Why the learning circle is great for women

(I just need to give some advance warning for this post. I will make some statements and some of them are generalizations and stereotypes. But here goes anyhow…)

Over these last few weeks I have sat chatting with numerous women of varying ages and in varying life situations. And I’ve been thinking about how most of us naturally process our life-events.

For many years in our church community we have been using a tool called the Learning Circle. It’s based around the words of Jesus in Mark 1:15 which say “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” From this we talk about the word “time” referring to a Kairos  – a life-changing event or opportunity  (good or bad) – a moment in time. The learning circle is a framework designed to help us process what God is saying when we experience a Kairos.

It looks like this:

(I realise this is not the most professional-looking Learning Circle, but stay with me. Just in-case you can’t read my fantastic writing …. on the first half of the circle it says “observe, reflect, discuss” and on the second-half it says “plan, account, act”)

There is so much I could say about this and if you want some  in-depth teaching on it you can get hold of it in this book.

But why do I think that this is an especially great tool for women? Well, what I have observed is that women often do the first half of the learning circle brilliantly. The “observe, reflect, discuss” side of the circle. Let me give you an example: We are having a catastrophe in our lives (an example of a Kairos). We share it with our female friends. They listen to us. We make lots of observations and reflections. We do lots of chatting. We work out why this catastrophe might have happened. We quite often cry. And sympathise. And tell each other that everything will be ok.  We can often know what God might be saying to us through that Kairos. And then we feel much better.

And then we leave it at that.

And then in a few months we find ourselves at the same point, not having moved on.  We share it with our female friends. They listen to us. We make lots of observations and reflections. We do lots of chatting. We work out why this catastrophe might have happened. We quite often cry. And sympathise. And tell each other that everything will be ok.  We can often know what God might be saying to us through that Kairos. And then we feel much better.

And then we leave it at that.

And then in a few months we found ourselves at the same point…..

 Get the picture?

When I first met Rich I used to jokingly sing to him  “Jim’ll fix it for you. And you and you and ba ba ba. Ba ba ba de ba de ba de ba. (This is a reference to a programme in the UK called “Jim’ll Fix It” presented by a guy called Jimmy Saville. It will only make sense to you if a) you’re English and b) you’re a similar age to me)

Anyhow the reference to  “Jim’ll Fix It” was about Rich’s desire to “fix” every situation. Every time I had some kind of Kairos he wanted to shortcut the observations and reflections and was more bothered about how I was going to change. And this is where I think men so often differ from women. A man hears a woman processing a Kairos and very often he jumps straight away into trying to fix it.

And this is why I also think that the learning circle is great for men too. Because they can learn how to engage better in the first half of the circle (but that’s a whole other  blog post). When these differences are recognised and harnessed there can be real synergy, and this is something we’ve really tried to develop in our marriage over the last 10 years.

So women, if we really want to see change in our lives, if we really want to allow God to change stuff, rather than just wanting someone to sympathize with us, then we will have to engage with something more. We will have to show genuine repentance (“change of mind”) by actively believing; doing something about it. Now there might be lots of ways to do that but a really effective way we’ve found to do this goes like this: After making godly observations and reflections on the situation or event  we go on to

i)                    make a plan

ii)                   be held accountable for that plan

iii)                 do it (in the power of the Holy Spirit)!

Personally, I am so comfortable with repentance. I could set up camp in the first half of the circle. But I’m not content with just being able to make good reflections. I’m not content with just being able to hear what God is saying. At the end of my life I want to look much more like Jesus than I do now. I’m not going to get there  just by repentance. I need to step out in faith and do something about it, knowing that God will help me in my small steps of faith.

What does this look like for you?

Are you a woman whose natural tendency is to do the second half of the circle?

Or a man whose natural tendency is to the first half?

…tell me how this all works for you?

posted by Anna

13 thoughts on “Why the learning circle is great for women

  1. Hello Anna, I’m perfectly happy with your generalisations. They help us to identify and edify those who are the exceptions to the rule. My Rich used to be a fixer too but has successfully compensated for this I think!

    I think that those of us women who *are* more comfortable doing the first half of the circle are perhaps a little scared of the second half. This might be how it has been for me in the past. It’s the fear that people who are about to plan-account-act with you are going to switch off their empathetic, caring side and become challenging and focussed, putting high expectations on us to change. For me, that made me think I was not good enough as I was and had to strive for perfection. If our friendships, huddles, core-groups are based on our love for one another, hopefully, we can be brave enough to embrace that second half of the circle and encourage one another to make those necessary changes in or lives.


  2. Good point Kathryn, we don’t switch off empathy and love when we move to the second-half of the circle. Love should always be present. When we move to the second-half of the circle, secure in God’s love for us and secure in the love of the relationships around us it’s a very different reality. It becomes much less about striving for perfection when this is the case, and much more about allowing God to make us more like Him. So important to remember that.


  3. Great post Anna. As i think about myself I think I am happy to talk/reflect on and on about myself and my problems/issues/kairos but often lack patience when talking to others..oops. the pragmatist/pioneer in me would much rather naturally skip on to having good ideas/plans about what the person should do to fix their problem/move on rather than letting them process it all properly & hearing God for themselves rather than what i have to say! Thank you Anna and Kathryn for the reminder to love people & be patient through the whole process and sorry for being the kind of person you fear Kathryn…I still have lots to learn about exercising the ‘pastoral’!


  4. I wonder whether how you do the first half of the circle affects your ability to do the second? I’m a woman who is better at the first half (!) but I think the way I’ve learnt how to do the second half well is by changing the way I do the first. I used to do the first with the underlying belief that either I was the victim in the situation, or that I couldn’t really make any change in myself (only God could do that divinely). I think as I’ve grown up a bit from that, my observations and reflections have become more about taking responsibility and my discussions have been inviting others to challenge and help me come up with the plan.

    If we believe that this is a tool that will help God bring real transformation in our lives then surely we must commit to doing the first half of the circle knowing that we will be taking action on what we uncover. So for me, as painful as it sometimes is, knowing I’m going to be challenged to act encourages me to be ruthlessly honest in discussing what is going on.

    (I don’t know if what I’ve said quite makes sense written down, but hopefully!)


    • Yes I definitely think how well we do the first half affects the second. If we have incomplete observations our plans will be incomplete too. That’s why the “discuss” part is so important because that’s where others can make their observations about how they perceive what’s going on. Good thoughts Mrs B


  5. Anna, it’s incredible that I’ve just read this post this evening! Today, I was really struck by my need to LEARN from the difficult situations I find myself in whilst juggling my two gorgeous girls, rather than just seeking emotional support from friends and family and finding myself in the same situation in a few days time. I am definitely someone who naturally feels more comfortable in the first half of the circle and can totally relate to your “Jim’ll Fix It” comment as Dave is the same as Rich! Anyway, I made a concious decision to make changes and plans in response to life’s little challenges (for want of a better word!) earlier today and your post just helps everything make sense! Thank-you and thank-you Lord for your insight and understanding 😀


    • Lizzie, thank you so much for taking the time to write this. I was so encouraged by it. Keep going, and I hope you begin to see change as you act on your plans! xxx


  6. Great post Anna and a point that sometimes we have had a lot of fun poking at the stereo types… We dont like to admit it but they are there a lot of the time!
    From a male perspective working this out in community is key. We are often such pragmatic creatures (blokes that is) that we go into Jim’ll Fix It mode on our own lives with no reference to anyone if we’re not careful. What I really value is the opportunity to seek challenge from those aroumd me to identify where the real issues of repentance are and then account for my plans before I act. In some contexts its is so tempting to shortcut from observe to act and i suggest it yields the same issues as you suggest women face… We never deal to what Jesus is highlighting.
    Anyway… In summary… Community is key and from the male perspective it is so easy to avoid/miss that if we’re not careful. As you ask… Who is responsible for our lives at the end of the day?


    • Thanks Jon, great to have a male perspective on this… community is key in so many ways. Those around us are often much more able to identify what the “real issues of repentance are”. That is the blessing of community. Getting to the root of the issue helps us come to a more accurate and complete fist half of the circle and therefore a more effective move into the second half of the circle.


  7. Hey – just thought i should let you know that your Jim’ll fix it (Rich) has been great on challenging me re deeper reflection, observation and discussion and that has led to some profound insights and changes for me in terms of what is success, where i get validation etc… so there is hope that men can change and do first part well 🙂
    by the way, we introduced the learning circle in our first primary huddle last week and i made similar observations (and qualifications!) to those you made… great to see it is not just a male perspective and i found Kathryn’s insights really helpful re perception that the plan/accpount/act part can appear to lack empathy etc. I know i can switch into fixit mode so will try and watch that.
    thanks for the post!


    • ha ha, thanks Mark. Yes Rich has definitely moved away from his Jim’ll fix it role!!
      Great to hear about your huddle and I am so thankful to Kathryn and all you other guys who add so much more to my posts by your reflections and thoughts in the comments. It’s great to see so many of us walking the same journey and processing similar stuff.


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