5 Practices of A Life-Long Learner
When I was in college, my twin brother Paul and I were mentored by a man named Max Barnett. He was already a veteran college minister in his 70s, but was more passionate about learning than anyone I had ever met. He was constantly reading the Bible, devouring books, always had a verse he was memorizing, and even would sit on the front row taking notes when a freshmen shared their testimony!
He modeled what it looks like to be a lifelong learner. When it comes to discipling others, he taught us that “It’s not what you can teach them; it’s what you can get them to learn.” His goal was to help us learn how to learn.
The old adage applies here, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” In other words: Teach someone and they will learn something, but teach them to learn and they will learn for a lifetime.
In college, Paul and I caught that yearning for learning! We would often visit the local Christian bookstore, rush to the discount section and buy a ton of cheap books, then show back up to our dorm with bags full of books. Our friends even started referring to it as “Worcestering it!” Honestly, I’ve gone through seasons where I have been really passionate and intentional about growing and other times when my fire has subsided. But I can tell you, the times when I have been actively seeking to grow have been the most joyful seasons of my life. Also, I can see a correlation between how much I’m growing and how much I see God using my life.
When COVID hit, one thing that helped me personally was enrolling in a leadership training program to become a certified speaker, trainer, and coach with the John Maxwell Team. The program awakened a latent passion for growth in me. And as I grew in one area, I became motivated to grow in other areas, and now I’m more excited about life in general because everyday is a chance to get better! There’s a lot of things you can’t control, but one thing you can take responsibility for is your personal growth.
John Maxwell says, “Growth happens daily, not in a day…. You will never change your life until you change something you do daily… I believe a person’s secret of success is found in his daily agenda… Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.”
In other words, to change your life, change your habits! When it comes to growth, we tend to overestimate events and underestimate the process. Ultimately, you have a choice: Will you go through life or grow through life? Growth almost always happens outside your comfort zone, it very rarely happens by accident, and usually costs you something.
What are you willing to give up to grow up?
You might be thinking, I don’t have time, I’m a busy mom or dad, I have school, I’m too busy with work and isn’t focusing on personal growth selfish? It can be if it’s not balanced growth. But if you are actually becoming a more effective person, it is actually one of the most loving things that you can do for the people in your life. Think about this…
When you grow, everyone around you benefits.
If I grow as a dad, I’m kinder to my kids and will better set them up for future success and my wife will become a better mom as we work together!
Recently, I came up with an acrostic that summarizes five helpful ways to become a lifelong learner. Like Max did for Paul and I, start practicing these yourself, then teach those you are developing.
Listen To Wise People
The late Larry King said, “I never learned anything while I was talking.” Listening is the key to learning and curiosity is the heart of a great listener. But be careful who you listen to. Prioritize listening to wise people whose lives you would like to emulate. Take notes! Find audiobooks and sermons from men who preach the word accurately and applicably. Be like the Berean Jews:
They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
I once heard a description of four types of speakers.
FOUR TYPES OF SPEAKERS
- Very little to say and doesn’t say it very well
- Very little to say and says it very well
- Has a lot to say but doesn’t say it very well
- Has a lot to say and says it well.
The most dangerous people are those with little to say, but say it well. Of course, I prefer to listen to those who have a lot to say and say it well. But don’t neglect the wisdom to be gained from those who don’t say it very well, but still have a lot to say!
Howard Hendricks taught that experience is not the best teacher, evaluated experience is the best teacher. One of the best ways to learn is to do something and then debrief. Don’t waste an experience without asking yourself, what did I learn? Some of my best learning experiences happened on mission trips or after an epic failure. Capitalize on teachable moments.
Jesus modeled this for us as a young boy. His parents started back home from Jerusalem when they realized he was missing they went back and…
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:46–47)
The teachers in the temple were probably the top experts of the law, unlike the JV teachers of Nazareth! So, Jesus seized the opportunity to glean whatever he could while he was in Jerusalem. Jesus sat humbly, listened eagerly, and asked questions, and everyone was impressed with his insights and answers. This was no ordinary 12-year-old obsessed with video games!
One of my friends, Andy Wood, leads a large successful multi-site church in the Bay Area called Echo Church. He’s already a great leader, but what that sets him apart is that he is always asking questions. Even though he is far ahead of me in leadership, when I visited his church he asked me for feedback. His curious spirit is contagious and has become the culture of his church! My church actually adopted one of his church values as our own: Tenacious teachability.
Pastor Harold Bullock says, “The only shortcut in life is teachability.” A truly teachable person is always asking, “What do I need to know? Who knows it?” Your growth is largely determined by the quality of the questions you ask and the wisdom of those you ask. If you ask the right people the right questions, you tend to get the right answers.
Solomon said, The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5).
Like a bucket that goes deep down into a well to get the water, a good question draws out the wisdom that is there to be discovered. To grow, you must know you don’t know it all. Curiosity is the key to growth, and know-it-alls don’t grow. I believe the moment you stop asking questions is the moment you stop growing.
Read Good Books
I see reading a good book like warming myself by the fire of a great mind. Think of it like this: One book is a compilation of thousands of hours of an author’s best work, often on his most important subject! If he’s a pastor, it’s like the best of the best of his sermons! A lifetime of wisdom can be gained in a few hours. Why not capitalize on the blood, sweat, and tears of others?
But remember, reading wisely is more important than reading widely. James Bryce says “Life is too short to spend it reading inferior books.” The best way to find the best books is to ask people you respect which books they recommend. Also, schedule time for reading. If reading doesn’t make it into your schedule, it probably won’t make it into your life. I’ve started a habit of trying to read a chapter a day of the books I’m reading. I highlight key points that stand out so I can review them later. But the most important thing about a book is not what it teaches you, but what it stimulates in you.
- W. Tozer said, “One of the tests of a really fine book is while you’re reading it, you put it down to start thinking.” If a book has really impacted me, often I will create a blog post or book summary giving my applications.
- Oswald Sanders in his classic Spiritual Leadership wrote, “If we read merely to stock our head with ideas, to feel superior to others, or to appear learned, then our reading is useless and vain.” Sharing your insights with others will help the ideas sink deeper into your being as you verbalize them. As it’s been said, thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips.
Never Stop Learning
I believe that the day you are officially “old” is the day you stop actively seeking growth. But as long as your mind is working, every day can have the adventure of learning something new! Men like Max Barnett are still impacting people in their old age because they have committed themselves to becoming life-long learners! My hope is that if you made it to the end of this article that you will join me in that pursuit!
If you are in collegiate ministry and want to continue to “sharpen the saw” by doing all of the learning practices above check out Campus Multiplication Network. You will be involved in a cohort of four to eight other leaders each month and have personal time with an experienced coach.