Our education system helps us to figure out if we are continuing to learn and develop. If you are faithfully doing your homework and finishing your assignments, you should be learning what the curriculum has laid out for you in each grade in school, or each year of college or university. Every year you should ideally pass a level and move up to the next grade. When you enter college, there are a number of classes you must take as prerequisites to classes offered in the next year or two. You can track how well you are doing by what grade you are in, or what courses you have completed toward the degree you are pursuing. When we leave school, it is not as easy to see if we are still learning.
When you complete your degree, you hope to step into a career that uses your training. As you begin at a new place of employment, you are taught what is expected of you at that job. Sometimes there are opportunities to advance in your career so you feel like you are continuing to grow and develop.
Eventually even in your job, there are not more steps to advance to. You may not even be expected to do any further learning. You know what the job is, and have proven you are capable of doing it. You do not need to keep learning.
This is where some people become stagnant. They have reached a certain level in their job or their career and they are content. The problem is, no one plateaus in their life for long. Either you keep learning and growing and making yourself better in some way, or you start to fall off, and fall behind as the world keeps on changing and developing.
I have been a pastor most of my life. While I have done a few other things for an income, this has been what I have given my life to. And I have chosen to keep on growing. I love to read. If you have noticed my book reviews on this blog you will know that is true. I like to read a variety of things. Sometimes I focus on a certain subject for a while, but I love to learn and to grow and develop. As a pastor, I need to learn how to use technology. I started out by writing my sermons by hand, no I always use my computer. Along the way I learned how to use PowerPoint to add slides to my sermons. I spent a number of years pursuing a Masters (It took a period of over 20 years from the first course I took towards my Masters degree until I completed the last one and graduated!) I was not as concerned about accomplishing the degree as I was about continuing to regularly keep on learning. I enjoyed taking time to implement what I was learning.
We should want to always become better. Whatever skill or ability or gift you may have, keep learning how to develop it further. If you are a good preacher, continue to learn from others who are better, or who may do it slightly differently. If you are good at leading meetings, keep reading new books or go to seminars on how to lead them even better. If you are a good counselor, continue to learn and find new techniques to try out.
It may be that you realize you are about average in a number of areas in what you are skilled at. You might want to choose one or two to become good at, or even one area where you excel.
I have found one of the ways of continuing to get better is to teach others. If you think you are pretty good at something, then see if there are opportunities for you to teach others. When you teach, you have to figure out what you actually do, how you do it, and why what you do or the way you do it is the best way. This forces you to not just do something you are naturally good at, but evaluate it and figure out what valuable lessons you can pass on to others.
David Sanders, a cellist in the Chicago Symphony was describing how many hours of practice it takes to get to and maintain such a high level of competency. “You cannot rest on your laurels in the Chicago Symphony, or in any world-class orchestra. You never want to let your colleagues down, yourself down, or, maybe more importantly, the music down. Now in my 42nd year, I still don’t want to let my colleagues, myself or the music down. It is a never-ending struggle to continually try to master a musical instrument, to keep improving, be it string, wind, brass, or percussion.” (A CHICAGO CELLIST EXPLAINS: WHY WE WORK ONLY 20 HOURS A WEEK)
If you want to be your best, you need to continue to work at your craft. You have to continue to learn and practice and develop. The person who is continuing to develop and grow will be sought after in their field of expertise. And I would venture to say, will be much more interesting than the person who has not learned anything new for the last couple of years. This is not necessarily about “moving up the ladder”, but about being the best you can be where you are at.
Always become better at what you are good at and what you are equipped to do. You will enjoy life more than those who have become stagnant. You won’t be left behind as those younger and more skilled start to catch up to you.
As a pastor, if you keep on learning and growing and developing, you will be more attractive to churches looking for someone relevant to the world around them who also comes with years of experience. Continue to become better, for yourself, and for long-term ongoing employment.
Always become better.
Keep looking up,