In an article on the exponential growth of knowledge, David Russell Schilling wrote:
Buckminster Fuller created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve”; he noticed that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today things are not as simple as different types of knowledge have different rates of growth. For example, nanotechnology knowledge is doubling every two years and clinical knowledge every 18 months. But on average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. According to IBM, the build out of the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.
Of course, all knowledge is not of equal value. There are some things that we can live without knowing but there is other information that can be invaluable to us. How do we do about acquiring it?
As you begin a new year, how will you go about acquiring the knowledge that will make you a better minister, leader, or person? I am not talking just about emerging knowledge, but information that has been available for years but that you may not have accessed. Most of us realize that in order to be effective in whatever we undertake, we must be lifelong learners. What’s your plan?
Let me suggest several things you might consider.
First, what are you reading? Whether your preference is a paper book or an e-reader, what’s on your list of books for the year? You may choose to read for personal improvement, vocational competence, or enjoyment. If you have an interest in a particular area but don’t know where to begin, ask a friend with a background in that area what he or she is reading. I am sure that a former teacher or professor would be glad to share a list of both classic and contemporary offerings with you.
Second, what conferences are scheduled this year that might not only broaden your knowledge but your network as well? Denominations, parachurch groups, educational institutions, and not-for-profit organizations offer both national and regional meetings throughout the year. Some of these can be expensive, so you have to be selective. Seminaries and local universities may have one day or evening events that require little or no travel and offer quality information and speakers. Don’t be afraid to get outside of your “bubble” and interact with a new group of people.
Third, have you checked out online learning? Several sites offer MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that are free. Classes are usually a few weeks in duration and developed by outstanding educators at well-know universities. If you want to get a certificate (and additional motivation to complete the course), you can pay a small fee for that privilege. I have dabbled in several of these courses, but I actually received a certificate for a course from Coursera this fall. You might take a look at their listing.
Four, are you part of a peer group or learning community? Many denominations have instituted formal peer group programs, seeking to bring together ministers in a geographical area for discussion and support. Some of these are lectionary groups to help improve the members’ preaching, others are oriented around personal growth or congregation health, and some are just an opportunity to vent with the guidance of trained facilitator. Interdenominational groups can be especially interesting. Check with your denomination or a local pastoral counseling center to see what’s available in your area. If there is nothing local, contact me about a virtual peer group.
Five, have you considered “going back to school” and pursuing a degree? Actually, online and distance learning programs offered by seminaries don’t necessarily require you to go anywhere. If you want to really broaden your experience, you might consider pursuing a degree or certificate from a local college or university. One minister I know completed a certificate program in electrical contracting so that he could use his time with Habitat for Humanity more effectively. Another chose to enter a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy to enhance her counseling skills and provide an additional income stream. If you have been in ministry for awhile, you might also consider a Doctor of Ministry program that will refresh and renew your abilities for parish or denominational work.
Whatever your choice, consider how you can “sharpen your ax” this year for both personal and professional growth. The options are limitless.