My final class in seminary was called Teaching Principles and Higher Education. Its purpose was to provide potential professors in Higher Education with a survey of educational theory and techniques as they could be faithfully applied to Christian Higher Education. One topic in that course has been particularly useful for me as I have taught various groups at BBC: transformative learning.
The idea of transformative learning is not a new one, and its principles are intuitive to us. However, studying the concept and thinking about its applications helped me focus on how to present all the content I had gathered from my studies. And that’s what we do weekly, isn’t it? We study long hours, search commentaries, cross reference our texts repeatedly, listen to sermons on our text, and talk to others we trust about our text so that, for 20-40 minutes in our LIFE Group or Focus Group, we can bring some crucial aspect of Scripture to our people in hope that they will continue to be formed, transformed, and conformed into the image of Christ. We are called to go beyond information transfer to a deeper conceptual understanding of ourselves in Christ that generates transformed lives; lives that look more like Jesus.
Generally, transformative learning maintains that at least three dimension are active when people are learning for transformation: cognitive, affective, psycho-motor. Or, some call it psychological, convictional, and behavioral. Or, philosophers call it ontological, epistemological, and ethical. Or, as many disciplers call it: know, be, do. So, regardless of the discipline in question, this framework is pervasive, and I have found it to be successful.
The aspect of this methodology that I want to share today is the “crisis moment,” understood as a catalyst for accelerated growth. We’ve all had those moments when God did not deliver in the way we thought or in the way for which we prayed. And in those moments, we must decide, or at least begin to decide whether our concept of God as revealed by Scripture and testified to by the Spirit is what we’re willing to follow. Can we rest in God’s justice, goodness, and love despite how we might feel in the moment . . . despite God allowing crisis in our lives?
We can use this idea in our teaching by creating mental tension in our people between their current belief structure and the belief structure of who we want them to become, that is, Jesus. Through this tension, we can push them from merely assimilating our teaching into their current belief structure to them having to accommodate this new knowledge with a transformed belief structure. For instance, when I teach on eschatology, I inevitably have some who desire Jesus’ return immediately. Such a belief is good (see Revelation 22:20), yet, such a belief cannot be divorced from our mission of kingdom expansion. So, I push back on them: Imagine that Jesus does return 15 minutes from now; how many of your friends, family, and sphere of influence would end up eternally separated from the Godhead? The point is not that it is bad to pray that Jesus come quickly, rather the point is to say that at the moment Jesus does return, it’s all over. Thus, we have a crisis moment with severe tension: Jesus, hurry up, but not before so and so gets saved. And this new belief and recognition coupled with one’s identity in Christ should compel us to share our faith more boldly and regularly.
And I use this methodology in my apologetics and evangelism, too. If I am talking to an agnostic who believes that we can’t maintain our belief in the Christian God in the face of evil and suffering, then I begin to ask them questions about how they understand evil, God’s power, God’s love, and so forth, so that I can eventually ask about their understanding of God’s purpose. It is with that question that I can create the tension: if I believed that God’s purpose for us in this life were happiness or comfort, then I wouldn’t believe in God either; however, I believe that God’s purpose for this life is that we secure eternal salvation resulting in our residing in the direct presence of the Godhead forever. Now, with that tension in place about their fundamental misunderstanding of God’s purposes and them questioning what a loving God might be willing to allow in order to redeem a hard-hearted, rebellious people, I am able to challenge them to allow the Spirit to transform them.
As you prepare lessons each week, do not merely seek to provide interesting, or even exciting information. Pray about who your people are to become in order that they do the work God has called them to do. Try to imagine the belief structure necessary to allow for one to become Christlike in the way the Lord reveals to you. Then, as you study, think about what mental crisis, what cognitive tension you might create in your people that would put them in a state of disequilibrium. And then provide them the way out of that equilibrium by challenging them to adopt a transformed identity in Christ and to engage new actions for the kingdom.

Paul Wilkinson is the Adult Minister–Groups Associate at the Brentwood Campus.