Friday, February 29, 2008

John Tesh: ALIVE music & dance

Years ago I was involved as the director of a television pilot that tried to take various artistic disciplines and incorporate them into a Christian worship experience. We didn't succeed for a matter of time and budget. But now comes John Tesh with an awe inspiring television production ALIVE: music&dance. Tesh has taken Christian worship music and married it with ballet, lyric dance, and hip hop in a benchmark production that should get all Christians (especially Catholics) to sit up and take notice.

Nineveh's Crossing is proud to be selling both the DVD and CD at lower than normal prices. The project airs on PBS, March 1, 2008, but should be a hit for home media.

We have clips and more detail about the project at our site. Click either of the images or this link: ALIVE: music&dance page.

Check it out.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Best Adult Formation Practices: A Catholic Tent Revival

A few weeks ago, Catholic lay evangelist, Bill Wegner was in town giving a mission to hundreds at Our Lady of Good Council. Bill goes to St. Veronica's in Howell, NJ where I had interviewed his pastor, Fr. Brendan Williams, about the best practices of adult faith formation that he had learned and experienced in his life and ministry. We took advantae of Bill being in town, and did a one hour interview of him for use later in our Best Practices television series. At Nineveh's Crossing's Best Practices page we posted a 4 min clip of Bill's interview in which he describes his annual tent meeting set up -- and an evangelical altar call at a Catholic funeral. The clip is in a better form at Nineveh's Crossing, but I'll also post it here as well.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

THERE WILL BE A TEST: Evaluating Your RCIA Instruction

This is the third in an irregular series on Catholic Faith Formation Best Practices

Of the many volunteer jobs I've taken to promote the Church, one that I found most interesting was chauffeuring a well-known Catholic convert and evangelist from appointment to appointment. One day, I drove him to a television station where he was interviewed by his bishop about his conversion to Catholicism. On air, the bishop said he assumed the evangelist came into the Catholic Church because of the beautiful and holy example of the many Catholic laity the evangelist had met over the course of his life. Diplomatically, my evangelist friend said nothing, because nothing could have been further from the truth.

In my ten years as a Catholic, I have met a number of priests, bishops, writers, and other Catholic leaders who agree that the knowledge of the typical Catholic layperson about his or her faith is disgraceful. Like my evangelist friend, many of us converts to Catholicism came into the Church in spite of the poor formation of the Catholics we knew, not because of them. We came into the Church because of the consistency of Catholic teaching with the Bible and history.

There are many historical reasons why American Catholics are so poorly catechized, and I'm sure someone has written the book. There is, however, one thing RCIA and CCD instructors can do today that, if they are not doing it now, will dramatically improve their efforts at catechetical instruction overnight. While this essay does not allow enough space to explain this technique in detail, it will provide an introduction and a free resource to get you, as instructors and coordinators, started.

There Will Be A Test

Fr. James Cronk would occasionally scan the class, look us in the eyes and gleefully announce: "Just remember, there will be a test." As a candidate for entering the Church, I was attending my first RCIA[1] program. It took a while before we understood Fr. Jim's meaning, its truth, and how it applied not only to each of us in the class, but to him, and all RCIA coordinators, instructors, facilitators, priests, and bishops. Yes, there will be a test — and, I might add, it will be scored.

In the adult corporate training and communication industry — where I spent the better part of three decades as a producer and creative director — my group's paychecks were tied to how efficiently, effectively, and productively the students under our care were educated. Our results were never based on our senses or feelings, or someone's subjective opinion. Our clients, who collectively were spending millions of dollars, wanted more assurance than my cocky, nodding head.

So, we evaluated our training in several different ways and, based on the results of those tests, we modified our methods and techniques. In a temporal sense, we were very successful and our business lucrative as we worked with a breadth of demanding customers from the NASA astronaut corps to Harley-Davidson dealers to the heads of the major automotive companies and their divisions. The point of our evaluation effort was to ensure the return on investment (ROI) that our customers were making.

Lest you think that such ROI accountability doesn't fit the world of Christian discipleship, I will remind you of Christ's parable of the talents, and what happened to those who did not return double the investment of their master. There was a test... and, those who failed it "...were cast into utter darkness" (Matt. 25).

Four Levels, Two Groups

In the instructional design industry there are four levels of instruction, evaluation or testing referred to simply as Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4. At each level there are two different groups being evaluated: (1) the instructional designers and instructors; and (2) the participants.

Levels 1 and 2 are conducted at the time of the instruction's delivery — either at the end of a single class session, or, in the case of longer instructional periods, occasionally throughout. Level 1 evaluates the instruction from the student's perspective and Level 2 evaluates the student's comprehension from the instruction's perspective. (Notice that the instruction has two parts: (a) the instructional design that includes the structure of the content, presentation method, and overall methodology, and (b) the instructor.

Levels 3 and 4 are conducted later. Level 3 testing is typically administered a month after the class ends, and, like Level 2, evaluates the student's knowledge or comprehension. Level 4 is the most difficult and expensive to administer because it attempts to evaluate, a month to a year out, the student's change in behavior as it relates to the instruction. That is nearly impossible because of the many variables in the student's life that can affect behavioral change.

Ultimately, there are two goals in these evaluations. The first and primary purpose of the evaluations, is not to grade the student's performance, but to improve the instruction. Yes, that's right. Unlike the grades you received in elementary school, high school and college, these evaluations place the learning onus on the instructional designers and instructors. The second purpose, of course, is to test the student's progress at learning.

The Problem from My Seat

I converted to Catholicism from Evangelical Christianity in 1997-1998. Because of my professional interest in learning and education and because of various Church requirements and suggestions, I've been involved in several RCIA, CCD, and other Catholic educational efforts. Distressingly, my direct observations in too many of these programs have revealed the absence of the most basic communication protocol.

I have been in Catholic education classes where you could not understand a word of what the instructor was saying, or the level of the reading material was inappropriate for the class, or the instructional methodology used for a class of 7th graders was geared to that of an alert, motivated adult on Double-Jolt Cola.

I have also attended far too many sessions where the instructor had a degree in theology but had few facilitation skills and put the class to sleep. In all of these cases, regardless of the sincerity of the instructor or the accuracy of the theology presented, the instruction might as well have not occurred.

If we're concerned about passing on the faith to the next generation — partly at least through classroom instruction — then it is imperative that we teach in a way that learners can and will learn. Just "showing up," sincerity, and prayer are no substitutes for basic instructional and communication skills.

What Should Be Done NOW

As we approach the end of another year of RCIA instruction, now would be a good time to administer an important piece of this evaluation strategy — the Level 1 evaluation. At the same time, a Level 2 test can also be administered. Although the Level 2 evaluation is often seen as intimidating or offensive by students, and while many RCIA instructors may feel that such testing demeans the students and treats them like middle school children, the fact remains that testing helps the students understand what's important and helps them learn.

For instance, if before the instruction you were to administer a pre-instruction test of the critical learning objectives, regardless of how well or poorly the students do on the pre-test, they would know what was important to remember when the instruction occurred. This kind of "pre-testing" serves an important instructional objective — it helps the student establish the "hooks" upon which to "hang" the information when it comes.

Then, if the same Level 2 test is administered after the instruction, several wonderful things occur. First, the instructional designers and instructor can compare the pre- and post-tests to see if learning, at least in the short term, occurred. Second, if there is not a dramatic improvement in the scores, then careful investigation into the instruction needs to be made; and that is when the Level 1 evaluation is most helpful. By itself, though, the Level 1 evaluation provides great benefit to class coordinators, developers, and the instructor.

The Level 1 Evaluation

A Level 1 Class Session Evaluation that can be used for RCIA instruction can be found by scrolling to the bottom of Nineveh's Crossing's Home page []. Look for the link to "Best Practices for Faith Formation."

The Level 1 Evaluation found there can be used after each class session or whenever the content, instructor, or venue changes. Level 1 is often called a "smile" sheet because its primary purpose is to discover how satisfied the students are with the instruction as it was presented. In order to get high grades on a Level 2 evaluation (student head-knowledge of the content), a high Level 1 is absolutely necessary. If the Level 1 evaluation scores low, it is not possible for Level 2 to be high, unless the student learned the material somewhere else. If students are to learn in a classroom situation, there first has to be good communication, and the Level 1 evaluation can help religious education directors achieve that.

The Level 1 Evaluation, referenced above is a short questionnaire with 12 questions that provide both quantitative and qualitative answers. After asking for basic information about the date, class, instructor and topic, and reminding the student that there are no wrong answers on this "test", the following questions are presented. The first eight ask students to Disagree or Agree on a 1-5 scale with statements about their learning experience, with opportunity of explaining their ratings on the back of the form. The statements include:

1. This session was of interest to me and met a need in my life.

2. I could see and hear the instructor and visual aids well.

3. The lesson was presented at a level that I understood.

4. The instructor was well prepared to teach this lesson.

5. The instructor's appearance and attitude were engaging.

6. The classroom was comfortable and conducive to learning.

7. The reading material that supports this session was helpful.

8. I would encourage others to take this session.

Questions 9 through 12 ask for open feedback about what in the class needs to be deleted, added, used less, or used more, to help improve the class session.

Administration of this Level 1 Evaluation at every session, and then paying attention to and possibly implementing the suggestions you get, will dramatically improve the effectiveness of your instruction to the next generation of Catholics.

A free PDF Download of the above evaluation with completion instructions — ready to hand out — is available at Scroll to the bottom and click on the BEST PRACTICES link.

By the way, there is a Level 5 Evaluation for Christians. It's the "test" Fr. Cronk was reminding us about. It takes place at the "Pearly Gates," and it will be scored.

[1] RCIA stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, a series of parish classes held from September to Easter that intend to teach adults all things Christian and Catholic in order to prepare them to enter the Church at the Easter Vigil through the reception of three sacraments: baptism, confirmation, and communion. RCIA participants are generally composed of three types: catechumens (the unbaptized), candidates (baptized but unconfirmed), and sponsors (Catholics who assist the catechumens and candidates through the six month process).

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Like many of us, I have strong political sensibilities, especially during this particular election year. I am an independent, and in the past have split my vote. I tend to look carefully at a politican's values and policies and compare them to Catholic and Christian teachings. They've never aligned perfectly, but we're not electing the pope, but someone who will be a defenders of our liberty, seek long-lasting peace (not short-term peace at any price), and have a high moral character.

CLICK on the image to the right, or the link below for a flash, web video of some value. The front part of this flash video says a lot about what my major issue is for this election. The protection of our citizens against those that have demonstrated the ability to kill and destroy us. After the beginning litany of remembrances of the attacks against the U.S., this video stats committing alarmist fallacies that are not true. But the up front list of attacks by radicals against us, is true, and the threats continue against us and our allies.

I cannot understand the policies of some candidates (like Obama) who advocate the retreat from the battle against those Islamic extremists who have repeatedly demonstrated their passion for the destruction of Western Civilization.
SIDE BAR: I have a pet theory that Obama only joined a Christian Church (a very liberal one, I might add, and one that I suggest he is not involved in) as political cover for his pubic endeavors. I take note that he refuses to recite the pledge of allegiance, wear an American Flag pin on his lapel, and now his wife comes out that the only thing she is proud of America for is the support for her husband's campaign. Whoa! I think he's part of a Islamic sleeper cell, but I hope I'm wrong.

(Posted days later: I may be wrong in the paragraph above, but perhaps only the proper nouns are wrong. Read this from Ronald Kessier)

It is true that Western democracies are not perfect. There are many times when I am embarrassed to be American. As I have thought about leaving for another country to live, and as I have visited a few, I keep coming back to the hope we have as American's and the greater liberty and freedom to express and seek the truth as we understand it, HERE, as opposed to anywhere else, even the U.K. and Canada, or the down-under continent.

So, perhaps we're left with the best of not perfect.

But, back to my objection about those that have advocated a pull out of Iraq and other places where we are defending our life and those of other countries. Why candidates like Obama seem to be so oblivious to the explicit and multiple attacks against us, not by a country but by a worldwide cult, is beyond me. I can only explain their declaration of pulling back from this war as a political gambit to secure power for their own aggrandizement. Surely Bush is not prosecuting this war for his own popularity. If he was, he would have pulled out long ago. Obama and others who declare a pull out can't be ignorant of the threat, so that leaves several other conclusions about their position, and none of them seem to fulfill the President's job of defending our interests and the lives of our citizens.

The WakeUpAmerica video, cited at the beginning, is a bit alarmist (at the end). But the up front litany of attacks on us by our enemies should remind us that something is more important than the color of a man's skin. It should be his (or her) policies to lead the military to protect us...and much of the world that otherwise would have little or no protection.

The other things that baffles me is why African Americans would support any candidate who's policies by enlarge have reduced the number of African American citizens by millions, through abortion. By the numbers alone (3 black babies are aborted for every white baby, I am told -- am I wrong?) abortion is a racist practice, just as it was advocated by those that founded Planned Parenthood to clean out the "weeds" in our midst. Why would blacks vote for a candidate of any color, who would advocate for this kind of genocide that can only be described as racial suicide. And why Christians would vote for the continuation of such genocide, regardless of how much they think Bush lied about the war effort, is beyond explanation.

In fact, I have only heard platitudes and NEVER one explanation. I've heard people say "I trust Obama totally" but never a logical reason why they trust a man who advocates the killing of their babies. The only reasons I hear are "Bush lied" .... which is not a reason, but a slogan. Bush has tried to ENLARGE the African American population by trying to get rid of abortion. The Democrats want to continue to marginalize and DECREASE the black population by encouraging the killing of their own kind.

Praying for LIFE and America.