Harnessing the Power of Experience
by Lyla Curtis
“Life is a classroom. Only those who are willing to be lifelong learners will move to the head of the class.” Zig Ziglar’s words continue to ring true. No matter what your age, gender, or learning style, we can all agree that learning and growing is an indicator of life, while refusing to learn and grow leads to stagnation and decay. This is certainly true for those of us involved in Christian ministry. If we’re not intentional about personal growth, we may become complacent under the weight of ministry responsibilities. Because we’ve “been around,” it’s easy to lean on past experiences. Yet, learning and growing is an essential ingredient for healthy ministry.
There are many ways to learn. Today, there are more books, articles, and blogs than you can count; everything from how to get volunteers for preschool to the best way to exegete a Bible passage. If you love YouTube, you can discover “10 Ways to Raise Church Offerings” or “Diaper Changing Procedures for the Church.” (Yes, really!) Depending on your specific ministry role, you can even spend years gaining as many seminary degrees as you can afford. Clearly, our problem is not a lack of resources.
Similarly, our problem is not a lack of life experiences. If you’ve ever taught a Bible study or led a small group, you know how much preparation it takes. Yet, you don’t really understand how labor intensive it is until you experience it. Similarly, neither books nor seminary degrees can adequately prepare you for dealing with a furious parent in a church hallway on Sunday morning or for a church business meeting where it all hits the fan. Experience can be a stinging reminder that there’s much more to be learned. Perhaps that’s why Julius Caesar observed, “Experience is the teacher of all things.”
Menander, the Greek poet, agreed. He said, “The school of hard knocks is an accelerated curriculum.” Since that is the case, why would anyone choose to enroll in that school? I say “choose,” because many of our “hard knock” experiences arise from our own poor decisions; decisions we often made without the benefit of research, guidance, or counsel. What we learn in this school is painfully effective. However, when we do this we tend to learn what NOT to do…ever again.
I would like to suggest a better way to become effective, lifelong learners who are intentionally growing. The voice of experience can be a powerful resource in your pursuit of growth. This voice comes from someone who knows what they are talking about, because they have experienced it themselves. Andy Andrews puts it this way, “Experience is not the best teacher. Other people’s experience is the best teacher.” Who better to instruct you on the challenges of church planting than one who has planted a church? Who better to guide you to the best tools for women’s ministry than one who is leading a healthy women’s ministry? Who better to help you through the highs and lows of serving in church ministry than one who has years of ministry service? You get the picture.
The voice of experience should be an essential “go to” in your process of learning and growing–this is my challenge to you. While degrees, books, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, personal experience, and even personal mistakes can be effective “teachers,” please don’t neglect one of the most powerful resources available to you—a voice of experience. Choose to learn from authors, bloggers, and speakers who are farther along the journey than you. These folks don’t have to be high-profile individuals, either. Much can be learned from other people who serve in ministries that parallel your own in size and scope. I bet there are voices of experience all around you who would love to share their own experiences with you. You won’t know unless you ask, however. A significant conversation with a real-life ministry partner can be far more personal and powerful than any podcast or book.
Oh, and just for good measure, listening to a voice of experience and learning from a personal example is a solid, biblical concept. Check out a few verses that encourage us to imitate the lives of godly examples around us:Jn 13:15; 1 Cor 4:16-17; 1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17; 4:9; 1 Thess 1:6-7; 2 Thess 3:7, 9; 2 Tim 1:13; 4:12; 2 Tim 3:10; Heb 13:7; 1 Pet 2:21; 2 Pet 1:12-15.
Seeking out a voice of experience and imitating godly examples in ministry can be super encouraging. When we hear their experiences and watch their example, it reminds us that God doesn’t need superstars to accomplish His purposes in the world; He still delights in using ordinary, redeemed sinners who are willing and teachable vessels.
Lyla Curtis is the women’s ministry director at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Darlington, SC. She and her husband, Bill, have been involved in three church plants throughout their ministry and now assist other church planting couples. As a pastor’s wife she is passionate about encouraging women in Bible study and personal discipleship. She is also the author of 30 Days to Ruth and Esther: Portraits of Providence, a devotional commentary.