“Leaders are learners” – you’ve probably heard that a hundred times, and it’s true. The best leaders are those who take the initiative to grow in skill and knowledge. Yet we associates, and other staff members, often feel more like followers than leaders. While it lacks the alliteration followers are learners too.
As an associate pastor, it is fairly easy to get blinders toward our area of ministry. We may spend hours reading magazine articles on children’s ministry, surfing websites for resources for our music ministry, reading youth ministry blogs, and doing all we can stay current with the latest trends in culture to keep our talks relevant. But I want to challenge you to go deeper.
Become an expert in your field: Go beyond learning technique and researching curriculum. For example, children’s ministers might see out all they can about the social and emotional development of children. Those of us in youth ministry would benefit from finding some resources on the unique stage of life called adolescence. If you are in older adult ministry, see if the hospital offers courses for those caring for specific illnesses. Knowledge gained in these areas can be a benefit to the entire staff, in addition to informing your own ministry.
Keep up to date: What you learned in seminary five, ten, or twenty years ago may not be as relevant today. Don’t become complacent with your knowledge base. Seek out the latest thinking on the topic. Not only has the thought changed, but you have changed since then too, and you may hear it with new ears.
Study theology: Challenge yourself to broaden your thinking theologically. Maybe you are intrigued by the problem of evil, or always wondered about the incarnation, wondered what the creeds are all about, or wanted to understand better what Jesus means by the Kingdom of God.
Research something you love: Maybe there is something not exactly ministry related you want to know more about. Great personal growth can happen when you are learning more about photography, bee keeping, quantum physics, history, or anything else you are curious about.
Look for experts in the field: Just because we work in the church, does not mean we always need church-specific resources. If you want to learn about leadership or time management, ask business people who some of the most respected authors in those areas are. If looking for understanding about development, ask some of the teachers in your congregation about seminars you might be able to attend. Apply what you learn there to your unique situation.
Read a classic once in a while: I have had The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning on my “to read” list for some time, and recently read some Bonhoeffer and Barth. Those are typically not easy reads, but they are worth the investment, as they deepen one’s thinking.
The benefits are great. Your growth professionally will be a benefit to you and the entire ministry team. Your personal growth will deepen your relationship with Christ.
So read some books. Use the continuing education dollars in your salary package. Spend some time surfing the web. Find some good local seminars and classes. The time and money will be well spent for both you and the people you serve.