Lifelong learner

YouTube videos are the best, right? Take any subject — installing roof racks on a mini-van, cooking collard greens, or chiseling those abs with a perfect workout — and you can find an online tutorial. However awkward these videos might be, with enough time, anyone with a felt need and a zeal to learn can embrace their inner fixer-upper. A technologically interconnected world affords this type of luxury for many.

Church planters and pastors are blessed with the same tools for learning. Not that long ago, those sitting in our seats dipped their pen in ink while writing under candlelight, using the scarcity of books at their disposal. Now many of us click through countless resources while typing on personal computers and sipping a latte.

This glut of resources can create one of two easily destructive temptations for the average pastor or leader.

All learning and no love

Most of us who’ve given our lives to serve God’s church find great fulfilment in thinking and reading about Him, His church, and His mission in the world. This desire is laudable and necessary, yet it’s also dangerous. A myopic focus on doctrinal precision divorced from a corresponding missionary life makes for an impoverished pastor, church planter, or missionary. No one likes to be around one who possess knowledge but lacks love. Such clanging cymbals are rarely effective in the ministry of reconciliation to which they’ve been entrusted.

The abundance of learning opportunities means that a mission-savvy planter needs to be careful who he listens to and how often. Each pastor is only given a God-ordained number of days, hours, and minutes that must be stewarded in God-honoring ways. Thus, planters and pastors need to be discerning. But, perhaps more important, leaders need to match their doctrinal input with missional output. The outworking of doctrine in strategic mission not only makes a difference in the lives of others, but it also makes the pastor more effective as a theologian and preacher. He becomes a better thinker when he learns with his mind and his feet.

All love and no learning

The other danger is equally tempting. The pace of pastoral ministry demands a certain life rhythm that can easily push learning to the margins. The normative assumption is that pastors are trained in seminary prior to becoming pastors. While an important aspect of pastoral formation, pre-game training is insufficient to sustain a lifetime of fruitful ministry. Pastors may be tempted to lay aside ongoing learning, thinking they simply have too much to do to continue to hone their skills, refine their theology, and shape their evangelistic effectiveness. They may love well, but their novice training provides a flimsy foundation to sustain their missionary output, and over time they grow theologically flabby, akin to the middle-age man who decides it’s now time to download “Couch to 5k.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. Pastors can prioritize a lifetime of learning through some simple practices that build their theological acumen and missionary fervor.

  • Keep a book with you at all times and read a bit before or after a meeting.
  • Form a cohort that reads or listens to a certain topic and discusses it over coffee each week.
  • Take a free online course in an area of study you recognize needs refining.
  • Ask someone who comes from a different theological paradigm than you to suggest a few books, and read something you would not otherwise pick up.
  • Diversify your genres and spend time reading about sociology, leadership, or other disciplines that have natural import to the work of pastoral ministry.
  • Find a few podcasts and become a regular (hint: diversity is good here too. Your favorite pastor is great, but try to listen to a few others from time to time, even some that might not be very well-known).
  • Journal your missionary output so you forge some objective measure as to whether or not you are doing anything with what you are reading.
  • Write — even if you’re not a great writer. There’s something about getting a few thoughts on paper that helps ensure you actually know what you believe.
  • Share your faith. There’s nothing like being pressed through evangelistic conversations to research or study, so you know how to give a defense to those who ask.

That’s certainly not a complete list, but it’s a place to start the process of being a life-long learner.

What else would you add to this list?

Published July 23, 2018