Knowing is Integrative, Pt. 2

Knowing is Integrative, Pt. 2

September 21, 2020

by David Williams, President of Taylor Seminary

In previous posts, we have called attention to the fact that there is simply too much content in any discipline for anyone to know everything.  That being the case, someone has to make a determination as to what is most important to be learned.  Historically, that decision has been made by the faculty.

The Kairos Project has taken a different approach to answering the question of who decides what content needs to be learned.  We deeply value the importance of advances in knowledge and the rich nuance associated with the academic disciplines. We believe the guild should be received as gifts from God to the church.  Our faith and lives would be greatly diminished had the academy not been doing its work so well for many generations.  We believe that the academic credibility associated with the content dimension of knowledge is essential for the work we are called to do.  That said, we also recognize that the faculty alone cannot determine what content is needed.  We believe that the vocational context to which a student is called should have as much say in what needs to be learned as the academy does.

To understate the obvious, there may be disagreement here.  It is human nature to value things differently.  God has created us in such a way that we are drawn to and have capacity for some things more than others.  The result is that we will give greater value to some things than others.  Those of us who have given our lives to the study of a particular subject matter will likely be strong advocates for all the good things our discipline can bring to the student’s learning.  (I don’t know if I have ever met a faculty member who didn’t think the curriculum could be strengthened if more of their discipline was required in it.)  But because those with the deepest commitments to the student’s vocational context were either under-represented on the faculty or had no vote at all, the important impact of that context has been greatly diminished.

That is why, in the Kairos project, we have made vocational mentors full partners with the faculty mentor in determining and prioritizing what needs to be known to do good work in a particular vocation.  We believe that someone who successfully practices the vocation has an essential contribution to make regarding what content is most important. The vocational mentor is not a “consultant” from which the faculty asks “advice” (which can then be accepted or rejected), but rather a full partner together determining the content needed for the student to be successful. This is why you may hear us say that “vocation controls content.”

But the vocational mentor’s contribution isn’t limited to helping identify and prioritize content.  We believe the vocational mentor has an essential contribution for determining what skills and abilities the student needs for their vocation. Or, in Kairos, the “craft” needed for the vocation. This draws on our earlier observation that communities of practitioners (of the vocation) develop standards of excellence which help them move toward the ends to which they are striving.  As we noted earlier, when the two communities of practitioners were essentially the same folks, when those on faculty were also pastoring and leading our churches, there was fairly good alignment in understanding the appropriate elements of craft.  But the context has changed and those days are largely gone.

But we shouldn’t think this contribution is limited to naming and assessing skills more or less unique to the vocation.  (For example, if a person is called to pastoral ministry then the pastoral vocation has an important contribution to make in helping identify important pastoral skills and abilities.)  A contribution in this area is no doubt valuable, essential even, but we believe there are other significant contributions to be made. Vocation helps contextualize other skills as well.

Next week’s posts will help us see how this is so.