Published on October 12, 2016 by Paul Ryan  

Learning involves decentered notions of mastery and pedagogy.

The unfolding of a learning curriculum through the changing nature of participation, leads to a related aspect of legitimate peripheral participation: Learning often involves decentered notions of mastery and pedagogy. Instead of strongly asymmetrical master-apprentice relationships, Lave and Wenger observed that through the structure of activity apprentices learn within a community of relationships involving other apprentices, journeymen, and masters.

Near-peers are significant in the circulation of knowledgeable skill. Moreover, as activity changes, so do the social relationships among the community engaged in the activity. What are the relationships that apprentice worship leaders encounter along the way?

What role, therefore, does a master or pedagogue play within the community of practice? Lave and Wenger answer that “the role of masters, may well have more to do with legitimacy of participation and with access to peripherality than they do with knowledge transmission.” Masters, therefore, play a significant role in organizing the apprentices’ opportunities to learn by establishing forms of participation and conferring legitimacy.

What would be the shape of a worship/worship leadership curriculum that assumed this understanding of mastery? Learning beyond mere observation.

Lastly, conventional speculation about apprenticeships is that apprentices acquire basic skills and knowledge through demonstration and imitation. But Lave and Wenger emphasize that learning in legitimate peripheral participation is more than merely observational. Legitimate peripheral participation “crucially involves participation as way of learning the ‘culture of practice.’” Through time, activity, and relationships, apprentices gather a general idea of what makes up the culture of practice of the community, what the culture expects.

This learning might include: who is involved; what they do; what everyday life is like; how masters talk, walk, work, and generally conduct their lives; how people who are not part of the community of practice interact with it; what other learners are doing; and what learners need to learn to become full practitioners. In particular, it offers exemplars (which are grounds and motivation for learning activity), including masters, finished products, and more advanced apprentices in the process of becoming full practitioners. This does not mean that demonstration and imitation are not valuable in the learning process.

On the contrary, it highlights that apprentices catch more than what is merely taught through demonstration. What do apprentices catch for good or for ill?

In summary
For worship leaders, many become legitimate participants simply by observing the performance of music in the context of the liturgy. Some enter into activity with low levels of responsibility such as kid’s choirs. At the same time, learning may be empowered or disempowered through structures of control and selection, often legitimately, depending upon the demands of the activity, such as leading singing from the organ or choosing choral repertoire.

Rather than following a strict curriculum of learning objectives, worship leaders learn as they move from activities of low responsibility, such as singing in a children’s choir, to activities of increasing complexity and demand, such as accompanying the choir or playing piano in a worship band. At the same time, as the activity changes so do the apprentice’s relationships, facilitating learning from near peers and individuals with varying levels of mastery. This process underscores a decentered notion of mastery and pedagogy.

Throughout the learning process, necessary knowledge, skills, and identity are developed among apprentices according to the culture of the community of practice. Beyond mere demonstration and imitation, apprentices in relationship with other apprentices and masters learn what the community expects of its practitioners. Over time, apprentices develop a sense of belonging to the community of practice and identity is formed through participation.