Are you a lifelong learner?

Definition: Lifelong learning is the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.

What Does it Mean to Be a Lifelong Learner: The book, ‘The three boxes of Life’ throws away the idea of learning, working and leisure as the three developmental phases that we all experience. Instead of graduating high school, getting a university degree and moving on to a lifetime of work before retiring, we are to learn, work and enjoy leisure in an ongoing way, not consecutively but simultaneously. The concept of being a learner has shifted to learn, do, unlearn — learn, do, rest — learn, do, unlearn — repeat. This is the cycle of a lifelong learner. It involves not only studying new topics but also developing an open-minded, positive attitude about the dynamic nature of the world. Personal development needs to continue alongside our ministry and leadership development.

There have been several occasions in my life where I have been challenged to move into a more in-depth time of study.  In high school there was an expectation of me to attend university.  I simply saw it as the next step in my education and attended Brunel University in the south of England, to study Industrial Chemistry. This decision emerged from the fact that chemistry had been my best subject at school which was understandable as I had taken a job there, working in the chemistry lab preparing classes with materials needed by the teacher. It was paid work that required time before and after school to keep the lab organised. This focused my attention on chemistry so the decision to take it further seemed obvious. After my degree, I had the feeling of not wanting to look at another book for a very long time!

Some sixteen years later I was challenged to develop my education with the addition of a master’s degree in the topic that had become my passion – leadership development. I entered the programme with some trepidation but soon began to love the interaction and process of learning once more. It was an extension course for four years and yes, there were parts that were tedious, but the overall impact was very positive.

As I emerged from the season of study, I began to realise I enjoyed learning and that I should take every opportunity of adding to my knowledge through courses, books, articles and all kinds of personal study. These leadership letters I have written every month over the last twelve years are one result of my desire to keep learning and taking the opportunity of writing down my thoughts to pass them on.

In every field of study, professors are continually writing papers, discovering new insights and growing in understanding of their subject. This is a challenge for us all to keep learning and growing.

The question comes to my mind regarding our faith – are we continually learning and growing in this important area of our lives? I grew up in a Brethren church in London and, by the time I turned eighteen, had a very clear understanding of my theology – a systematic theology that I had been taught through the church culture. Attending church activities four times on a Sunday plus several occasions during the week, ensured that I was steeped in Calvinistic theology and more particularly in the study of my Scofield bible. (a study bible with teaching notes – every good Brethren would carry one with them.)

It’s amazing how hard it is to change a set of beliefs when they have been established in our hearts. In fact, I was encouraged not to dialogue with people of a different understanding – especially at a bible school! I was told I would lose my faith if I went to one. At the time, the charismatic movement was on the rise and being a good brethren, I would argue theology with those who shared their belief of being ‘baptised in the Spirit!’

I have just read a book on the four views of hell – nice light reading for a Sunday afternoon! I found it fascinating to study the arguments put forward by the four writers, all using scripture as a basis for their beliefs. Each of the scholars was highly intelligent and all made a good case for what they believed and why they believed it. Some of you are saying – what are those four views? OK in brief – the traditional view of eternal conscious torment, annihilation, universalism and purgatory.

Why do I share this with you? Well, if this particular book had been shown to me years ago, I wouldn’t have even given it the time of day. Why, because my ideas were fixed, and no one was going to change my mind. I was not open to dialogue around any issue of what I believed or reading another’s approach and, if I did, I would throw it out immediately as not being the ‘truth.’ How insecure we can become when some of our beliefs are challenged.

I was taught that Orthodox and Catholic churches had wrong theology and were on their way to hell and so was not encouraged to read a book written by a Catholic; in fact, it never came to mind to do so. To my shame, I have only been aware of the incredible resources and library of books available from these traditions over the last fifteen years. How closed-minded and prejudiced we can be. Consider the many conspiracy theorists today who only read information that backs their view and of course, google helps underline those views by suggesting links to videos and articles of the same viewpoint.

During the pandemic, we have seen churches, families and friends split over their views on vaccinations. Verbal bombs are thrown at one another, and the opposing view is written off, often with emotion and anger. No real dialogue takes place, and we end up labelling people and putting them in boxes. We need to grow up and allow people to have their own opinions and decisions while dialoguing peacefully about the implications of holding those beliefs.

My appeal in this letter is to encourage us to be open to dialogue around our beliefs. Let’s try not to become defensive against the arguments, but weigh them before the Lord and be ready to gain new insights and understanding as we take on board a fresh teachability.

The spiritual climate is changing. For many years after the reformation, everything prior to it was written off as being an old system. Yet the protestant church is recognising in a fresh way the valuable learning that comes from the study of the old saints and orders. The Lectio Divina for example is a now well-known spiritual meditation exercise of Ignatius dating back to 1540 with the emergence of the Jesuits. The Benedict rule was written in 516, involving carefully integrated prayer, manual labour and study that has been placed into a well-rounded daily routine, shaping Christianity for nearly 1,500 years. It has received more attention and been adapted to the present day for us all to appreciate.

There are so many topics connected to our faith, theology, way of life and culture that require time and attention for a fresh look. How important it is to think through what we believe and why we believe it, how we behave, the priorities we live out, establishing new perspectives on current issues of the day and on it goes….

Let’s maintain a learning posture with an open mind for God to bring new revelation to our minds and hearts every day.

A national engineering blog, based in Ontario, came up with the following
Ten Characteristics of a Lifelong Learner. They:

  1. Read – a lot. Reading helps us gain a better understanding of different topics, ideas, perspectives, and people. Reading can transform how we see the world. 
  2. Take courses. Lifelong learners believe there is always something new to learn. For example, Conestoga College offers many continuing education programs to help people enhance their skill sets.
  3. Seek new opportunities. Lifelong learners say ‘yes’ to things that push them out of their comfort zones because they know these experiences often lead to great learning opportunities. 
  4. Embrace change. Change is hard, yet lifelong learners know that change is a part of life, often leading to personal and professional growth.
  5. Are curious. Lifelong learners desire to understand different people, places, and cultures. They want to understand how our world works. 
  6. Are open to new perspectives. Lifelong learners know there is more than one way to see the world and when different perspectives collide, innovative solutions can be found.
  7. Set goals. They know what they want out of life and are focused on achieving what they set out to do. 
  8. Enjoy the journey. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Lifelong learners know that progress takes time, so they celebrate the small wins that eventually lead to big successes. 
  9. Don’t give up. Instead of throwing in the towel when things get hard, lifelong learners persevere. They work hard, asking for help when they need it. 
  10. Believe it’s never too late. Lifelong learners know that an old dog can learn new tricks if that dog is so inclined. Age is not a factor in picking up a new skill or hobby.

Until next month,


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