Sunday, August 9, 2015

Longevity in Ministry - Dressed in Humility

"Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed -
right genes [to be a child of God], right diet [God's Word],
right exercise [involvement in ministry]
and right environment [a place in God's community - the Church].
The Apostle Paul set it as his goal to walk worthy and finish well. So should we!"

Yet what does the practical outworking of this look like in real life and ministry? How do expats working, ministering and seeking to be Christ’s  “…witnesses… [in] Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1.8, NASB) sustain long and productive careers?

Based off of a sermon by my home church pastor and some additional, subsequent study, I’ve identified priorities, seven of them, that when practiced, can help protect those in ministry, particularly cross-cultural ministry, from burnout and temptation. Even more than protect, these priorities can also give direction and hope as they help us remember that all is grace and a gift from God.

Those priorities are:
1.       Seeking the Lord, consistently and continually
2.       Praying without ceasing
3.       Balancing personal growth, rest and ministry
4.       Welcoming accountability
5.       Committing to marriage and family
6.       Choosing to be teachable, even in difficult circumstances; and
7.       Determining to be a genuine team player.

This post considers that sixth priority – choosing to be teachable, even under and in difficult circumstances.

What does it mean, then, to be teachable?

According to Your Dictionary, teachable can mean:  1) capable of being taught and apt to learn; 2) willing to receive instruction or to learn and/or docile; and 3) that which facilitates instruction. But, teachability involves much more than “smarts” and just being a good student in a traditional academic or teaching situation….

…which reminds me of an African proverb:
“If your only tool is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail.”

Because teachability, in fact, has a lot less to do with academic ability… and has a lot more to do with willingness-to-learn-ability, regardless of the situation, regardless of any personal cost to pride and regardless of thoughts of fairness/rightness. Perhaps it has a lot more to do with character… and very little at all to do with ability.

Perhaps it is easier to define teachability by considering what unteachableness looks like.
  1. Someone who is unteachable is someone who is dogmatic and doctrinaire.
  2. Someone who is unteachable is repeatedly reactionary and has difficulty submitting to authority with whom they disagree.
  3.  Someone who is unteachable feels threatened and defensive when personal beliefs, ideas and/or knowledge are called into question.
  4. Someone who is unteachable finds it difficult, if not impossible, to process new and/or contradictory information regarding his/her own “doctrines” without first polluting those new ideas by his/her own personal perceptions and preconceptions.
  5. Someone who is unteachable struggles with insecurity.
  6. Someone who is unteachable resists change and transitions to any new idea and practices intimidate him/her.
  7. Someone who is unteachable cannot take criticism or correction without becoming indignant at the insult… or retaliating in some way.
  8. Someone who is unteachable is commonly dissentious and incendiary, choosing angry debate over honest and vulnerable communication.
  9. Someone who is unteachable might “overpower” others rather than engaging in genuine fellowship.
  10. Someone who is unteachable often blames anyone and everyone else for his/her own failures, rather than accepting responsibility.
  11. Someone who is unteachable often claims to love to learn and grow, but wants to figure it all out on his/her own terms and is confident of his/her ability to do so.
  12. Someone who is unteachable is, above all else, a proud and, and often subtly, arrogant person.

God’s Word has a lot to say about pride… and humility – but consider one of my favorite verses: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Consider what we just might look like if every day, we literally dressed ourselves in humility. When I taught this passage as a Bible study to the women in our African church, I wanted to help make the passage visual… and as a result… memorable. So I compared each one of those characteristics to an item of clothing the women would wear every single day. Humility was like the head scarf…  “Wearing a head covering says many things - that you are submissive to your husband, that you respect the office and positions of those around you, that you are concerned about the reputation of whom you serve, that you are modest, that you respect and appreciate the W. African culture... Spiritually, covering the head can be an outward sign of inward humility, or recognizing our position relative to both God and others.” And, as we see by all of the debate in the news over head coverings… this “sign” of humility is an immediate identifier.

I copied down(from somewhere – just wish I knew where) this definition of humility: “Not the derogation of self, but instead a reasonable attitude seeing and comprehending with a decent measure of clarity who and what we truly are.”

… which kinda reminds me of another African proverb:  
“One who bathes willingly with cold water doesn’t feel the cold.” 

Genuine humility, above all else, allows me to learn even hard lessons taught by difficult people without quite as much of a sting.

David Murray describes being teachable as “the most important life skill.” I tend to agree with him. But it goes beyond being just a life skill. For those of us who live, work and minister in cross-cultural contexts, it is key, not only to longevity, but also to abundant life, joy, fulfillment and impact in ministry. Ultimately, it is a recognition of God’s sovereign hand, His refusal to allow any waste in our lives and one way He fulfills His promise to cause all things to work together for good. A teachable spirit allows God to use any person, any situation… anything… to further make us like Him. Sometimes that means that we will need to learn wisdom via the mouth of a donkey.

So then, what can teachability look like?
  1. Someone who is teachable is someone who is willing to yield and be flexible – but without compromising truth.
  2. Someone who is teachable is willing to change views and practices when convincing evidence is presented, and to even admit s/he was wrong.
  3. Someone who is teachable recognizes his/her inability or ignorance or inadequacy and acquiesces others who will then be able to help or teach or otherwise come alongside.
  4. Someone who is teachable is inquisitive and desires to integrate legitimate new knowledge into practice and application.
  5. Someone who is teachable is secure in his/her worth and standing before God.
  6. Someone who is teachable will move out of his/her comfort zone to try something new, even if that means making a mistake and possibly looking stupid.
  7. Someone who is teachable is open - evaluating criticism or correction while appreciating another’s risk in being willing to help him/her grow by criticizing or correcting.
  8. Someone who is teachable listens, carefully and good-naturedly, because s/he longs to learn.
  9. Someone who is teachable gently encourages and welcomes the approach of others for the purpose of engaging in genuine fellowship.
  10. Someone who is teachable looks to discover his/her contribution to a problem or mistake and accepts responsibility, regardless of how it makes him/her look.
  11. Someone who is teachable desires to learn and grow, regularly pursuing others to ask for help, guidance and/or instruction as soon as (or sometimes even before) s/he recognizes the need.
  12. Someone who is teachable is, above all else, humble.

Do you see yourself in any of these characteristics, positive or negative?

Would you add anything?


Series: Longevity in Ministry

To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.

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