Thursday, February 21, 2008

Youth Ministry as Education - Romantic (part three)

The first main model of education/discipleship I've noticed in churches and youth ministry is the transmissive model. This looks like information being transfered from pastor to students, generally in form of sermons or "lessons."

The second model I've noticed is remarkably different from transmissive--the romantic approach.

Romantic methods focus around the individual experience of the student. There is a mild humanistic assumption--even in church contexts--that the student has inherent traits that need to be nurtured and unfolded in their lives; people are inherently good and can become good through personal growth. The focus is on the individual--their experience, feelings, and desires. The goal of romantic education is for the individual to experience personal growth and self-fulfillment. The role of the student is to simply choose to grow however they feel they need to grow. They read the Bible how they want; they pray if they feel like it; they worship in whatever manner seems right at the time. The teacher simply facilitates an environment where this growth can happen. A great example of romantic methodology is the small group discussion where students are asked to share their feelings, stories, or insights about a certain subject, such as a passage of Scripture. A romantic sermon would feel more like a discussion about each person's spiritual needs. Romantic teachers ask a lot of questions to their students in order to generate a personal response in each student. Romantic is primarily experience- and emotion-driven.

A good metaphor for romantic methods is a garden. The student is the seedling that already contains everything it needs for growth; the teacher simply fosters an environment that makes that growth possible. Each seed is different, so each needs to be cultivated in different ways.

Strengths of Romantic: Romanticism holds a high view of human beings' potential. Unlike transmissive, which focuses on what the students don't know, romantic teachers assume that the students a fully capable of reaching their full potential. It's a good reminder that people are made in the image of God and capable of great things. In youth ministry, it is important to recognize the potential of students and encourage them as they step into their futures.

Romantic approaches also value personal experience as learning. This recognizes that human beings are more than just brains; they have feelings and experiences that need to be validated. This can be greatly seen the recent emerging church focus on holistic experiences--having spiritual worship experiences that involve seeing, tasting, touching, hearing, and smelling. The value is in the experience, not simply the information.

Weaknesses of Romantic: Romantic methods, like transmissive, have some significant weaknesses. First, a romantic mindset tends to ignore the reality of sin. While human beings have great potential and are image-bearers, they are also equally capable of acting out of selfish desires and grow in unhealthy ways. We must recognize that human beings are broken and marred by sin, and it's only by God's grace and transforming work--and not just sharing of feelings--that change our lives. This can also lead to a lack of discipline out of a desire to not hurt a student's feelings.

Second, romantic approaches tend to focus on the individual, to the detriment of community. While small group discussions are a central romantic teaching tool, romantic small groups are usually discussions about individual feelings and the sharing of personal stories with one another. It is individualism in the context of a group. Spirituality can become overly personal rather than communal.

Lastly, it downplays content. With the assumption that the student can just learn by sharing experiences or feelings, this ignores the importance of content as a foundation for learning. The discussion question, "how did you feel about this passage?" and allowing a wide variety of answers is a romantic approach. It allows the truth of Scripture to become subjective and vague. This can lead to a lack of truth in a student's life; they develop an emotionally-driven morality, doing whatever "feels right."

Final Thoughts: Romantic approaches initially feel good. It feels right to have students simply share their feelings and grow themselves. But this ignores the discipline it takes to actually grow in Christ, as well as the importance of Scripture as an authority in our lives. It lacks accountability; it is very difficult to evaluate romantic education because it is so subjective. On the other hand, it is important to recognize the value of emotions and experience in discipleship; these play a huge role in the development of students.

What are some examples of romantic approaches used in schools? In churches? In other contexts?

How have you seen this work well? How have you seen this work poorly?

How does Jesus use romantic approaches methods with His disciples?

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