Praying for our educators

I’ll be short and concise: We need to pray for those who educate kids. 

So, the next time you drop your kids off, drive by a school, or see a homeschooler post on Instagram, pray for the people who are working hard, every day, to nurture the wonder, delight and knowledge in our students.  Their commitment to kids, their long hours of planning, their daily routine dedicated to inspiring the minds and hearts of our littlest to our largest is worthy of our focused and consistent prayers. What they do really matters.students

For every person who spends their days inspiring our young people to grow, learn and become all they were created to be, we thank you. And we pray for you.

For teachers in our schools–may you be given the insight and grace to love each kid that comes through your doors. May you have to courage to teach from the heart, inspiring them with how you live and teach as much as with what you say.

For principals who lead their learning communities–may you be given wisdom to provide both stability and challenge, to create and support a culture of learning and wonder and service. You’ve got a hard job, and we are thankful you are serving so many others.

For home educators who teach their own, whether that be kids or grand-kids or step-kids–you’ve taken on something others often fear. May you be inspired this year with a vision for your kids, and in the midst of the chaos, may you see your own relationship with your kids flourish as the light of knowledge and the wisdom of Jesus grows in their minds and minds.

For coaches and drama teachers and club sponsors and tutors–may you be blessed for your extra gift of time and energy so our kids can express who they are in unique and powerful ways. You are often giving beyond your daily strength, and may you get back more than you give out.

For support staff, who are present and enabling the whole student experience to work in smooth and meaningful ways–may you be given the gift of seeing how your work is essential to the whole and how your contribution creates environments where students can flourish.

For parents everywhere–may you be given a deep love for your kids, wherever they are in this journey toward adulthood. May you be granted courage to lead them, passion to inspire them, strength to challenge them and grace to make every opportunity in these precious years to see your kids grow up into the purpose and passion that God has for them.

Let’s keep them in our prayers.

How to make your fall better than ever

Today is the day–the day when most of us realize that summer is truly over.

Fall is here, and with it comes the first days of school, the launching of fall programs, the establishment of new routines and the resumption of regular rhythms.

What do I want this fall to be about?

Can I suggest one thing to you? Sit down sometime this week and ask yourself: What do I want this fall to be about?  How you answer this question will orient your life, helping you make critical decisions about your schedule. Whether your goal is to be more present to your kids, eat healthy or grow in your understanding of God, make a concrete plan to incorporate that goal into your weekly calendar. And do it this week. 

Why? Because I’ve found that what gets into your schedule over these next couple weeks defines your life for the next four months. If you will take a few minutes and decide on a few priorities, the net effect is tremendous. But if you wait until October to decide you want to join a small group, start a new exercise program or have a regular movie night with your family, you might find that the time has already been taken away by other commitments. As Stephen Covey reminds us, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” 

So, what do you want this fall to be about? Where do you want to grow? How do you want to live differently? What small schedule change now would lead to helpful differences in your family life, health and spiritual growth? You decide.

Fall is here. Let’s make it count!

The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

Don’t have much time for reading? Here’s 6 Habits That Guarantee More Reading Time for You

Books are wonderful.

Through the written word, whole new worlds open us. We gain access to knowledge, experience, stories–even revelation–previously beyond our grasp.

But many of us feel too busy to read! How can we find the time to explore the many great books with the little time we have?

If you’ve ever wished you had more time to read, these 6 simple habits will increase your reading immediately, guaranteed.
  1. Take reading with you. Carry booksI’ve been doing this for years. Why? Because there are unexpected moments in your day when you find yourself waiting–waiting for a prescription to be filled, a kid to finish sports, or a pot to boil. Learn to expect those “unexpected” moments and whip out that book! By carrying a book with you wherever you go, you will read more. And with e-readers and tablets, this is easier than ever. Never be without a book.
  2. Read at least 15 minutes a day. Setting yourself a modest reading goal will lead to significant reading over time. And as you set and achieve this goal, day after day, you will find your reading increases as you are able. But the point is this: even a few minutes a day, over time, leads to significant amounts of reading. 15 minutes a day is over 90 hours of reading in a year!
  3. Explore different genres. Don’t get addicted to the same stuff, be it heavy theology or light fiction, memoirs or romance–mix it up. Yes, this may be a stretch, but it keeps you from getting bored or stuck. The key to a good reading habit is that you look forward to your reading. More than that, exploring different genres ensures that your increased reading will lead to expanded thinking, not just perpetually grazing the same content over and over again.
  4. Mark it up or write it down. Engage with your reading. This is perhaps easier with non-fiction, but good fiction should contain quotable moments, too. Capture them somehow. Memorize them. Create memes. The more you engage your reading, the more likely it is to stick. I use highlighters and pens, and occasionally I take notes.
  5. Talk about what you are reading with others. For me, this is key. As a verbal processor, talking about what I’ve read cements what I’ve been learning.  The more interesting the book, the more likely I am to share about it! Fellow readers love to hear about books, and you’ll find that talking together increases your understanding, introduces you to new reading and keeps you wanting more!
  6. Listen to your reading! More than ever, we can listen while on the move. Gardening, biking, driving, filing, walking, whatever–audio books are now mainstream and can be accessed through your local library, subscription services like, or by simple purchase.
    Overdrive helps you access many audio book options from your local library.
    Overdrive helps you access many audio book options from your local library.

    I know that some purists might not think “listening” qualifies as reading, but that’s just a myopic, cultural bias we have for visual over audio. Listening to a book is a great way to “read” and enables you to access far more reading than would otherwise be available to you (on some devices, you can even speed up the reading speed a little).  You might find that certain genres work better on audio than others; find your personal preference and go with with it. I find that by having audio books on the go, as well as printed books, I’ve been able to dramatically increase my reading time.

We can create daily reading habits, even if we don’t have much time for it. And by practicing even a few of these 6 habits, I guarantee you’ll be surprised at how much more you are reading. Enjoy!

  • What has helped you read more?
  • What habit would you add to this list?

7 Steps You Can Take to Battle Discouragement

Rain on windowLife can be discouraging, even when most things are going well. Then a few things go off the tracks and we’re a wreck. Almost daily I talk to people feeling discouraged in one way or another, struggling to figure out what to do about it. I’m no stranger to discouragement either, and I thought I’d share what I do when I’m feeling discouraged. I hope it’s a help to you.

The next time you are feeling discouraged, try these 7 steps.

  1. First, acknowledge to yourself that you are struggling. I find that the longer I ignore what I am feeling, the longer I’ll be stuck. And what’s more? I end up hurting those I love because they start thinking (just the way I do) that they’ve done something to make me mad at them. When I’m feeling discouraged, I need to sit down and just call it what it is.
  2. Then, examine your heart for possible reasons. Once I’ve admitted that I am struggling, I can start asking why. And while other people may contribute to my discouragement, for sure, I try to be open to ways my own expectations, disappointments, entitlement, lies, sins, or over-activity have contributed to my emotional state. This is not about blame or shame–this is about discerning my heart condition so I can understand what is going on and either come to peace with it or make a hopeful change.
  3. But then, also, be aware of other contributing factors. While I don’t want to immediately assume the problem is “out there”, it can be. And after honest self-reflection, I try to discern other contributing factors. Some are quite “normal”, such as: Have I been getting proper rest and food? Do I need to get an adjustment on my meds? Am I under spiritual attack? Have I underestimated the impact of that event (whatever that is)? Am I upset about what he said to me? We are relational people, and those relationships impact us, often in unacknowledged ways.
  4. After some discernment, ask God for his peace and express gratitude for his goodness. In Philippians 4:6-7, we are told not to worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” What a promise! Not that this comes easily, but I take confidence from these words–as I tell God what I need, honestly and openly, thankful for his grace, he will give me his peace, beyond my own understanding.
  5. Be transparent with your community. This can be hard, but I think it’s essential. Recently, when I was feeling discouraged, I simply disclosed it with a few people I trust. Not to get pity, but to elicit prayer. As a pastor, there is always that temptation to cover my struggles and save face, to make people think everything is “okay.” I’m sure you’ve struggled with that in your own context. Being transparent in community is crucial to becoming a community of honesty and grace. So let’s be honest with others, not spraying it all over but disclosing to trusted friends who can love us and pray for us.
  6. And then, let the Spirit minister to you in your place of need. I say this, not only because of the promise of peace from Philippians 4, but also because of how the Holy Spirit can encourage you through the body of Christ. And we need to let them. Sometimes I’ve been guilty of finally being open about a struggle, and then (perhaps feeling vulnerable) acting as though I don’t need any help after all. We need to let the Spirit love us, however he sees fit.
  7. And finally, focus your attention on the goodness and love of the Father for you. Following Philippians 4:6-7 is the famous “think on these things” challenge, calling us to focus on the true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praise worthy. I don’t know about you, but when I’m down, that is super difficult for me to do. I want to think about the false, the dishonoring, the wrong–things I feel are worthy of my scorn, not praise. Discouragement breeds disdain. And so it takes work, effort–focus–to intentionally think of the goodness and love of the Father for us, to cultivate our heart’s attention to the gifts we’ve received, the life we have been given, and the lovely way Jesus leads us.

We all have days when we feel at a loss. For some of us, those days are achingly long, stretching on for months. Others among us combine discouragement with a daily battle with mental illness or emotional trauma. And for yet others, long established patterns of negativity drag us down.  Jesus wants to minister to us in our place of need. He wants to lift us up.

These 7 steps are not a cure-all, but a way of being in the midst of discouragement, living honestly and hopefully under the grace of God. I hope they are a help to you as they have been for me.

So let me ask you:

  • What has helped you battle discouragement?

  • Is there one thing you’d wished you’d known when you were struggling?

Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

When are you the most unteachable? The Top 10 Times My Teachability Tanks

I can be unteachable.

But if you are anything like me, there are times when you aren’t very teachable, either. We try to be open; we try to be humble. But sometimes, our teachability tanks.

Charlie BrownAnd while there are legitimate times to refuse teaching, teachability is critical to growth in any area of our life: spiritual, relational, vocational, physical or intellectual.

So when are you the most un-teachable? Knowing those times when you are most resistant to learning can help you become more teachable. When I thought about my own life, I identified at least 10 times when my teachablility tanks.

My Teachability Tanks . . .
  1. When I think I already know what I need to know.  If I don’t think I need any more information, I find myself frustrated by an ongoing lecture on what I’m supposed to be doing. While you could say this is pure arrogance, that’s not always the case–perhaps I really do know what I’m supposed to know. Either way, my openness to more teaching goes down when I think I already got what I need.
  2. When I don’t trust the teacher. Trust is huge. If we don’t think the person teaching us is credible, then why would we be open to their teaching? And while it is possible to learn from anyone, we are wise to take precautions if the person character or teaching isn’t trustworthy. Trust and teachability go hand in hand.
  3. When I already feel like I’ve tried everything and it hasn’t worked. In areas of struggle (areas we need help the most!), we can feel so discouraged that we resist more teaching. We can feel overwhelmed and inadequate. We can feel we’ve been there/done that and already know there’s no hope. It’s hard to learn anything without hope.
  4. When I’m too proud to admit I need help. Pride is the bane of teachability. And when asking for help exposes my ignorance and wounds my self-pride, I tend to bluff and hide and fake. Admitting I need help takes humility, and we can all struggle with that. I’ve written about some of the reasons we resist getting good advice here.
  5. When I don’t want to change what’s “sort of working” for fear that things could get worse. There are times when life is such a delicate balance that we fear any kind of change, not because we don’t want our situation to get better but because we are afraid that things could get worse. I’ve seen this in marriages, churches and work relationships. Fear of change makes me unteachable.
  6. When I like the way things are, even if I’m told it could be better. Unlike the previous resistance based on fear, we can be unteachable because we are comfortable with the way things are. Oh, they may not be perfect. Yes, I know it could be a bit better. But I like things the way they are. The hardest person to teach is the person who is unquestionably comfortable in the status quo.
  7. Pressure to LearnWhen I feel pressured to learn. Of course, some of us operate well under pressure, and we can all think of instances where the pressure to perform at work or at school really did kick us into learning mode. But there are also times when I’m less teachable when I feel the pressure to learn, especially if it’s something I’m not convinced I need.  Think: elementary school student learning math–the pressure to learn may actually create more resistance to learning.
  8. When I’m too busy and distracted. One of the challenges to ongoing personal growth and learning–a practice I’m deeply committed to–is the level of our busyness and distraction. The busier I am, the less I read. The more distracted I am, the less I’m open to learning throughout my day. The faster I fly, the less I listen. Too much piled on the plate scrapes learning in the trash. 
  9. When I’m not convinced I need to change. How can I be taught if I refuse to acknowledge my need to learn or change or grow? Even if an area of growth is brought to my attention, if I’m not convinced of that need, I won’t be open to learning. People have to see the need for change before change can occur.
  10. When I refuse to listen to new information or ideas. I become unteachable when I’m closed to the new. When we refuse to be open to anything outside of ourselves and what we already believe, it’s tough to see change come. In my own life, this is particularly true when it involves something I feel strongly about–I resist hearing any ideas that might challenge my own dearly held position.  My teachability tanks.

So what about you?

  • When are you most unteachable and why?
  • What is the difference between legitimate reasons for refusing to be taught and becoming an unteachable person?

20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #19: Character Trumps Gifting, Every Time

Would you rather work with someone super-gifted or someone truly trustworthy?

If you had to choose between a leader with skills or a leader with integrity, how long would you have to think about it?

We all know the answer because strength of character trumps skills and gifting, every time. That’s Lesson #19 of my 20 ministry lessons.

Vintage One Man Band More than 20 years ago, as I was finishing up an internship, a mentor spoke this truth into my life: “Tom, you’ve got lots of gifts, and as a young minister, many people will see your skills and gifts and assume depth of character. Don’t be fooled by that–place the growth of your character over the honing of your gifts, because in the end, it’ll be your character that truly matters.”

That’s the truth, folks. And those words stuck with me.

Because it is easy to see gifts and assume maturity. We do it all the time. When you serve others according to your gifts, especially if those involve worship leading, Bible teaching, and pastoral care, it is SO easy for people to think you are spiritually deeper than you really are. Either we, like the Corinthian Christians, assume spiritual gifts are related to spiritual maturity (they aren’t), or we just never drive deeper than what’s being presented publicly.

SupermanWhat my mentor helped me see is this: it’s deceptively easy to equate the kind things people say regarding my public ministry with the depth of my personal, spiritual growth. Not only would that assumption hurt me, it would eventually hurt my ministry, too. Rather, I must make the development of my character a priority focus. No one else would do that for me; they may even inadvertently help me overlook its importance.

Prioritizing character doesn’t downplay the importance of honing our skills or developing our gifts. Many of you know the frustration of working with someone who refuses to develop more skills or acknowledge weaknesses. The responsibility to grow in gifts is a given–we need to be getting better as leaders or givers or preachers or helpers if we are to truly help the body of Christ mature (see Romans 12:3-8). But make no mistake: We don’t do that at the expense of our relationship with God or the strengthening of our character. In the end, it’ll be depth of our character that holds us true, not the heightened power of our gifts.

So how do we make sure we aren’t blinded by ministry skills? Here are 6 ways to ensure our character growth outpaces our gift development.

  1. Find good mentors, be they dead or alive. Let them challenge you.
  2. Spend more energy on personal growth than skill development. Get practical about this–make a concrete plan, complete with dates.
  3. Deal with heart issues as soon as they are revealed. Don’t dodge them because no one else sees what you see (yet).
  4. Get trusted truth-tellers to help you identify your blind spots. The more you grow in gifting, the more difficult these truth-tellers are to find.
  5. Rigorously grow in self-awareness. Does it sound like I’m repeating myself? The more I lead, the more I’m convinced that self-awareness holds the key to a vibrant relationship with God in the context of sustainable ministry.
  6. Develop spiritual habits that create space for God to speak. Examples include solitude, silence, fasting, journaling and retreats, but there are many more. Find what works best for you. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook are two very helpful resources.

Let me ask you two questions for reflection. Feel free to comment below.

  • When you consider the leaders who’ve fizzled out or harmed the church, has their failure been a character issue or a gifting issue?
  • What is your plan for expending more energy on the hidden things that matter most?

Spiritual Gifts Don't Ensure Spiritual Maturity

Only one more lesson to go. Here’s the first 18 ministry lessons I’ve posted through the month of May, reflecting on my first 20 years of vocational ministry.


Got The Wright Stuff? 10 Critical Success Factors I learned from Orville and Wilbur

Wright-BrothersEveryone knows the Wright brothers were the first to achieve sustained, powered flight, changing history and ushering in an unprecedented era of air travel. Within a year of their first significant flight, the world had been swept up in the drama, and pilots were soaring all over the globe. Like birds bursting from an earthly nest, humans took wing and we’ve never been the same.

EM_DavidMcCulloughTheWrightBrothersBut how did it happen? How did two bicycle repairmen triumph where so many others had failed? That’s a story worth hearing. David McCullough, in his biography The Wright Brothers, brings it with clarity and charm, describing a tale of ingenuity and hard-work, of family and friends, crossing cultures and times, and keeping me on the edge of my seat.

How were they so successful? What were the factors contributing to their amazing story, leading them to fly when so many others had simply crashed? That’s what I want to share with you.

Here are 10 critical success factors I learned from the story of the Orville and Wilbur Wright.
  1. Good, hard work: If there ever was a story about hard work, this is it. At every turn of the page, every season or hour, the diligence of these brothers is front and centre. But their work was animated by desire, by curiosity, by a remarkable drive to know and to understand. Their hard work was meaningful work, life-giving work–good work–infused with purpose and focus.
  2. Family support: The story of the Wright brothers, as McCullough tells it, is a story of how a family supports each other, first as two inseparable brothers, with their father and sister figuring in prominently, along with their other brothers and their mother, who had died when they were younger. Every step of the journey was supported by loyal family, and the effect of this upon their success cannot be underestimated.
  3. Open, curious minds: The Wright family was an intensely curious family, reading and engaging in the world of art, science, history, religion and politics. It’s telling that all throughout their lives, they lived open to the world, always learning and growing and reading, truly interested in all they saw and experienced.
  4. Fighting for truth: The brothers were known for their heated arguments with each other, in their effort to understand truth. Hours, even days, of passionate exchanges regarding the shape of wings or the position of propellers led these brothers to true understanding. The trust they had in each other allowed them to argue and disagree and discuss and relent in ways that other relationships would not have withstood.

    The Wright Brothers in 1910. Wikipedia, Public Domain.
  5. Passionate observers: As mentioned already, Orville and Wilbur were intensely curious. But I didn’t know how much time they spent in observing and studying birds. Many, many hours watching birds in flight, mimicking their wing patterns, drawing and modeling and testing, all based on their close observation of God’s best fliers. Their observations lead them to wing-warping, a technique that broke the flight barrier all others had been failing to overcome.
  6. Enduring discomfort: Not only were the Wright brothers maintaining a bicycle repair shop during most of their inventive years, the time they spent at famed Kitty Hawk was a testimony to their grit. There were times when the conditions were so severe, the mosquitoes so relentless, the weather so unhelpful that they almost gave up. But they didn’t.
  7. Loyal Friends: While their family provided indispensable support, the brothers also had incredibly loyal friends and colleagues. From their own employee Charlie Taylor (a mechanical genius in his own right), to the hospitable and ever-helpful postman of Kitty Hawk, to the aviation fan Octave Chanute who encouraged them to continue and the surprising support Wilbur received in France. All along the way, their genius was aided by loyal friends.
  8. Cautious risk-takers: In spite of what people may think at first glance, these men did not take crazy risks. Careful, small tests, yielding measured results lead them to greater heights gradually. The location of Kitty Hawk was chosen in part because of the soft sand dunes for landing (and also for the favourable winds). They never overreached. They were meticulous in preparation. The brothers never even flew together until long after flight had become established, so that if one of them should die in an accident, the other could continue the work. They took risks, yes, but with extreme care.
  9. Practical Dreamers: Yes, these brothers had a vision of flight. But what strikes you is their imminent practicality. Working men, normal guys, sleeves rolled up, aprons on, dreaming but not too much, reaching but not too far, and yet through that breaking a barrier none had yet crossed. The misfortunes of other aspiring aviators gave them pause, and their own trials pushed them to tackle the next challenge of flight without getting too far ahead of themselves. WBScrapbooks2
  10. Importance of Clarity: When facing a challenge, the brothers identified with true clarity the real problem needing to be overcome. Rather than getting overwhelmed by all the aspects of “flying”, they identified their next hurdle (wing shape, for example) and worked toward a solution. At a certain point, they understood that the real challenge of flight was no longer about going up, but being able to control the flight, to steer through the air, and set to work solving that problem. Clearly understanding the problem lead them to solutions others had been too muddled to resolve.

All in all, a remarkable story. Inspiring in scope, beautifully told and wonderfully instructive. Thank you, David McCullough.

And these 10 critical success factors seem relevant to us. We may not be gifted with the genius or inventiveness of the Wrights, but could we not, learning from their story, break through our own flight barriers and soar as we never have before? I hope so.

20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #9: Not Everyone Will Like Me (So Get Over It)

I like people. People (usually) like me. And I like people to like me. That’s where it gets tricky.

For the month of May, I’m reflecting on lessons learned in my 20 years of ministry. Today’s lesson has been hard won.

Lesson #9: Not Everyone Will Like Me (So Get Over It)
Confession time: My name is Tom and I am a recovering People-Pleaser. And while caring for people is central to pastoral ministry, pleasing people is its nasty Achilles Heel. The gifts that good pastors share, such as empathy and compassion, also make them susceptible to the darker side: needing approval and affirmation from people. But here’s the problem: leading people to follow Jesus and minister in his name will not always be pleasing or popular. Fostering missional change in a church creates tension. Sometimes people get downright grumpy. In fact, they might not even like you anymore.

DislikeThis has been a hard lesson for me, and I still struggle with it. I get all balled up inside when someone pushes back against a gospel challenge. I feel this overwhelming urge to rush in and resolve tensions Jesus himself creates (pick up your cross and follow me, for example). I can take personally someone’s deep antipathy to life change the Holy Spirit himself is leading.

But as I’ve lead in ministry, I’ve discovered something important. In order to truly care for people, I need to let my need for their affirmation go. If I want to help people follow Jesus, I must release my desire to be liked by them. More than that, I must embrace the fact that people may not like me, even as they hear Jesus calling them and respond to his call.

The less I need to be liked the more I am able to loveAcknowledging that not everyone will like me is still hard, but I’m starting to get it. Jesus is the one I must please, not others. He is my master.  And while this could be an excuse to be less caring, I’ve begun to see how I’m able to care for people more when I need their affirmation less. The less I need to be liked, the more I am able to love. Why? Because I’m no longer serving them to get something from them–I’m now serving them for their own sakes, even if that means they are less than thrilled with me.

How does pleasing people hurt true ministry?
How have you grappled with your need for affirmation?

During May, I’m posting 20 lessons I’ve gleaned from my first 20 years of ministry. Catch up on previous posts:


20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #8: Self-Deception is Never My Issue

We usually can’t see the egg on our own face. If we could, we’d deal with it. Unless we get a glimpse in a mirror or a hint from a friend, we’ll walk around oblivious to our breakfast carryover.

Self DeceptionReality check: the changes we need the most are often the hardest ones to see. We don’t readily identify areas we’re starting to slip, places we’ve become complacent, or negative attitudes creeping in.

And yet I’ve become more convinced than ever that growing in self-awareness is central to spiritual growth and ongoing ministry effectiveness.

For the month of May, I’ve been reflecting on my last 20 years in ministry, trying to glean lessons I’ve learned and am still learning. Lesson #8 has been an ongoing struggle.

Because Self-deception is Never My Issue . . . or that’s what I tell myself.
Knut hides his eyes

Wow, this is a big one. I’m coming to see that spiritual and personal growth is almost always about dealing with self-deception, a trait particularly strong in ministry leaders. There are so many things that seem to battle against self-awareness–our own feelings of inadequacy, our sense of mission, our patterns of deceit, our lack of self-reflection, even our overdeveloped sense of urgency which blocks out personal growth.

But figuring out how to hold up honest mirrors so we can unmask deception within ourselves and our leadership teams is paramount.

Though I’m just barely getting a handle on this one (and how would I really know?), this is what has been helping me most in the last few years:Holding up a mirror

  1. Meeting regularly with a spiritual director. I meet monthly, via Skype, with a director who helps me probe what is going on in my own heart and life. Immensely helpful.
  2. Honest conversations with friends I can really trust. We need to have a few people in our lives with whom we can really share. People who truly love us and will both listen and challenge us, trusted friends we’ve invited into our journey toward self-awareness. I’ve written elsewhere on our need to overcome blind spots. Trusted friends are key.
  3. Spiritual practices of solitude, silence, prayer, and journaling. I’m a bit of a slow learner, but these practices have become more and more central as I grow in self-awareness.
  4. Soliciting honest feedback from truth-tellers. The longer you are in ministry among people who love you, the more difficult it is to get good, helpful, honest feedback. I try to find ways to dig for it, usually through questions, conversations, and even reviews.
  5. Holding up a mirror whenever I can.  Committing to dealing with self-deception means we really do attempt to see what we normally ignore. Whether it’s when I’m listening to a sermon, or reacting to a situation in a disappointing way, I try to hold up that mirror, asking God to show me what’s going on in my heart.

Sigh. Self-deception is my issue, and in order to grow and lead, I need to make sure I’m growing in truth, both about myself and about the One I’m following.

How do you grow in self-awareness?
Where have you seen own leadership stumble from self-deception?

Here’s the first seven lessons I’ve posted:

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: