Non-formal education with a movement in mind - Slovakia

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Slovakia is located in the heart of Central Europe, with a population of around 5,400,000, Slovakia is a growing modern state. Having barely survived 40 years of Soviet occupation, it’s modern evangelical church is a very small minority. Together, the membership numbers around 10,000. This means that less then 0.2% of the Slovak population are apart of these churches. Historical Evangelicals (Lutherans) make up 6.9% of the church community and represent the largest Protestant denomination. The Roman Catholic Church is the most predominate in the country, with over 75% of the population claiming membership.

At the end of the last century, our organization (Training Center Kompas - TCK) focused on leadership paradigm changes. The first one was: “From one man show to team work in youth ministry.”. Today we can say that in youth ministry we can see a big change. Most of the ministries are now led by teams of volunteers who desire to serve the Lord in the local church.

On another front, there were few interdenominational relationships among the country’s denominational youth leaders. We were persuaded that it was necessary to connect and broaden these relationships, even though the evangelical community in Slovakia was very small and weak. The uniting of all protestant denominational youth leaders through a relationship network called SIET (NET in English) was successful and brought spiritual fruit to our country.

In the process of development, we focused on personal relationships and trust development. The result was a healthy program and interdenominational projects like: National Youth Leaders Training Conference (KPM - around 700 youth workers), CampFest open air music festival, (about 4000 participants) and an online resource website for youth workers called Davka. Through these pieces, we have experienced some dimension of “movement”.

But how can we keep the big picture in mind as we think about the nation?
It was always a big temptation to focus entirely on ministry activities. Youth leaders, especially in their early stages, ask us to provide program materials, tools or just to join them in some kind of program of their youth ministry. Their main question was “how” rather than “why?” Their approach was to provide a fish (instant gratification), as opposed to learning how to catch fish, feed themselves and teach others how to fish for themselves. It is very easy to get bogged down in constantly showing “how”, rather than asking and answering the “why” question. Behind “why” is often big change. But it means spending more time together. It’s more pain. The biggest task for our national training organization was and still is to keep focused on the movement “why” rather than on the “how” activities only.

This question also touches the core of our (TCK) calling. It is not only about how to do something (teach, lead, etc.), but mainly to keep Christ’s picture of the church in front of the leaders. We try hard to be involved in Slovak local churches and we establish the core purpose of our organization on this value. “To train, help and inspire youth workers who are raising up the next generation of Christ followers in the church”.

Next, we believe that the answer to the question of keeping the big picture in mind, is through purposeful, personal discipleship. Even now in youth ministries across Slovakia, we can see the deterioration of ministry into traditional, mechanical habits. It’s the repetition of unconscious, rituals of the church. The leadership of the church models these habits in front of the church attendees, members as well as the youth leaders. The habit is connected with the conviction that the church is not an organism but an organization.

The outcome of this theology is the conviction that the performance of the rituals is of primary importance. The parishioner’s behavior during the week is not so important. The result is that church becomes a cold, impersonal place where people sit in heavy coats with almost no personal contact. The church is not real human relationships anymore. Rituals, a building and one handshake of peace cannot be the alternative for the personal discipleship. The main challenge is to reverse this deterioration.

I believe that the best way how to reverse it is through deliberate discipleship – life on life. It is almost an unknown concept in our current church because it is the antithesis of the ritual event. Moreover, it is commonly believed that personal discipleship weakens control over the church. So, it is suspect as a subversive concept. But “movement” goes against the rituals that are lifeless. Life on life is the opposite of ritual habits. It cuts through the traditional ways and classic understanding of church function.

Paradigm change in the traditional church is usually slow and requires a lot of endurance from leaders. I believe the faster path of change would be to start from the very beginning in a different environment than the traditional church. It was the biggest surprise to see that the shift of the Slovak church paradigm (for example mentioned above) took at least ten years.

Recently we had the training weekend for a Junior High leadership team in a small town. We were surprised how active and organized the team was. They organize many weekend retreats, gatherings, and miscellaneous events. We prepared the spiritual gifts and personality tests for the team members and worked hard to discover where each leader would fit best in the ministry. We felt that the event helped them better understand how they were “wired”. After the training each team member expressed that their greatest need was to know each other (teammates) better. Even though they worked together regularly, everyone carrying out his assigned duty, their teammates still seemed somehow unknown. Ritual activity cannot substitute for the deeper experience of the Lord’s presence in the middle of real relationships. 

How can we discern if we are on the right path? We can easily immerse ourselves in activities, but if they are not aligned with the ultimate goal, it is impossible to keep the right direction. A regular (at least once in 6 months) process of “dusting off” of the discipleship vision is necessary. Keeping the big picture outstanding, is possible more through being and seeing rather than just through hearing (teaching). For our TCK staff, it practically means that each of us is obligated to be a disciple maker and active member of the local church and not merely a trainer in a para-church organization.

To teach about Christ and to teach Christ is a big difference. It’s a challenge to be in His presence rather than just be involved in activities. Many times too many activities (given to keep us busy) and exhausting duties, is the enemy of “movement”. It can look like skillful climbing, but unfortunately on the wrong wall. We believe that the members of the God’s awakening were very busy too. But they were busy with sharing the good news rather than with rituals and buildings. The key of “movement” is the ability of the Holy Spirit to bring Christ into middle of ordinary life.

This incarnational approach (modeled for us by Christ) is crucial in moving toward positive change. It goes hand in hand with intentional discipleship. For our situation after the revolution, it meant a sharp focus on building relationships through the evangelical spectrum of youth leaders. We had became friends and experienced the brotherhood of Christ and prepared ourselves to serve the nation, not just to a youth group in a local setting. The Incarnational approach is described in John 1.1-18. Jesus became the flash to dwell among us. He invited: “Come and follow me”, but being without his own place, we can see him in many places of those who followed him. Levi’s house (Luke 4.27-32.), at Zacheus’ house (Luke 19), at Peter’ house (Luke 4.38), etc. He was among them. Our tendency is to collect people under the roof of church building and call this discipleship. But Jesus dwelled among us. He was first of all present. He was close to people and he was was willing to be vulnerable. If we want to reach out people with His gospel, there is no better way than His way.

How do we create various kinds of events that shepherd people through a process?
We believe that a movement needs a healthy environment to spread. One of the environments we provide is the School Of Leaders. It is an eight month, non-formal program for youth workers and leaders.  95% of these are volunteers in local churches. They are accepted only with a recommendation from their pastor or the elder of their church. They are chosen from multiple denominations and local churches.

In the first year we work hard in areas like character development, youth leaders skills, systematic theology, worship, etc. Each student has his own mentor who helps the student to implement the teaching into real life. The students are active in their local churches during the school year, which enables us to walk with them, observe them in their own local setting. This first year also includes an inspirational vision trip, which entails a visit to a model church somewhere in Central Europe.

The second year of the school is focused almost entirely on application of the teaching from the previous year, but is done in the student’s local setting.

During the creation of the School of the Leaders program our team realized that the leader’s biggest need is not the lack of the information, but rather a need to see visible change in his life. We decided to focus sharply on the students character development through the mentoring. It gives us space to focus on the student, rather than only on the teaching subject. It provides a lot of opportunities to ask deep questions and to see a student in real life situations. By seeing the student in ministry, family and school, it gives the mentor a wide space to address issues and interact with realities of the student’s life. 

The National Conference For The Youth Workers is one of the biggest youth leaders convention in our post communist region. It helps to keep big picture of Christ’ church in front of the youth leaders well. It provides a snapshot of the volunteers involved from almost every denomination in the country. The conference utilizes about 100 volunteers in around 30 areas of the conference. It gives us the opportunity to lead participants and volunteers toward maturity in work ethics, organizational skills, character, endurance, etc. The conference helps a lot in mobilizing and inspiring Slovakia’s youth leaders toward a movement.

After each conference we ask if it was worthy of the effort. The participant conference evaluation keep us doing it again and again. We do not want to organize just another activity. It needs to be life-on-life experience. We always feel helpless and we are totally dependent on God’s grace in it. We try hard to create the environment where the leaders can experience a “life” touch. For example they would get an opportunity during the conference to go out with specific task. For example, asking the participants to do an interview in the city or a task of distribution - like bibles or some manual skill task such as rock climbing, etc). It provides a lot of experiences to share in the team or conference gathering.

For sure, we have a long way to go in creating a movement in Slovakia. We are asking God to open our eyes to more and different movement methods for the spread of His church here.

Peter Hrubo

PHf


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