Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Being a Lifelong Learner

Good concepts can quickly become clichés. One of those concepts is “lifelong learning.” When I first heard the term it sounded fresh and challenging. Now, when I talk to someone about being a lifelong learner, I realize that it is more commonly articulated than practiced.

So what does it take to be a lifelong learner? Here are some ideas; you may have your own.

First, a lifelong learner reads. This means not just reading in the area of your professional expertise, but reading broadly--delving into other areas that may even be a bit unfamiliar to you. Reading should include the news whether you access it in the newspaper, a newsmagazine, or online. Fiction and nonfiction should also be on the agenda.

Second, a lifelong learner attends seminars or conferences to learn from others. I think we can add webinars and teleconferences to this list now. The real lifelong learner then does something with what he or she has learned by coming up with at least one action plan based on the experience; only then does it really become learning. (I think it is also helpful if a colleague, friend, or fellow church member can attend with you to help to process information and to plan together for implementation.)

Third, a lifelong learner takes formal academic classes. Being in the classroom with other learners has always been a growth experience for me. This may also take place in online classes, but I have not experienced that yet, so I will pass on whether that is as helpful. Some Doctor of Ministry programs are a good investment of a minister’s time, but I suggest that a degree program be selected with care. Too many are more concerned with “jumping through academic hoops” than with practical ministry application.

Fourth, a lifelong learner knows how to ask good questions in order to learn from others. When I asked a friend what he would do if he could receive a sabbatical leave from his church, he said that he would spend part of the time visiting other ministers and their churches and discovering their best practices; in other words, learning from them.

Fifth, a lifelong learner is part of a peer group. It may meet weekly, monthly or even annually, but the opportunity to talk, fellowship, and play with colleagues is a great learning (and support) experience.

Sixth, a lifelong learner travels. Traveling helps us to learn how other people live, work, and worship. You don’t have to go to Europe or Asia to have a cross-cultural experience. Those are available much closer to home.

Seventh, a lifelong learner creates. Everyone has a bit of creativity within them and exercising that creativity—writing, painting, photography, music-- can give a fresh perspective to one’s life.

Finally, a lifelong learner makes good lists and then attempts to practice what he or she preaches!

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