Connecting with Learners by Describing Personal Situations

14th December 2016 | Manley

The situation is the starting point of the Action-Reflection-Action (ARA) approach. Describing individual’s actual situations is an easy way to make ARA courses and training materials personal.

ARA writers begin by investigating their target audience–the learners, and the learners’ context. They collect data through observation and interviews, encountering many interesting, real life examples. This information can be presented in many ways:

  1. Describe the situations of those interviewed in a few sentences.
  2. List findings.
  3. Summarize characteristics in a few paragraphs

Below are examples of these three approaches taken from a survey of rural pastors in Kenya, Uganda and Malawi. These findings were used to create ARA seminars called The Life of the Pastor. As you read them, note your personal response to the different ways the information is presented.

#1 The Description

Pastor Samuel has been at the present church for six months. He has not seen his wife since his arrival because frequent reassignments caused too much stress for the family and disrupted his children’s schooling. A portion of the 3rd Sunday collection is dedicated to his support; it is rarely totals $10. The family relies on his wife’s small baking business to meet most of the family’s needs. He feels called to the pastorate but dearly misses his wife and family. (composite)

Pastor Abdulah is known for his wisdom and teaching and his counsel is sought by both church members and local leaders. He is frequently sought out as a community leader. His family is accustomed to providing hospitality to both travelers and visiting church members. Rarely a day goes by without extra guests at their table or someone spending the night. Through prayer, they have seen God meet their needs in many unexpected ways. They cannot afford health insurance and are looking to God for current health problems. Pastor Abdulah is also concerned about his teenage son’s unusual mood swings.

Pastor Margarit works both day and night fulfilling her pastoral calling but cannot reach many congregants in times of crisis due to long distances and lack of personal transportation. The pastor’s home includes land to farm to augment the denominational stipend but she and her husband are from the city and have no experience farming. They both have bachelors degrees but they often go without food as they adjust to life in the rural pastorate.

#2 The List

  • Most primary to some bachelor and very few post bachelor
  • No salary or less than $10 per month
  • Farming permitted.
  • A few may have a second income (Kenya)
  • No funds to do ministry
  • Insufficient funds to sustain family / many live in abject poverty /lack funds for school fees, clothing / no health coverage
  • 1/10 reported that the church was taking care of them (center of Bunia)
  • Involved in community affairs
  • See ministry as a calling
  • Motivation for training related to ministry works
  • Prayer is the primary resource for their problems
  • Train others by involving them in church activities
  • Pastor should only do ministry
  • Members not willing to support pastor
  • Must be available 24/7
  • Suffering is normal for ministers
  • No vision for using their gifts and talents for ministry
  • Expected to provide hospitality or rest stop to any traveler
  • Frequent appointment to different places (every 1-3 years)
  • Often separated from family
  • Bitterness over their situation
  • Spouse or family also unsupportive of ministry
  • Not enough time / time management
  • Divisions in the congregation and conflicts between denominations
  • No personal transport (or travel funds) & long distances make it difficult to visit members
  • Family health problems and unable to pay for health insurance
  • Misunderstandings
  • False teaching
  • Hierarchy seems insensitive to the wellbeing of their pastors

#3 The Summary

Grassroots pastors minister in rural areas. Besides church responsibilities, these leaders are very involved in community affairs. All face challenges in most of the following areas: spiritually, economically, educationally, and socially.

Grassroots pastor see ministry as a calling. Their primary resource for their problems is prayer. They are motivated to receive training related to ministry works but due to isolation, training is infrequent. They train their members by involving them in church activities. However, congregants often expect the pastors to be available 24/7 and to meet all the ministry needs. Pastors who attempt to meet these pressures become overworked to the point of neglecting their own personal wellbeing and their families’ as well. Many reported that church members were negative, disobedient, unwilling to become disciples, and that elders were uncooperative sometimes to the point of not accepting the pastor. Other pastors noted that the church members live great distances apart, which, coupled with the lack of resources for ministry and the lack of personal transport, handicapped their ability to minister effectively to their needs.

Grassroots pastors frequently live in poverty without sufficient funds to pay their children’s school fees or family health care, and they daily struggle to sustain their family. In addition, they are expected to provide hospitality to any congregant or traveler. Other than farming, time spent to earn extra income is viewed negatively, even though the income from the church is only $5 to 10 per month. The congregation sees poverty and suffering as spiritual disciplines that are part of the call, so there is little concern to financially sustain the pastor.

There are some exceptions. In Bunia, 1 in 10 pastors reported that the church was taking care of them. Pastors could also have a second income in some rural areas of Kenya.

Most pastors have completed primary education and some have a bachelors’ degree. Very few have post-secondary training. Their members’ education experience is usually lower but spans the range from illiterate to secondary graduates. Most members do not own a bible.

Many denominations mandate that pastors move every one to three years. This makes it difficult to establish disciple-making relationships with church members. Others spend long periods apart from the family rather than move them frequently. Some feel that the church hierarchy is insensitive to their situation.

Financial stress, demanding work hours, and frequent separation has some grassroots pastors serving without the support of their spouses and their large families (averaging six children). In addition, the lack of love between church members, misunderstandings and divisions within the church, conflicts between denominations and the unrealistic expectations of members about pastoral duties also negatively impacted some pastors to the point that they are serving with bitterness.

Which Presentation is Best for and ARA Course or Seminar?

All three presentations are useful in different contexts. The individual description is intriguing because they are examples from real life. The list is the easiest way to capture all the details after an interview, and to consolidate or sort the data. The summary includes important information and is common for reports. Which of the three presentations captured your attention and helped you to empathize with the rural pastors?

The list and summary presentations are more abstract. In comparison, describing the local pastor and their situation is concrete and personal. All come from the same information, but the description has the capacity to draw the learners in, helping them to identify more closely because it describes an actual person. Describing the situation using a real example impact both the head and the heart of the learners.

ARA course writers can easily share or modify information gathered in the investigation phase to enhance their courses. Seminar writers can use similar descriptions as a starter for participants to share their own situations. The descriptions can also be compared to what the learners discover in the orientation tasks done in their communities. Using description is a simple tool that breathes life into ARA materials.

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Note: The three examples listed in #1 are composites taken from the cumulative research. (Composites can be used to protect identity). I invite the Victor and Alpheus, the two who did the research, to respond with actual examples from their interviews.

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