Philosophy of training
Petra Institute calling is to serve the Christian community by building capacity for children’s ministry. Our main activity is to equip adult leaders for effective ministry with children. To reach this goal we try to apply training principles that will facilitate the process of learning for the learner. In our understanding of Christian adult training there are certain key elements or principles that can be regarded as “foundational”.
A Biblical imperative
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul explains that the faithful must be equipped for their ministry (Eph 4:12).
In his letters to Timothy (2 Tim 2:2; 3:17) he repeats the instruction. It is clear that some people in the Church have been called for this specific task.
We equip others because we believe God is calling us to do so.
Our identity, calling and context are determined by our ‘bearing’. Christ is our ‘true North’, He is in the centre of what we do and are. His presence shapes the relationships, the style and outcomes. This does not mean that all training is ‘religious’, but that we found our training on the love and compassion of Christ and seek to be guided by his Spirit.
Human beings are made in God’s image, which includes being relational. Relational training means that this aspect of our humanity is taken serious and people are allowed to grow in knowledge and skills within safe, honest relationships. We believe that the facilitator should be transparent and even vulnerable in his/her relationship with the learner so that mutual growth can take place. The learner is allowed to see who and what the facilitator is, so that he can shape his own life according to the examples he sees. In practice this means that the facilitators will spend me with the learners in and outside the formal teaching setting, sharing tables, recreational activities, accommodation, etc. This can be challenging, but the only really effective way to do transformational training. The way in which the facilitator relates with the learner often becomes the model for the learner’s interaction with children.
When we refer to our activities in equipping others, we sometimes use the term ‘training’. It is a simple word, but we are aware that the term can be understood in various ways. We understand ‘training’ as a process where a designated person or people purposefully create an environment that makes it ‘easy’ (Latin – ‘facile’) for one or more learners to gain new understanding, skills and values concerning a specific field. That is why we prefer ‘learning facilitator’ or just ‘facilitator’ above ‘trainer’. The facilitator is a ‘midwife’ for the spiritual birth and growth of learners. She walks with her learners and helps them to grow towards Christian maturity, sometimes leading, sometimes guiding, supporting or coaching. Such an approach not only reflects respect for the work of the Spirit, but respect for the learners, too. Facilitative training breaks down barriers often put up by ‘educational’ approaches and creates community, freedom and responsibility.
Training is most effective if it seeks to provide answers to real questions within the learners. Their questions, or training needs, will normally be on various levels: some will deal with understanding and explaining, others with actions and skills, others with motives, values and emotions. Some needs will be clearly identified by the learners; others will be on a deeper, but often more fundamental level. We value these needs as the point of departure for training.
Training is goal oriented. The end determines the process, the content and the learning route. The terms ‘learning goal’ or ‘outcome’ are some mes used to describe what the end looks like – the learning will be completed if, at the end, the learner has internalised certain values and is able to perform certain skills and understands certain concepts (heart, hands, head). Goals or outcomes are directly linked to the trainee’s needs on these levels. This differs vastly from a form of training that is content or ‘input’ based, where the end is reached when a certain volume of learning material has been ‘covered’ in class. It also means that training needs to be assessed in concrete ways, directly related to the various outcome fields, to determine with reasonable certainty that the outcomes have been attained.
A true learning relationship is only possible if both parties participate. We not only welcome participation of the learners, but try to structure learning experiences in such a way that maximum participation is ensured. Learners participate from the needs assessment phase, through the designing of the course and its outcomes, the learning processes themselves, right up to the final assessment. Even reading assignments become dialogues with the authors. Learners are not passive recipients or empty bottles to be filled by the activities of the ‘teacher’. They are partners who join in a process of spiritual growth with one another and with facilitators. The facilitators are open to hear God speaking and see Him moving through the learners. This calls for a deep respect for the learners and an ability to facilitate mutual growth, rather than ‘teaching’.
Learners’ needs are always linked to specific situations. They seek answers for a time and a place, a context. Training therefore is most effective if it is placed within their environment, in their language and on their level. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ in training. Every place, time and group or individual is unique. This does not necessarily mean that basic principles change with the context, but that creative ways need to be found to interpret principles in terms of a context.
Holistic training means that learners are valued as complete people within their context and relationships, with all their needs and abilities. They are physical beings with physical needs, but at the same time social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual beings, with hearts and souls and minds and bodies – whole people.
Holistic training is constantly aware of this fact and seeks to approach learners on all levels and in all aspects of their being. Integrated training links to holistic training – where possible emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social and even physical needs should be addressed in an integrated way, so that growth can take place on all levels at the same time. We understand that learners are ‘systems’ within ‘systems’ – one cannot split up the learner into different parts, neither can one separate him from his or her environment.
We learn best through experience. Experience itself, however, is not a good teacher. It is the proper interpretation of the experience that brings wisdom and growth and leads to new ways of acting. Experiential training therefore is a purposeful process where learners are guided to draw the best understanding, skills and values from planned experiences. Because experiential learning is such an effective and powerful way of learning, it is an integral part of all Petra’s training courses.
Training has an ethical side. The facilitators are accountable to God, to their organisation, to accrediting and governing bodies, to sponsors and to their students. While relationships are important, there are boundaries that must be respected at all times. Motives, attitudes and actions must constantly be tested and submitted to Christ.
Training should be taken serious as an instruction from God, but it does not mean that training should always be serious in style. On the contrary, facilitated learning allows for a great deal of fun and joy and celebration. Love, care, comfort, closeness, peace – these are key elements in training. Naturally, this does not mean that painful emotions are ignored. There are times when learners need to express these feelings and where light-hearted fun is not appropriate. Creating a safe space for learners to honestly and openly bring their feelings into the light of the Word often leads to healing and regained trust and security – and joy.
Training is not a short-term, hit-and-run affair. It is a deliberate, strategic process involving time and people. In terms of Petra’s strategy, the partnering organisation/church becomes the ‘learner’ and we shall not be satisfied until the partner has structured its children’s ministry in such a way that it will endure, adapt and grow ‘from generation to generation’. This included the ability of the organisa on to train children’s workers and to train those who can facilitate the training of children’s workers.
It is not always possible for a facilitator to maintain a long-term relationship with a learner. The ideal is, however, for training to be extended over many years. It is then when mutual growth can take place and true faith can be formed. The facilitator who becomes a guide and mentor to the learner through different phases of ministry, leaves a lasting legacy.
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