Education vs Experience

Stand up comedy is hard isn’t it… I tried some the other day at a fundraiser that I’d been asked to do some story telling at. I actually think the material was sound but the 100 or so drunk young rugby players who looked like the cast of Top Gun didn’t seem that engaged. My first half (that’s right, I stupidly agreed to do 2 slots) was reminiscing about 80s tv leading up to a hilarious story (that I stole from Andy Kind) about my Grandad playing computer games. One of the sections I was bumbling my way through was about how kids tv these days seems to be so educational compared to the cartoons I watched in the early 80s.

I used to watch the magic roundabout, Jamie and his magic torch and other blatantly drug induced shows that I don’t think had any other purpose than to entertain. It was an ‘experience’ to get drawn into the worlds on screen. For example, programmes like Mr Benn, a man who wore a business suit and a bowler hat even though he obviously had no job because every day he went to a dressing up shop (dubious) with a magic shopkeeper and a changing room that was a portal to other realms.

These days everything has to teach you something. The Octonauts teach us (I say ‘us’ as I have a 3 year old) about marine life, Andy has his dinosaur, wildlife and prehistoric adventures, Hey Duggee seemingly has countless skills to share with the squirrels, Bing has a moral every episode, Go Jetters travel to different countries, Alphablocks teach phonics, even ‘Let’s Play’ has 3 things to remember about each character… Twirlywoos have a lot to answer for let me tell you. My 3 year old can now open the stair gate, get himself out of his car seat and tie my shoe laces together when I’m not looking.

It got me thinking about what we can learn from retro tv (watch this space for my thoughts on that) but also education vs experience. Having worked at a primary school for a year now, I can safely say that the best lessons (by which I mean where the kids have learnt far more than expected, they are engaged learners, they remember what they learnt etc) are the ones based on experiential learning. It’s the motorised lego fun fairs, discovering connectivity by making music with fruit, designing and sewing Greek costumes and immersion days to introduce new topics that really get kids excited.

But this post is not about bashing the education system, i’m really interested in the relationship between education and experience in church. The church seems super keen on having everyone sat in rows and listening to someone preach. Now, don’t get me wrong – there is a place for that (as there is for verbal input from the front of the classroom) but perhaps the church could learn from immersion days in school or the retro ‘experiential’ cartoons of the 80s?

A couple of years ago I co-led a service at Greenbelt (iMass) that used digital and social media to facilitate a more participatory approach to church. I’ve also read about vicars who take questions during their sermons via twitter which makes it more of a discussion than a sermon I guess. Leonard Sweet, when he speaks in Asia, has his presentation on one screen, live twitter feed an a second screen and a live VJ putting up images on a third screen. He’s still teaching, but I’d imagine it feels more interactive than your average parish church on a Sunday morning.

I’m a fan of smells and bells church every now and again. I think there’s something tangible and visceral about spirituality in that kind of environment. I used to love going (before moving to Bristol) to the ‘free 2 be’ services in Durham Cathedral, an ancient space lit by thousands of tea lights, a lone musician, a simple eucharist, bare footed pilgrims praying, compline on the floor next to a statue of Mary… It was experiential.

I believe we need to loosen our grip on the structure of services and take a few risks, try some new ideas, push the boat out,

Yes, it takes a lot more organisation

Yes, you have less control

Yes, it’s sometimes awkward to involve kids

Yes, there are issues over presiding at the eucharist


“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.”

-paulo coelho

Personally, I don’t just want to learn about God, I want to experience God. I want to be drawn into something like an 80s cartoon. I think we need to work on a more creative, innovative, experiential kind of Christianity in our churches. Not as a monthly event, not as a summer top up at New Wine, not just with our young people, not only at cafe church or messy church or seeker church or on Palm Sunday but every week, every day… we need a change of ethos towards art loving, creatively engaged, spiritually aware, risk taking, soul searching, diversely worshipping congregations / communities.

I believe we need knowledge and experience…


Comments always welcome. 

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