5 Practices of a "Learn-it-all"

Are you a "know-it-all" or a "learn-it-all"?

I think there is something in the Kiwi DNA that pulls us toward the know-it-all end of the scale. We are still in some sense a nation of do-it-yourselfers, a holdover from the pioneer days when doing it yourself was a necessity and people would proudly label themselves a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.

This mindset can easily transfer over into ministry and manifests itself in subtle thoughts patterns that say "I can figure this out myself" or "I don't need anyone else to tell me what to do." In fact, seeking the help of others is somehow seen as weakness where in actual fact the opposite is true.

One of the qualities I look for in a potential leader is teachability. A teachable person has the strength of character to acknowledge their need and to humbly seek help.

It's hard to lead a know-it-all, but when we have a team of learn-it-all's not only is our role so much easier but the team functions all the more effectively.

But enough about our teams. Let's look at ourselves. What attitude do you model for your team? Are you a know-it-all or a learn-it-all? To help you decide, here are five practices of a learn-it-all. How many of them characterise your leadership?

1. A learn-it-all relies on God

In my first couple of years as a youth pastor I often prayed the prayer of Solomon: "Lord give me wisdom!" I was all too aware of my inadequacies and knew how much I needed God's help. However, the more experienced I became, the more I faced the temptation of thinking that I always "knew" without God's help. Since then I've had to learn and keep reminding myself how much I depend on God's direction and wisdom. I consciously try to always keep myself in that place of dependent inadequacy that says, "God I can't do this but I believe you can do it through me."

2. The learn-it-all submits to their team

One of the dangers we face when we lead a team is to use our position to push through our own ideas. Allowing our teams to make decisions, and especially decisions we're not sure we agree with takes humility but it also takes faith. When I submit to the wisdom of my team I acknowledge the truth of the concept that the church is a body made up of different parts and that Christ is the Head who directs the body through the gifts and perspectives of each team member. The implication of this is that I won't always be right!

3. The learn-it-all seeks advice

A huge amount of effort and pain can be avoided in ministry when we avail ourselves of the wisdom of others. In your church you'll have elders with many more years of experience in ministry than you. Get to know them and even ask one of them to be your personal mentor. Or seek coaching. Avail yourself of the coaching that we offer through CCCNZ or find an experienced youth pastor nearby whom you can meet with regularly and seek their advice. Another option might be to establish a support group or cohort of other youth leaders or youth pastors whom you meet with regularly to share insights and ask questions.

4. A learn-it-all is a lifetime learner

The day you lose your desire to learn more about youth ministry is the day to consider stepping down! As part of their annual review, the last church I worked for required staff to submit a list of books they'd read in the past year and podcasts they were regularly listening to. There was an expectation that seeking such input was part of our paid hours of work - not something we did in our spare time. They did this because they knew that effective leaders prioritise learning.

5. A learn-it-all reflects and reviews

One of the most valuable skills you'll develop in leadership is the ability to constructively critique yourself. How was my message last week? How did my small group go? Did I effectively show pastoral care to that young person? These are questions we need to constantly ask and reflect on so that we might improve. Better still, find other people who will review your performance and ask team members how they think your programmes are going. Their opinions and insights may be humbling, but often being humbled is their very think we need to keep us in that place of being a learn-it-all.