CHAPTER 2: A LEADER IS A LIFE-LONG LEARNER
As I write this paragraph, my mother passed away exactly a month ago on the last day of February 2019. One of her indelible legacies to me was love for learning. I grew up with all types of reading materials at home. Even with their limited income, she bought books and subscribed to the Reader’s Digest since the 1960s. As a result, I grew up a voracious reader too. One of my fears when growing up was being left in a room with nothing to read! Little did I know that such a desire to learn new things will serve me well when I occupied various leadership positions.
It is vital to know that leadership ability is not static. Just like any skill in life, one can grow in his ability to lead others. The leader’s knowledge, in turn, will determine how effective he will be. John Maxwell states, “Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the leadership, the greater the effectiveness”.
Why Should A Leader Keep Learning?
A leader must be a life-long learner because of several reasons. In general, because the heart of leading is knowing the way. A leader’s task is to help people navigate the highways of life. It will have been much simpler if the road is clear, just like our expressways. But the reality is that the path of life is never well-defined. Instead of a highway, it’s more like a narrow trail in the forest. The desired destination may be clear, but the specific path of getting there may not be straightforward. As if that was not enough, the pathways keep changing as external conditions change. Thus, a leader must never stop learning so she can lead the people to their destination.
There are also specific reasons why continuous learning is a must. First, the only way to grow is to learn. A leader who has ceased to grow is headed for mediocrity and, most likely, failure. The Bible reminds us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Personal growth is typically accompanied by knowing more of who God is and how He works in our lives and the world in general. In not a few cases, those who are too lazy to advance in knowledge also coast along in their Christian lives. To a pastor, growth is essential if he is to last for many years in one church. Perhaps one reason why a pastor’s typical stay in one church is only a few years is that he stops growing. As a result, his logos becomes lifeless and predictable.
In the office, it is widely recognized that the upwardly mobile staff and effective leaders are thirsty for knowledge. Those who ceased learning end up coasting along, and their careers have plateaued. This is especially true today when information is so readily available. Everyone has the same access to what is on the internet. To have an edge, a leader has to know more, not in terms of quantity necessarily, but in better ways of harnessing knowledge for the good of the organization.
In the home, even a full-time mother must grow in knowledge. My wife Haydee has been a full-time homemaker all her life. She raised three kids to adulthood (and one husband!). Along the way, she earned a master’s degree and a doctorate. People are sometimes confused about why she took advanced degrees and yet did not work in the office at all. However, they do not realize that part of her success as a wife and mother is because she keeps on learning. She can better interact with our children and me because she is aware of what it means to be in academia where we all work. My point is not that we all need PhDs! Only that we need to grow in knowledge wherever God called us to minister and work.
Second, the world around us and the challenges it brings are changing at a dizzying pace. With the advent of everywhere internet, access to information has never been easier, and it is only bound to increase. While this development can be a blessing, it also generates its problems. For example, internet pornography is a silent pandemic afflicting even professing Christians. A leader has to deal with a plethora of issues arising from people who are exposed to more varied sources of stress and temptations. As a result, she must keep pace by being a voracious consumer of new information.
In sum, a leader who stops learning also stops being a leader. There may be some lag time before the cessation of education catches up with outward reality, but it will be inevitable.
What Should A Leader Learn?
As already underscored in the previous chapter, the ultimate authority of the Christian leader is the Bible, and there is no substitute for this. Let me reiterate that. Nothing can replace a thorough understanding of the Bible. Of all the books in the world, a leader should be reading and studying it the most.
However, this is not to say that a leader should only read one book. Many of the Biblical authors themselves show great familiarity with the literature of their day. A case in point is the apostle Paul, who quoted existing literary and oral material in some of his epistles. For instance, the famous Christ’s hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 is believed to have been circulating widely in the time of Paul. In his sermons in the book of Acts, Paul also exhibited his vast knowledge of Greek philosophers and writers. James, in the letter that bears his name, also alludes to numerous sayings and proverbs from Jewish and Greek writings.
What kind of knowledge should a leader thirst for? First, you should seek to know more about leading and leadership. There are tons of reference books and materials dealing with this topic. One of the books that proved helpful to me as a young Christian was Christian Leadership by Oswald Sanders, which has been revised and expanded in the current edition. A recently published book that I found helpful is Al Mohler’s Convictional Leadership. Books by John Maxwell were also beneficial for me. There are many more out there dealing with how to be a better Christian leader, and I encourage you to get hold of as much of them as you could. Just like any discipline, you can always improve your leadership ability by learning from past and current leaders.
Second, a leader should take advantage of formal and non-formal education as the Lord provides opportunities. It is never too late to study. In my case, I was able to fulfill my dream of studying in a seminary by taking online courses and finishing my master’s in theological studies last month (at the ripe old age of 58 years!). There are many non-formal courses available online, and some are even free of charge. Some churches are also offering modular courses or sponsoring conferences which are suitable venues for learning and networking.
As a young instructor at the University of the Philippines, I resolved to finish my doctoral degree by the age of 30. There were many obstacles that I encountered along the way, chief among them was lack of funds as I was already raising a family at that time. But I was able to attain my target by God’s grace. Looking back, I am thankful that I did that because the Lord used it to open many doors for me. Today, I always counsel young graduates to prioritize education over money as they start their careers. Government agencies and private organizations offer plenty of opportunities to further one’s knowledge, whether formal or non-formal.
Third, it will be beneficial for the Christian leader to have a deeper understanding of Christianity in general. For instance, I find that readings on church history could be utterly illuminating. Current trends in society and religion can be better understood in the light of the arc of history. For example, the prevailing belief that science trumps religion started in the Enlightenment when European philosophers began to challenge the veracity of Biblical accounts. Moreover, reading Christian biographies is good for the leader as he can be inspired by how God used imperfect persons like him. Besides, he can learn quite a few things about how the saints of the past correctly (or incorrectly) handled specific issues. Comparing the leadership styles of Martin Luther and John Calvin, for example, shows that God can use vastly contrasting personalities to lead His people.
Fourth, a Christian leader must seek to gain a general knowledge of the world she lives in. The reason is that people do not live in a vacuum. They interact with the world around them, affecting it, and being affected by it. The leader’s reading and study must cover current events, social trends, and technological advancement. Being abreast of politics is not bad, but one must not overdo it. For example, some pastors become so engrossed in politics so that they become too partisan, alienating not a few church members. This is not to say that a Christian must not have political views. What I am warning about is being too vocal of our political views which may be misinterpreted as imposing our political leanings on others.
Fifth, and related to above, for a ministry leader, in-depth knowledge of religious developments and cults is of great value. Part of a leader’s message is to warn his brethren of the wiles of the enemy. He must always be scanning the horizon for potential minefields. He aims to lead the people “beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2). Paul reminded Timothy that a pastor “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
Lastly, a leader should seek to be a better communicator. This topic will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter, so I will skip it here.
A leader’s logos will be as fresh and timely as his well of knowledge. While knowing more things does not guarantee success, it is an indispensable prerequisite to it.
1. Does a thirst for new knowledge characterize your life?
2. Do your reading and study cover a wide variety of subject matter?
3. Do you invest
 John C. Maxwell, 2002, Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs To Know, Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, p11.