Because People Aren’t Transferable

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Future of Cru
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This is post #1 in a short series on the future of Cru.  I don’t aim to offer a thorough assessment of what the future holds for Cru, but I do aim to raise a few areas that require new thinking and change because frankly they’re holding us back. If you want some context or wonder why I’m doing this or my heart in raising these issues and questions hit my series preview here which lays a foundation for this.  But in short, it’s because I think leaders in the organization want these conversations to happen even if there are plenty of folks that might be uncomfortable with honest discussions.

When I first joined staff with CCC/Cru, back in January of 1998 I heard something that got my attention from one of our organization’s iconic figures.  This person was discussing training with all of the new staff and said, “Everyone is always trying to come up with new training and new methods and new stuff.  Just do the training.  It works.” Now I don’t know how you feel about that kind of statement, but I react to that just as much now as I did then. I’m all for a commitment to the basics of evangelism and discipleship, but that wasn’t an affirmation of making sure we are solid in our foundations. There were embedded assumptions about training.

If context trumps transferability (which I think it does and which I argue for here) that doesn’t mean that you never do any training and only allow people to experience the context. Training in context means that you try to educate about the context while you do some training to get people started – KNOWING that the training alone won’t accomplish all that’s needed.

Transferable training is a foundational yet unspoken VALUE of sorts for our organization.  Our particular approach to training betrays assumptions about development as all approaches to training do. In my opinion, CCC has gone too far in its assumptions about training.  In the past there has been a lot of communication reinforcing (& many seem to truly believe) that transferable training can do and does the whole job of leadership development or discipleship. Master the tools and skills of using those tools and you’ve mastered ministry (assuming proper spiritual foundations). Organizationally, a strong case can be made that we’ve trusted in training too much rather than seeing it as having a place or a particular role within development. Development and discipleship efforts can include transferable training, but they must go beyond it. Because people are more than what they can do.

Here are some general observations that I’ve made. They may not apply everywhere, but they’re consistent enough to mention.  An over-dependence on transferable training within one’s ministry philosophy and practice often bears some of the following fruit:

  • Skills end up taking precedence over relationships.
  • Cross-cultural efforts struggle because there’s unspoken expectations that others who are different will fit into our boxes. We might not even be aware that is our expectation.
  • Performance and skill competence becoming driving unspoken values in leadership selection and in development, to the neglect of  other foundational and often more important leadership qualities and capacities.
  • Doing overwhelms being. Because training is often related to doing, doing wins out over being. This has many implications – limited emotional presence and maturity being one of them.
  • Increased pride in our way of doing things.  Attitudes develop that kill partnership postures and flexibility.
  • Uniqueness and gifting is minimized in favor of conformity to the system.  Training systems are geared towards getting people to doing all the same things more or less.  Executing the program becomes more important than serving people in a context.  “Just do the training. It works!”  That has implications not just for your audience, but for your own soul and identity in living out who you are in leadership and ministry.
  • Pragmatism wins out over authentic servanthood.  “What works” somehow transcends “what’s loving.”  Similarly, matters of justice or of ethical consequence can be minimized or overlooked when there is such zealousness for productivity.

The future of CRU and ministry will call for people to be equipped to be the type of people that can step into different contexts and build trust and relationships.  The days of being able to depend on skill training and tools in mass are over – though we never want to stop innovating tools!

Transferable tools will always have their place. But let’s remember, the heart of ministry is people and relationships.  And people are not transferable. We can’t celebrate diversity within the body and in God’s creation, but then expect everyone to “get it” in the same ways through the same methods.  It always comes back to real people learning to serve and love others. If your approach or assumptions about training hijacks that, then your train is off the tracks.

Because transferable training has been such a central cornerstone for our organization, discussions about culture and race and ethnicity are often harder to engage than is necessary.  We fear opening the door to new paradigms will be a betrayal of our foundations.  Does this have to be the case?

One thing it does means is that the future of training for CRU – to be fruitful in the ways we talk about wanting to be fruitful organizationally – will mean a more holistic training that maintains a learning posture versus a teaching posture.

Organizationally, we need a self-check from time to time in this area of training. It’s healthy and good to examine the assumptions that shape culture and whether our culture is bearing the fruit we ultimately are wanting over the long haul and that honor God.

**Transferable tools can relate to evangelism, discipleship, conferences, trainings, curriculum, and other things.  There’s an important distinction between the tools themselves and a minister or leader’s relationship to those tools.

How do you navigate the role of transferable tools in our ministry and how do you guard against those things that can spring forth from an over-dependence on transferable training?


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8 thoughts on “Because People Aren’t Transferable”

  1. Great post, Brian!  I think I’m going to like where this series is going.  I’m an out-of-the-box person.  And an in-the-box person.  And a use-the-box person.  I think we can use tools for their express purpose, for something totally new or design a tool for a completely new task.  With the diversity of my ministry environment, I try to look at the context and suggest a tool.  To do that well, I think you need to have a pretty well-stocked tool box and a pretty good proficiency in using them.  It’s important, too, to be a learner.  Be on the look-out for new ideas.  Listen to your audience.  For us, it’s the Gospel that stays the same.  Everything else is up for grabs.

    1. True – it’s often a question of whether we are adapting training to serve particular people in a particular context or if we’re resorting to trying to squeeze people into our programs. But it’s not just about tools – it’s about overall philosophies of leadership reproduction too.  Are our efforts focused predominantly on “aligning” or learning how to serve and helping people think about what it looks like to serve?  Transferable training and a certain perspective of alignment go hand in hand and it ends up creating culture.

      1. I appreciate you pulling out the discussion even further to a philosophy level.  🙂
        It takes effort to consider a person and their needs holistically.  But I think in doing that we can’t lose sight of our own purpose and mission in the process. The tension is in both listening and guiding.  We have to live out both roles.

        1. I agree – and what you’re describing is a very differentiated approach to leadership 🙂  What you’re describing is a good balance between staying anchored in identity and not getting so lost in your own tools and agenda that you disconnect from serving people.  And then on the other hand, not getting lost so much in serving people that you forget what the heck you’re trying to do in the first place.  I agree with that balance.  And it probably brings more into clarity what I’m arguing for in the post that I believe over-dependence on transferable training leads to getting a bit lost in our own agenda and tools at the loss of staying connected to serving others.

          Staying separate, but staying connected – you’ll be hearing a lot more of that in the coming months 🙂 but it sounds like you already have it down!

  2. “The days of being able to depend on skill training and tools in mass are over”
    Brian, so appreciate your thoughts. As a high change agent myself, this helped me a lot. 

    But organizationally, I am not sure how this sentence above can even happen in our current Cru culture. I think if you said that sentence, even with context, in most staff circles (perhaps not EFM ones) I’m afraid you wouldn’t get far. Beyond what you are commending, I am not sure we are even in a place to ponder that sentence.

    I don’t know what to do about that. I just realized as I read it I found myself thinking, “Hmm, not sure we can even have that dialogue yet.”

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    1. Thanks for the comment.  I do wonder if there’s enough critical mass for this to be realized.  To me the discussion is definitely more about our approach to how we view training as a whole.  That’s where the shift needs to happen.  Tools are kind of benign and good to have in round in case they are the best things to serve the moment.  But it would serve us greatly to shift from mobilizing people who can do 1 or 2 things extremely efficiently to being a place where we are mobilizing people who can be the type of people who are able to learn to do whatever is needed well for the sake of the mission.  It’s a philosophical shift from expert to learner, programmatic to flexible.  If we look at it from the leadership model framework, this kind of shift is supported by what the D.I.C.E. and +1 represent.  If we viewed training truly from a leadership reproduction standpoint, we’d want to focus more on what type of leaders we’re cultivating as opposed to just reinforcing a program of skill development.

      My hope would be that if we began to focus on capacities versus skills, maybe we would start cultivating leaders who aren’t depending on specific skills or programs or tools, but who can adjust and enter into people’s lives with the intellectual flexibility and even emotional well-being that allows for more contextual and serving training and leadership development.

      But you’re right – organizationally so much of our self-perceived identity is connected to a certain approach to training and I don’t expect widespread change anytime soon.  But I do believe I hear people talking about what they are wanting leaders to be able to do, but the nickel doesn’t seem to have dropped organizationally that if you want leaders to be able to lead in some contexts, but you’re training them to be effective in other contexts, then there’s a disconnect of sorts.  Some courageous leadership will be needed over the next decade if we’re going to see a shift towards equipping leaders and ministers who can be fruitful in the ways we’re asking them to be.

      Thanks for the thoughts – no small challenge for us for sure and these dynamics face us in so many different places and venues.

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