4 Ways to Be a Lifelong Learner in Your Ministry

The call to ministry is the call to prepare — and preparation is an ongoing process. You will never learn all there is to be learned about any subject; you’ll never reach the pinnacle point in any area. And who would want to? It’s the continual reaching that grows you, equipping you to live and minister at an ever-increasing level. Part of being an effective pastor and a more fulfilled person is deciding to be a lifelong learner.

One common mistake pastors make is to focus too much attention on growing their churches, while failing to prepare themselves personally for leading at a higher level. Personal growth always precedes healthy church growth. If the church’s growth begins to outpace the pastor’s personal growth, cracks become evident pretty quickly. Given this reality, creating a personal growth plan is key to fulfilling your calling. Take a look at these six primary ways God grows you:

  1. God grows you as you study Scripture.
  2. God grows you as you seek Him in prayer.
  3. God grows you through the internal witness of the Holy Spirit.
  4. God grows you through the books you read.
  5. God grows you through the people you meet.
  6. God grows you through the circumstances you face.

You can’t always control the circumstances you face. You can’t control what God wants to do in you through the Holy Spirit. But you can control how you cooperate with Him by reading His Word, spending time with Him in prayer, and seeking out knowledge through books and other resources. You can put yourself around other passionate leaders who are committed to God’s purpose. In short, you can develop a growth plan that will continually move you toward being the person you need to be to fulfill your calling.

A good personal growth plan is anchored by four cornerstones: the books you read, the audio teaching you listen to, the seminars and conferences to attend, and the coaching to which you submit yourself.

An English playwright Joseph Anderson once said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Without reading, your growth atrophies. Books have the ability to expand you and your ministry in unique ways. Whether you currently consider yourself an avid reader or not, you can develop this all-important skill. I will confess that for the first 17 years of my life, I probably didn’t read a single book from start to finish. Cliff Notes got me through school. When I went into ministry, though, I knew that my becoming a reader was critical for both my own growth and my church’s health. Understanding the truth behind the old adage that leaders are readers, I prayed for God to make me into a reader. I am happy to say that He answered my prayer. I now read about five books every week.

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While there’s a place for reading novels and other leisure material, the reading habit I encourage you to develop as part of your personal growth plan focuses on books that can serve as a catalyst to fulfilling your calling. Developing a system will help you become a more effective reader and keep you focused on material that matters. I suggest balancing your reading around five types of books:

The Bible
The centerpiece of your reading plan should be the Bible. Some years you will want to read straight through from Genesis to Revelation, while other years you will go more slowly, concentrating on certain books and passages. The Scripture itself doesn’t change, but the application to your life can change with every reading (see Heb. 4:12). Spend personal time in the Bible every day. Let it saturate your being.

Best Practice Books
Next, focus on best practice books. Best practice books are tools to help you develop personally and grow your church. This book could be considered a best practice book, as could any of my books on creating healthy church systems. (See www.RenegadePastorBook.com for an expanded bibliography of each of my books.) Business books like Jim Collins’s Good to Great or Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive also fall into the best practices category. Focus on books you can read relatively quickly and that have good application points for where you are. In addition to your regular Bible reading, I suggest reading one best practice book every month and then working the next three types of books around the edges of your reading plan.
History Books–Bibliography and Church History
A wise person once said, “Those who don’t understand the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.” To be an effective leader, you need to have a grasp on history–especially the history of the church. After all, you are part of that history in the making. Start learning all you can about early church history and work your way through modern times. In addition, I suggest picking up biographies of great historical leaders, from both within and outside the church. You can glean a lot of insight from their stories of struggle and triumph. Obviously, these are books you will read a little more slowly. To get started, try putting one history book on your reading list every year.
Theology Books
You may have done a lot of theological reading in seminary, but don’t let that be an excuse not to take your study to the next level. Now that you are a practitioner, you have a different mindset than you did in seminary. Choose to spend time becoming ever more familiar with Christian theology, systemic theology, concise theology, and the like. To keep growing as a pastor, you need to be going continually deeper in your theological understanding.
Philosophy Books–Christian and Western
A basic understanding of both Christian and Western philosophy can be extremely beneficial. Books about the Western intellectual tradition will give you insight into how our society came to operate by its current mindset. Exploring the driving forces of culture can go a long way toward helping you influence it.One more suggestion as you develop your personal reading plan: Never waste time reading a bad book. Your time is too precious and there are too many good books out there. If you get partway through a book and it’s just not speaking to you, you don’t have to finish it. It’s okay to trash it and move on to something better.
When your hands are busy but your mind is free, audio resources are a great way to keep learning and growing. From audio books to packaged teaching by leaders you respect to various nuts and bolts podcasts, your iPod can become an effective educational tool. Keep pouring the good stuff in.
If you’ve been a pastor for very long, you know there’s no shortage of conferences vying for your attendance. Be selective in deciding which ones you want to take advantage of. Several of the big, flashy conferences that get a lot of attention tend to give you more inspiration than practical application. I actually stopped going to a few of those because I wasn’t walking away with enough action steps. After a couple of days, the high of the weekend would be gone, and nothing in my ministry would be changing. Be a wise steward of your time and money. Focus on conferences and seminars that help both you and your church advance toward the purposes God has for you.
And our next big pastor event is coming up July 27-29: My all new 2021 Virtual Church Systems Check-up and Boot Camp! Learn more and sign up now at the lowest rates:
Fulfilling your calling inherently means rising to the highest level of potential God has put in you. In order to reach your potential, you need a coach. Why shouldn’t you? The greatest business leaders, entertainers, and athletes the world has ever known have had coaches to guide them to the top of their game. Bill Gates has written about the power of coaching. Meryl Streep still works with an acting coach. Michael Jordan had a personal coach every year he played basketball. Even at the pinnacle of success, he knew he still needed someone training him, helping him and directing him to even higher levels of the potential within him. So do you.
As part of your personal growth plan, I strongly encourage you to submit yourself to coaching. Nothing can better equip you for the mission you’ve been called to. But be thoughtful in your choice. While there are a lot of people out there offering coaching for church leaders, not all coaches can give you applicable tools to meet you where your church is today and help you move it toward the future God has in store. Be careful of coaches who don’t have a proven track record of success. Also be wary of those who are not practitioners themselves, or who have been out of the ministry for a while. When it comes to coaching, relevance is paramount. Knowing what worked last week, last month or last year isn’t nearly as important as knowing what’s going to work next week, next month and next year.
My life’s greatest passion is coaching leaders like you who are committed to partnering with God to unleash the full redemptive potential of their churches. If you’d like to find out more about the coaching I offer, visit www.ChurchLeaderInsights.com/coaching. I would be honored to work with you.
– Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Henson
The above excerpt is from pgs. 76-82 of The Renegade Pastor: Abandoning Average in Your Life and Ministry.
Drawing from Nelson Searcy’s decades of ministry experience, The Renegade Pastor is a relevant, step-by-step resource for church leaders who are ready to step up in surrender to the pursuit of God’s best for his or her life and work.
P.S. – Click here to grab your copy from Amazon today!
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About Nelson Searcy

Nelson Searcy is an experienced church planter, coach and church growth strategist, working with churches in over 45 denominations. Nelson is also the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Journey Church, with locations across New York City and in San Francisco and Boca Raton, FL. He first developed the Assimilation System 10 years ago at the Journey Church and has since implemented and improved these strategies with over 3,000 churches across all sizes and denominations. He started coaching pastors in 2006 and has personally coached over 2100+ senior pastors, helping them break common growth barriers like 125, 250, 500, 1000 and beyond, all while maintaining personal life and ministry balance. As founder of Church Leader Insights and the Renegade Pastors Network, he has trained more than 50,000 church leaders (3,000+ church planters). He is the author of over 85 church growth resources and 17+ books, including Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests Into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church and The Renegade Pastor: Abandoning Average in Your Life and Ministry. His continued mission is to help church leaders around the world cooperate with God in creating healthy, thriving churches. Nelson is married to Kelley and together they have one son, Alexander.

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