of our group!) were privileged to participate in the Vineyard National Celebration in Kitchener. I won't give you an in-depth overview of it here, but let me just say that gathering together with people from all over the county (and world) and worshiping together, praying for each other, listening to each other, eating together, and sharing our riches as well as our changes us in ways we can't fully grasp.

Over the course of the week I was able to spend some time with people who have a vested interest in theological education in the Vineyard. We are a diverse group but we all share the desire to develop healthy learning communities. After one of the meetings, Frank suggested that perhaps I could share what has proven helpful for us in Montreal. Since I always do what Frank says, here is my attempt to do just that.

We didn't really plan it this way, but Vineyard Montreal has become quite an articulate, knowledgeable, and motivated learning community. No doubt some of that has to do with being located in a university city where degrees are as common as potholes, but I believe a lot of it has come from developing solid learning practices together. Fostering a learning community will no doubt look and feel and smell different in each location and situation, but perhaps some of these ideas will prove useful to someone.

1. Cultivating a joy for learning. When I first went back to school to get my Masters in Theological Studies, I was so excited about the experience that everyone got to hear about it. Dean, my husband, called it a 2 for 1 education, since I gave him the condensed version of every class right after I got home. And this spilled over to my friends and quite naturally, to our faith community. Insights I had gleaned from my readings and my classes showed up in casual conversations, in talks on Sunday morning, and in our small groups. Certain friends started to regularly ask me what I was learning, eager to hear the latest (a student's dream!). My wonderful faith community encouraged me with comments about how courageous I was to undertake such a strenuous learning journey. They humbled me by pointing out that I was being transformed before their eyes (learning should always be a transformative experience, not just a knowledge boost). Others who had some training, theological or otherwise, offered what they had learned or were learning, and we discovered richness in the shared knowledge and experience of our group. The entire atmosphere of our community has slowly blossomed into one of wonder at and fascination with the endless riches and mysteries to be found in God and this world. The joy of learning is really quite contagious.

2. Does anyone want to learn this with me? Pretty much every time I teach on something in our faith community, I usually mention that it is a topic I want to and need to learn about. When I ask the group if they want to learn it together with me, most of them say yes! How cool is that? I try to remain open, honest, and vulnerable while I learn/teach; transformation is inevitably a catalyst for more transformation. Almost two years ago, we embarked on a course called The Apprentice Series which covers three books: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. These three books deal, respectively, with developing good and true narratives about God, developing the character of Jesus, and developing healthy communities. About a dozen or so of us worked our way through all three books with several more joining us here and there along the way. It was quite phenomenal to see how people opened up to each other during these courses, honestly sharing their struggles and willingly trying a multitude of different spiritual exercises despite some of them being a bit foreign and uncomfortable. People noted that even if they didn't find a chapter particularly interesting, someone else might be deeply moved by it. This fostered a shared learning experience and got us away from focusing solely on individual progress. At the end of the course there was immediate talk of "What will we study next?"

3. Being both intentional and flexible/spontaneous. Learning usually does not happen unless we are intentional about it so we make a plan, we buy books, we plot a course, we set dates to meet, and we engage in activities and exercises together. But in the midst of it all, we try to make a lot of room for people to be themselves. If someone is uncomfortable with a certain activity, there is always grace to bow out of it, to just sit and watch. People can pass on a question, show up late, miss a few classes, forget to do their homework, or even take up precious meeting time venting about a personal issue. Because we are a learning community that tries to recognize that everyone has something to bring to the group and the group has something to give to each one, we make room for questions, comments, interruptions, and even the hiccups of life. We also try to keep guilt, isolation, and inadequacy at bay. It means that we move more slowly at times or adapt/toss out a lesson as needed. Not every class or meeting will be spectacular, but over time, something special is built in the group as we learn together, witness each other's journey, and share the challenges along the way.

4. Stating the obvious. When a particular plan of action or a particular lesson does not seem to be working, we give people (and ourselves) the freedom to say so. When I make a mistake as a teacher or facilitator, I admit it. Usually we laugh, correct or adapt it, and move on. When I don't know the answer to something, I say so. More often than not, someone in the group will have something to offer on the topic. When I am having a tough morning or evening, perhaps tired and overwhelmed, I say so. Inevitably people gather around, pray for me, and then the group graciously steps up and we share the weight of responsibility. When someone disagrees with a particular point, they say so, and we discuss different ways of looking at things. We may not end up agreeing, but we always learn from these exchanges. Things that are obvious to me are not obvious to others, and things that seem obvious to others can often be revelatory to me. Learning to state the obvious cultivates an atmosphere of trust, a culture of not taking offense, and an openness to the voice of the Holy Spirit. To be honest, this entire blog seems so obvious to me that I wonder why I am writing it. And yet, I know that stating the obvious is a good learning practice. So there.

And now I have to go read a book. Let the learning continue.

Matte from Montreal