Learning from the learners

By Rick Duncan

I had an “aha” moment as I stood in a prayer circle in May 2018 at Severn Run Church in Baltimore with Phil Gifford, Josh Bradley, and J.D. Mangrum. Phil and Josh were helping lead; J.D was going to be trained. He had arrived two hours early, while we were setting up. Since “training begins when the first learner arrives,” we had involved him in setup and, more importantly, prayer.

I’m glad for my sake that we did. J.D.’s prayer for our retreat was rich, honest, and powerful.

J.D. prayed, “Lord, help us bring both our insecurities and our arrogance to You so our identity is settled by who we are in Christ.” My heart was deeply moved. I thought, “That’s so true. That’s often been the prayer I need to pray.”

After we said “Amen,” I asked J.D. to help me remember what he had prayed. I wrote his prayer on a white board.

We’ve all been there. We walk into a room and feel like we don’t belong. We feel like everybody else is more wise, more accomplished, more spiritual, more experienced, more successful, more wealthy, and on and on. When we feel “less than” that way, we’re so self-conscious that we can’t learn.

But, at that very same time and in that very same room, we can have the very opposite attitude. We can feel “better than.” We can feel that our model is better, our theology is better, our fitness is better, our pace of life is better, and on and on. When we feel “better than” that way, we are so self-righteous that we won’t learn.

I had just learned a convicting and challenging truth from one of the people I was there to train. It was a God moment, not only for me, but for everyone. So I felt led to use that simple prayer as a way to open the retreat.

I think it may have helped our trainers set aside some baggage and die to self a little more so they could elevate their capacity to learn.

When we came back for Day 2, I led a little brainstorm session as an opening devotional. I wanted us to lean into J.D.’s prayer even deeper. So I set up a Post-It, (framed in, of course). I asked our trainers, “What are signs that we may be struggling with insecurities and with arrogance?” The responses reproduced below demonstrate that there’s more wisdom in all of us then there is in one of us!

Signs I am struggling with insecurities

  • Sweat stains
  • No eye contact
  • Overcompensating, pushing in too much

Signs I am struggling with arrogance

  • Reluctance to engage
  • Pointing out others’ problems
  • Not being a good listener who asks questions

Which one of these telltale signs shows up in your life most often? How will you lay that at the foot of the cross?

On Day 3, I led another brainstorm session. I reminded them of the prayer and we reviewed the Post-It from the previous day. This time I asked, “How do we overcome both insecurities and arrogance?” I was looking for more collective wisdom, and, again, we found it!

How to overcome insecurities

  • Preach the gospel to yourself
  • Fear God and seek to please Him more than you fear others and seek to please them
  • Remind yourself, “These are my brothers and sisters in Christ.”

How to overcome arrogance

  • Do things that will humble you
  • Remember that no one’s worth is based on their apparent “success” or their perceived “failure”
  • View others as more important than yourself

Which of these do you need to apply most in your life right now? How are you do that starting today?

We often say in our training what we learned from one of our trainers, Chase Abner, “Truth that is discovered by the learner has more power to transform than truth that is delivered by the teacher.”

I learned a corollary principle from that prayer experience with J.D. and the brainstorming with the cohort. It’s this: “Truth that is taught by the learner and leveraged by the teacher has more power to transform than truth that is delivered by the teacher.”

Thanks, May 2018 Baltimore Train the Trainer Retreat attenders! You made a difference in my life! I’m glad to be learning from the learners.


Drive this learning deeper. Follow-up Pathway Questions:

Fisherman: What was a meaningful insight or principle about training you learned from this blog post? Would you state it/tweet it in your own words?

Reporter: When have you had an “aha” moment like this when you were leading? What happened? What did you learn?

Physician: What grade would you give yourself on capturing and leveraging an “aha” moment from someone you are training? How can you bring your grad up a notch?

Pilot: What steps can you take to help you capture more learning from the people you are training?

Construction: What are three reasons we ought to listen more closely to and learn more deeply from the prayers of other believers?

Published July 11, 2018

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Rick Duncan

Rick Duncan currently serves as the East Coast Trainer for the Send Network, the church planting arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). As an appointed missionary by NAMB in 1986, Rick was Founding Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC) near Cleveland. A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Rick earned All-SEC baseball honors three times as an outfielder. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins and spent five years playing professional baseball. Before becoming a pastor, Rick served four years on staff of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Jacksonville, Florida. Rick graduated from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves to encourage younger leaders to create environments that God can use to invite people to new life in Christ. After 42 years of marriage, Rick is still in love with his wife, Maryanne. He enjoys spending time with his three sons: Alan, Ryan, and Evan. He is the proud father-in-law of Joanna, Alan's bride, and the proud grandfather of Ethan (7) and Caleb (3).