“If you stop growing today, you stop teaching tomorrow.” – Howard Hendricks
I first heard that quote in my second semester at Nyack College, in Len Kageler’s “Foundations of Teaching in the Church” class. Len introduced me to Howard Hendricks’ 7 laws of the teacher and stressed the importance of continually growing and learning. While we would eventually graduate from Nyack and our formal education would come to an end at some point, Len wanted us to understand just how crucial our continued learning was to our effectiveness in ministry. That’s what I want to talk about this week.
Learning like your life depends on it
Maybe you’re reading this and you are still in school. At first glance, it might seem easier to be continually learning, and that’s true for the most part. But let me nudge you to learn as if you didn’t have to. I’m assuming that most of the people reading this, however, are not currently in formal education, and I want to challenge you to continue growing and learning. While my blog is not the most in-depth, it is contributing to that, so you’ve already got a jump on it! Here are some reasons why we should continue growing and learning.
- Continued learning means we understand we don’t know it all
Do you know 100% of what you need to know to be excellent in youth ministry? No, of course you don’t – and if you think you do, then you’re lying and we should have a chat. One of the things I mentioned last week was that youth culture is constantly changing, as are theories and advances in psychology, social science, etc. One of the primary reasons why we need to be continually learning is because we don’t know everything, and because the things we do know become outdated at a certain point. We see companies failing because their executives stop learning and growing. It’s not a perfect comparison, because there are timeless truths that don’t change, but being effective in ministry involves learning the things that do change too. It involves learning a little more than what we learned in Sunday school growing up. That’s what this blog is really about – encouraging and challenging us to take youth ministry seriously. To learn what we don’t already know, from theology to youth culture, and everything in between.
- Continued learning helps us hear from a variety of perspectives (at least it should)
One of the best advantages of learning without having to for a grade is that we’re able to choose what we’re learning. We can decide which books we want to read, which podcasts to listen to, which conferences and seminars to attend, etc. One of the dangers in this is that we will simply continue to learn from people who are similar to us, who think just like us. The continued learning that I’m emphasizing involves purposefully choosing to learn from a variety of people, including those with whom we most strongly disagree. The benefits of this is not necessarily for us to change our thinking on a whim, but instead for us to see a more comprehensive picture. This includes reading secular psychologists, liberal/conservative theologians (depending on your bent), etc. Continue to learn, and do it by hearing from a variety of perspectives.
- Continued learning keeps our mind sharp
There are many things that we don’t like to recognize, and one of those is that we grow older and our bodies deteriorate. There’s a lot of research out there about the value of brain-stimulating activities as we age, and this point is not to get as deep as that. But simply from the shallow end of the pool, we have to recognize that if we’re not doing things to keep our mind sharp, we’re shortchanging ourselves. As you continue to learn and grow, your mind will continue to stay sharp. This is especially true if we are learning a variety of things, and in a variety of ways – accessing different parts of our brain.
- Continued learning can connect us with other youth workers
The final reason I want to put forth to you this week is that as we continue to learn, that very thing can connect us with others in youth ministry. This is most evident in the various conferences and seminars that continued learning can encompass. But it might also look like auditing a youth ministry class. Or gathering a group of youth workers together to read through a book together. That could even help us to hear from a variety of perspectives, as different people might catch different things. Or here’s one suggestion for how continued learning can connect you with other youth workers: if you scroll down a little bit, there’s a comment section! Why don’t you let us all know what you’ve been learning lately?
What does this have to do with youth ministry?
So far in this post, I’ve had in mind the more “academic” learning, if we want to call it that. Learning stuff so that we can do youth ministry with excellence. And this is one way for us to love God with all of our mind. And as we lead teenagers, and hoping to help them learn, we should be setting an example. There is also a layer to this learning that has to be spiritual, though. As we continue to follow Jesus, we should be growing and learning constantly. Learning more about who he is, about who we are, and about how Jesus is calling us to be faithful disciples. Being lifelong learners is important for our minds, for being equipped to do ministry, and for the other reasons listed above, but being lifelong learners is most applicable to our faith and our youth ministries when we recognize the integration it has with following Jesus. If we say, “I don’t have anything else to learn”, how can we tell teenagers they need to continue growing?
 Here’s a great summary reference of these: https://beardenumc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/The-7-Laws-of-the-Teacher.pdf