“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press forward….” (Philippians 3:12)
Are we correct, servant of God, in assuming you see areas of your life needing growth?
You’re like the rest of us and still have a long way to go?
I have no snake oil remedies to sell, no self-improvement program for you, no quick fixes. Just some ideas that God has used in my own life, that might be helpful in yours.
One. Attend lectures.
Find out if anyone in your area–a college, the chamber of commerce–has a lecture series in which outstanding personalities speak on various subjects, and buy a season pass. You’ll not be able to attend every session, nor will you want to, I predict, but you’ll end up hearing some fascinating people and have your mind stretched in unexpected ways.
That’s how I heard Charles Osgood, Bill Buckley, and Diane Sawyer. It’s how I heard Alex Haley, author of “Roots,” talk-show host Sally Jessie Raphael, and San Antonio mayor and later Secretary of HUD Henry Cisneros. In college, I heard Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith and New York Times prize-winning columnist James ‘Scotty’ Reston.
Dr. Haley’s lecture was almost snowed out. The night before Charlotte, NC had 12 inches of snow, practically shutting down the city. I lived 3 miles from downtown, but knew this celebrated speaker was already in town and so managed to drive to the auditorium that morning. There might have been fifty of us in a place that seated 500. It was so well worth the effort, and made all the more memorable by the coziness of the occasion.
Two. Attend meetings of other denominations.
Yours is not the only Christ-loving God-honoring group of churches, you know. And from time to time, they’ll be meeting in your area. So, inquire about their program and who among their speakers would be “worth hearing”–please forgive that expression–and drop in. They’ll be glad to welcome you. And if their procedures are like ours, you’ll not have to identify yourself. Just walk in and worship with them and then take notes on the speakers. (Or better, after you return to your office, take 30 minutes and write notes on what you observed and heard and felt.)
Three. Read outside your comfort zone.
Ask people you meet, “What have you read lately that has affected your thinking?” Browse your library. In the periodical section, read the New York Review of Books once in a while to see what’s new.
Four. Invite important preachers to your church and try to spend some time with them. (This would include key denominational leaders, influential pastors, authors of dynamic books, etc)
It’s good to have powerful men/women of God address your congregation, but just as vital for you to spend an hour with them picking their brains, asking your questions, finding out why they are the way they are. In inviting them, emphasize that the invitation has two parts: to address your people and to give you an hour.
Suggestions: Do not fawn over them. Just be respectful and take notes. (In this case, they will not mind at all if you have a note pad and occasionally write something down.) Have four or five standard questions you ask every such guest. Such as:
–“Tell me about your parents. Were they special?”
–“What important principle have you learned about leadership?”
–“Tell me about a great failure that God used in your life.”
Five. Learn Greek or Hebrew.
It’s fascinating to read Holy Scripture in the original languages. Each has treasures to enlighten your mind and build up your faith.
Of course, learning a new language of any kind will broaden your mind.
Six. Travel to foreign countries. And while there, pay attention.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, we were told that the Roman General Titus cut down the original olive trees, but left the stumps. And that the present olive trees are the offspring, so to speak, of those under which our Lord prayed. In England’s Canterbury Cathedral, we could still see the blood stains in the rock from the murder of Thomas a Beckett. I came home and re-read that history. Our youth choir sang in a British church built in the 1100s. In Singapore, I was thrilled to see the historic Raffles Hotel where every major player of the previous century had stayed. At Naples, we toured the amazing ruins of Pompeii and stood in awe of Vesuvius. I’ll never be the same.
Seven. Surround yourself with bright people and learn from them.
To do this, you’ll have to learn two difficult skills: To be quiet and listen. And to ask the right questions. (I suggest you interview someone who interviews important people to find the key questions to ask.)
Eight. Learn what the other denominations in your area are doing, and occasionally audit their big events.
In Cincinnati on one occasion, I read in the newspaper that that very evening in a downtown convention center, a Church of Christ minister was to debate the notorious atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. I went, and will never forget a hundred things about it.
Nine. Some cities have huge used bookstores. Give yourself permission to spend half a day there. It’s not remotely like going online and surfing the net. You’re picking up books handled by people half a century or more ago. You’ll read notes in the margin, sometimes find news clippings from decades earlier. You’ll find books to enlighten you that you never knew existed, and thus would never have searched for.
In Cincinnati many years ago, I was thrilled to discover they had a used bookstore of several stories called “Miles of Books.” Ask around. I hear that Nashville has some great ones.
Ten. Ask the truly great people in your life, “What would you suggest I do in order to grow mentally and spiritually?” Take notes.
Don’t be fooled when people flatter you with “Why, you’re already a mental giant” or “Why would you ask that, when you’re already so smart?” In fact, don’t respond to it at all. Just smile and continue talking (or listening. or asking).
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).