Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part article. In Part 1, John Ortberg defines hidden curriculum and how it affects our ministry. Below, he explores what we can do to align our hidden curriculum with what we want to teach. The "Facing What Is Hidden" section was originally designed for pastors, but the principles involved speak well to both group directors and group leaders.
Facing What Is Hidden
How do I address our hidden curriculum? When I was a pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, Bill Hybels would say, "We will teach our way out of any problem." Not that teaching alone can solve everything, but with whatever problem we face, we can make a start by acknowledging it publicly and pursuing a solution.
Sometimes a simple, direct quote can help. I know of one pastor who was battling a hidden curriculum that in order to belong to this church, you can't have any real problems. He was talking with some folks who said, the first time they visited a church: "I didn't think I could ever fit in there. Everybody looked too together. Seeing the people gathered after the service looked like a bunch of people at a cocktail party." That was a great quote—from the mouth of an actual observer—to name the problem.
Another church is located in a suburb surrounded by a bunch of restaurants. Several members of the wait staff talked about how they hoped they didn't get church attenders at their tables, because they're such lousy tippers. One waiter said on Sundays at noon the cry goes up: "Here come the Christians." So the pastor of that church actually talked the congregation through the art of generous tipping.
Maybe the biggest single contributor to the hidden curriculum will be the people a church hires. This is particularly important when looking at spirituality. Increasingly, churches are speaking the language of spiritual formation, starting programs of spiritual direction, or creating spiritual formation departments. Often the question will arise: what kind of person should we hire to do spiritual formation?
The most important criterion is this: hire someone whose character and humility and attitude you would like to have reproduced in your church and in yourself. Not simply someone who has read a lot of Merton and Nouwen. Not someone who is a certified spiritual director. Not necessarily a contemplative reflective academic introverted monastic over-achiever. I'm not sure why this is the case, but folks can be drawn to spiritual formation (just like to any other subject matter) for all kinds of reasons.
Leading spiritual formation at a church is different than being a surgeon. I don't mind having an arrogant surgeon, as long as she's a good one. But if someone is going to champion the cause of spiritual life, they have to be at least on their way toward living the kind of life I'd like to live.
Spiritual formation is not mostly about expertise in techniques. It's not about being able to pronounce lectio divina correctly, or preferring Ignatius' forty days exercises over Rick Warren's, or knowing the difference between the dark night of the senses versus the dark night of the soul. It's having wisdom about how our spirits—our wills; our inner selves and characters—actually do get formed. It's being formed yourself in such a way that other people would like to grow in your direction.
A simple way to address hidden curriculum issues is to spend time talking with staff and key leaders about their spiritual lives. Eugene Peterson writes in Under the Unpredictable Plant how, when he started a church, the official charged with monitoring him had him fill out paperwork on church statistics and an assessment of his spiritual life, but he suspected they were only reading the numbers.