Lesson 11: Leader of a Community of Practice

Methods of Jesus.11

Lesson 11: Leader of a Community of Practice

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this learning module, the class facilitator should be equipped to:

  • Explain the Community of Practice educational concept.
  • Show how Jesus used this method of instruction.
  • Use the principles presented in prior instruction models to set up an adult Sabbath School class as a community of practice.
  • Operate an adult Sabbath School class as an Action Unit.

The educational method known as Community of Practice is based on the following assumptions:

  • Learning is fundamentally a social phenomenon.
  • People organize their learning around the social communities to which they belong.
  • Knowledge is integrated in the life of communities that share values, beliefs, languages, and ways of doing things.
  • Real knowledge is integrated in the doing, social relations, and expertise of these communities.
  • The processes of learning and membership in a community of practice are inseparable.
  • Knowledge cannot be separated from practice.
  • It is not possible to know without doing.

Jesus, the Facilitator

When we take a close look at Jesus, the facilitator of spiritual learning, we see clearly that all the methods presented in the previous learning modules are in the context of making disciples. The disciples observed Jesus in the act of teaching, preaching, healing, and helping—all in the context of real life. His classrooms were homes, synagogues, gardens, pathways, temple courts, mountainsides, seashores, boats, and the hearts of people.

The disciples went out doing what they saw Jesus do (Luke 9:2). They returned to discuss with Jesus what they had done (Luke 9:10). He gave them additional instruction (Luke 9:50) and then sent them on organized missions (Luke 10:1).

“Jesus taught that the religion of the Bible does not consist in selfish exclusiveness, in personal enjoyment, but in the doing of loving deeds, in bringing the greatest good to others, in genuine goodness” (“A Man Among Men,” E. G. White, The Youth’s Instructor, August 16, 1894).

As the disciples observed Jesus laboring among the people and learned His methods, they went out to practice, then returned for more instruction to get ready for the great assignment of making more disciples (Matt. 28:18-20).

Making disciples in its simplest form is doing the following:

  • The disciple-maker performs an act, and the disciple observes.
  • The disciple does something, and the disciple-maker observes.
  • The disciple-maker and his/her disciple discuss, demonstrate, and analyze methods.
  • The disciple then performs the action with another person observing.
  • The disciple becomes a disciple-maker.

This seems like a simple approach to learning in a community of practice. But how does one apply this method?

Sabbath School Classes, Communities of Practice

Some class facilitators may draw back from this method, thinking that they could make disciples only if they themselves are doing the work of Jesus laboring for the lost. This is true, but the class facilitator must remember that the work of Jesus in reaching the lost also may be done during class sessions. Each week the Sabbath School facilitator may lead out in a genuine disciple-making experience. Also other members of the class are disciple-makers by serving as models.

The community of practice takes place in daily life. Facilitators and class members alike are active in the social situation of life. If done in the right way, the adult Sabbath School class not only is an arena where members grow in ministries, it is a learning pool for beginners and seekers.

For example, there is scarcely a home in most communities where some loved one has not been touched with physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual suffering. As class members help one another work through their suffering experiences by applying insights into biblical examples, they become equipped to talk to community friends and neighbors.

Class members can pray for those who suffer and can band together in the spirit of Christian love to assist those in pain. Members may invite friends who are suffering to class where other members are sharing their experiences in the framework of Bible study. Guests may learn to appreciate the fellowship of Christians and the comfort of Bible study in the context of a dynamic small group.

Sabbath School Action Units

Sabbath School Action Units provide an ideal setting for discipling in a community of practice. The first 15-20 minutes of Action Unit classes are spent in focusing on the class plan for outreach, praying for interested people and missing members, sharing outreach experiences, and talking about what can be learned from each experience. Then 30-50 minutes is spent on a life-related discussion of the lesson.

An example: The care-coordinator mentions that the class plan is to read the obituary section in the newspaper and then send sympathy cards to relatives. The class discusses what follow-up material might be offered and how requests for Bible studies or more literature may be served.

Empowerment for Action

According to the concepts of Community of Practice learning “Empowerment—or the ability to contribute to a community—creates the potential for learning. Circumstances in which we engage in real action that has consequences for both us and our community create the most powerful learning environments.”

Jesus empowered His disciples in a number of ways: (1) He taught by example; (2) He explained how to do things; (3) He demonstrated faith and encouraged His disciples to exercise it; (4) He taught them to pray; (5) He gave them the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit; (6) He demonstrated the power contained in the Word and how to use it; (7) He gave assignments; (8) He discussed the results and gave further instruction; (9) He prayed for His disciples.

The Sabbath School Action Unit class provides an excellent opportunity for empowerment. Members support one another with prayers, discussion, and input. Class facilitators and/or care-coordinators serve as coaches who guide, instruct, and encourage successful ministries.

Most class members would like to make a difference in the world, in their communities, and in their lives. It is essential to their motivation and learning that members be engaged in meaningful ministries in the community. If they will follow a class plan, as recommended by the Action Unit method, they will be united in purposeful ministry. All the above dynamics are involved as members study, pray, witness, and discuss their active witnessing in the context of a small group. As in Community of Practice education, we not only learn by doing, but we only understand the principles of the Bible as we put them into practice.

Class Plan Example

Action Unit classes prayerfully select a class plan in which the spiritual gifts of members may be employed. One class, for example, decided to conduct a stop-smoking clinic. Gifts of healing, teaching, administration, helps, and nurture were all used. Another class advertised Bible studies in a local newspaper. People responded to the ads, studied the Bible, attended church, and prepared for baptism—but were smoking. Smokers attended the stop-smoking clinic conducted by another class, and the Lord worked miracles as folks stopped smoking and were baptized.

The Facilitators’ Task

“This approach to learning suggests teachers understand their students’ communities of practice and acknowledge the learning students do” (ibid.). For example, the facilitator would not only become aware of human suffering in the community but would receive feedback from class members concerning their involvement with the people in those situations.

“The communities of practice theory also suggests educators structure learning opportunities that embed knowledge in both work practices and social relations. . . . Educators should create opportunities for students to solve real problems with adults, in real learning situations” (ibid.).

The dynamics of the small group Action Unit Sabbath School class provides an excellent opportunity for this to take place. Real life situations are shared by members. This can take place from actual ministries or discussions of hypothetical situations. It is essential for the facilitator to model social relational skills and encourage members to support and strengthen one another rather than condemn and argue with one another.

Role-play allows members to work on problem solving in real-life situations. For example, you could write a short script or find one that would be appropriate that depicts a lonely person at Christmastime. Class members could devise ways to interact with the person to bring cheer to their hearts.

Exercise: Ask members to make a list of people who are in some sort of suffering. Then have them devise a plan to manifest the love of Jesus to these folks.


Jonathan is stationed in a lonely battlefield. Two men in his company have recently been killed. It is winter. He and his buddies are sleeping in tents. Encourage class members to come up with ideas of how to manifest love. Action: Each member could send a Christmas card and/or cookies with a note saying that he is loved and that folks are praying for his safe return.

Mindy is trying to hold her little family together while her husband is in prison. The children will not have much for Christmas. Action: The class could take presents and food. They could sing some Christmas carols. Also the class might arrange to help with household expenses.

Jim Kilmer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists