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Where to start with a new group

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

In a comment on my blog on “Practicing the Characteristics…,” Gerrit brought up the topic of starting to teach/lead/facilitate a Course group. Others have added comments, but because the topic is such an important one, I decided to start a new blog devoted entirely to it. If you’re new to the discussion, I suggest that you read the initial blog and the accompanying comments. I also encourage those of you who lead Course groups now to join in the discussion and share your experiences.

Following are some of my ideas on where to start with a new group… Gerrit, you’re thinking of starting with the Workbook, and now it seems as if you may have more than one group, so you may do different things with each group. Barb, you mentioned that it seems logical to start with building on the “theoretical foundation” offered by the Text. The Intro to the Workbook does indeed say that this is the necessary framework needed to make the lessons meaningful. Since Jesus presented us with a study programme based first on a Text and then on a Workbook, followed by a Manual for those called to be teachers of God, it does seem to make perfect sense that we would approach the Course in that order. That’s the way with any study programme: first you learn the theory; then you practice and apply the theory; then,––if you feel called to it––you learn how to teach what you have learned, practiced, and applied.

In its discussion of where a new pupil should start, the Manual says:

In some cases, it may be helpful for the pupil to read the manual first. Others might do better to begin with the Workbook. Still others may need to start at the more abstract level of the text. (M-29.1:5-7)

Jesus is talking here about a pupil who is working closely and one-to-one with a teacher who is guiding him or her on the path, but I think it also applies to a group setting:

… All aspects are under the Holy Spirit’s particular care and guidance. Ask and He will answer. The responsibility is His, and He alone is fit to assume it. To do so is His function. To refer the questions to Him is yours. (M-29.2:6-10)

I took the “Text first” stand for a long time, but over the years, my own experience has led me to relax “the right way to do it.” I have seen many Course students get completely bogged down with the Text and end up setting the whole Course aside because of that––sometimes for years. Then if they have started to work with the Workbook, they have come alive with enthusiasm for the lessons and that has turned them totally on to the Course.

Here at Course Oasis, I have been teaching the Circle’s Text, Workbook, and Manual Reading Programs. I decided right off the bat that I wanted to give people the purest form of Course teaching available, and I am convinced that is the Circle’s, so that’s what I’ve been teaching. The plan has been to work on a three-year rotating cycle of Text-Workbook-Manual-Text-Workbook-Manual and so on. When it came to teach the first Workbook Practice Program (WPP), there were some students who had not read the Text. In fact, some of them were among those who had given up the Text earlier on in their relationship with it. I couldn’t see making them wait to go through the cycle right from the beginning, and my guidance was to take them where they were, so I did. This year several of those students are back to step one, taking the Text Reading Program (TRP) with me. Every one of them has said that the Text is easier to read and understand now and has more meaning for them because they have already been through the Workbook.

A basic understanding of Course concepts

Before taking anyone through either the Text or the Workbook, I make sure that he or she has some understanding of the Course and is drawn to learn more. To that end, I developed a six-week introductory course, given people what I consider are the basics of the Course. It’s like an ACIM 101 and is a prerequisite for the deeper Circle-based teaching we do with the Course. In the first year I taught the TRP, I did include people who were almost totally new to the Course, and it just didn’t work for them or for the group. In each case, they all ended up dropping out, because they felt lost and didn’t have the right level of motivation and commitment to continue.

I’m not saying that you should teach a full introductory course, but I do think that an introduction of some sort is important, if not necessary.

Several of the students who have been with me through everything I have taught came via a Sunday evening gathering we offer. It has support, teaching, and practice components, and draws long-time students as well as people new to the course. Some weeks I will focus on a Workbook lesson, other weeks on a topic from the Text. Most of the time, I’m guided about what to offer. So, a way to get people interested and give them some basics in a more informal way could be by offering a weekly gathering.

Teaching the group

This has been covered in my initial “Facilitating versus teaching” blog and in Robert’s class last week on the same topic, so I won’t say more now, except to emphasize how important it is right at the beginning to establish that this is not a Course free-for-all, but a group with a leader who has more experience and understanding and is there to teach based on that. Is this something you’d like to discuss more, especially from the “how to do this” viewpoint?

Guidance

I can’t overestimate the importance of asking for and keeping in touch with the Holy Spirit or Jesus about how and where to start with a group––and how to teach it. The Holy Spirit has sent these people to us and He knows what they need and how we can give it to them. We are teaching the curriculum that Jesus has “developed,” and surely he will help us teach it. So, keep turning to them and asking them your questions, including, “where do I start?”

I think it’s time to stop! Over to you, fellow teachers…