20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #7: Be Always Learning

Those who’ve stopped learning should stop leading. Only someone who keeps learning can be trusted with leadership. This is especially true in the church.

A friend of mine and elder at a former church, himself a doctor, reflected on his responsibility for ongoing learning this way: “One year without professional development, and I’m behind. Two years without updated learning, and I’m dangerous. Three years, and I’m a fraud.”  This insightful aphorism stuck with me.

I’m taking the month of May to reflect on some lessons learned in my now 20 years of full-time vocational ministry. Be Always Learning is Lesson #7 of 20 I’m sharing. 

Ongoing, intentional learning is critical to the sustainability, vibrancy and effectiveness of ministry. As a leader, as a pastor and as a Christian, I must make learning part of my everyday life, as well as engaging more intense learning experiences on a regular basis (a class, a mentoring weekend, a seminar). How do I do that?

Here’s 5 ways I keep learning central in my life.
  1. Read, lots. I practice the maxim: Never be without a book. And so I never am. I have books stashed all over, and I’m reading constantly. And now with the availability of e-books and audio, reading is more portable than ever.

    © Dana Bartekoske Heinemann | Dreamstime Stock Photos
    © Dana Bartekoske Heinemann | Dreamstime Stock Photos
  2. Cultivate curiosity. Learn broadly, cultivating curiosity about the natural world, history, innovation, business, health, politics, poetry, etc, as well as your own field of study. On top of reading, it’s amazing what you can learn from YouTube, TEDtalks, and Netflix, too. And in simple conversation with a new friend.
  3. Resist easy answers or glib explanations. Always ask “why?” Dig deep. Let your assumptions be questioned, and question other’s assumptions, too (graciously!). One of the ways learning slips away is when we rest too easily in the pat or accepted answers, even answers we ourselves established long ago.
  4. Find good mentors. I’ve written about finding dead mentors as well as how critical good mentors are in ministry. Letting yourself be lead and challenged by mentors keeps you fresh and engaged. They give you what Craig Groeschel calls “the gift of disorientation.”  I access these mentors personally, as well as through books, podcasts, conferences and classes.
  5. Be teachable! Matt Keller believes that “The Key to Everything” is teachability, and I think he’s spot on. Teachability is central to this whole post, but I include it here as an attitude that must be nurtured so we don’t become learning resistant, especially when we become more successful or knowledgeable.Those who've stopped learning should stop learning.

Based on what I’ve observed, creeping burn out or diminishing effectiveness in pastoral leadership can often be traced to a lack of fresh learning in the life of the pastor. You can tell when a leader is learning, because they are bursting with new ideas, passionately sharing what they are reading, hearing, or reflecting upon. You can’t go five minutes without hearing something about their latest questions, inspiring authors or intriguing conversations.  On the other hand, you can see the signs of halted learning when leader simply recycles material, lacking freshness in their teaching and vibrancy in their vision.

If I want to keep leading, I need to keep learning. 

Why is learning so critical to leadership?
How can you cultivate more learning in your life?

Want to catch up on the first six lessons? Here they are:

9 thoughts on “20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #7: Be Always Learning”

  1. Never by afraid to ask the tough questions. Sometimes there may be no good answers but to stop searching means to accept the status quo. We can never give up learning because to do that is to lose faith and it is the same as saying we know it all. Does that make us like god?
    So I really like what you said.

    1. I’ve never made a connection between lack of curiosity/interest and potential arrogance. That’s something to mull over!

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