Teachable Spirit

In the movie Thor, the young, arrogant warrior disregards the wisdom of his father and the promptings of his closest friends. He recklessly charges ahead, picking fights and believing he knows best in all situations. Eventually, consequences happen, and he is banished from his home of Asgard and sent to Earth without the use of his powerful hammer. After a period of time, Thor finds himself at rock bottom and meekly acknowledges, “I have much to learn. I know that now.” It is only then that things begin to turn for Thor…

People with teachable spirits realize the value of humility and how little they actually know before consequences force them to act. They accept the fact they are not as smart, competent, or knowledgeable as they are tempted to believe. They are willing to seek out new insights, information, perspectives, and applications. They seek wisdom and are willing to wrestle with and entertain new ideas, new practices, and new processes. They are open to God’s Spirit and leading. They hold to their convictions with grace and humility. 

When a congregation is filled with such people, the soil is enriched…. But without members who have teachable spirits, a church becomes rigid, inflexible, and resistant to practical and spiritual insights that God may use to enhance their effectiveness. They will almost always gravitate to living in the past, choosing predictability over opening themselves up to the possibility that God may be doing a new thing. They tend to turn inward, closing themselves off from anything outside their own experience and comfort. And when a church is closed-off… it’s a turn-off. When the church is unteachable… it’s unreachable…

This takes us back to the premise of this book: dirt matters. Bad soil, the worst soil, is packed down, hardened, and unreceptive. Nothing grows. That’s what happens with an unteachable spirit….

In order to establish teachability in the life of the church, there are several things that can be done. Here are just a few:

Define Your Core Convictions – …I have found addressing the difference between essentials and non-essentials in doctrine helps, as does illustrating and pointing out the difference between truth and traditions when it comes to methodology. Essentials and truth are constant; they will not be compromised. But non-essentials and traditions can and should be evaluated. By highlighting the items that will remain fixed, people often can relax and take on a less guarded posture with secondary items….

Instruct Proactively We must teach on teachability…. The main thing is that we proactively and consistently teach people in ways that instruct, model, and illustrate the importance of being open to practical and spiritual truth. 

Exposure to Other Circles – …Sometimes we need to push people to experience material that is beyond their normal sphere of exposure. Take them to a conference. Invite a special speaker, such as a missionary from another land. Ask the congregation to read a book. Don’t do it in vacuum—do it in community, allowing for debate and even disagreement….

Reflect It Leaders must model a teachable spirit in tangible ways. If we are not teaching new things or illustrating from our own life stories, failures, lessons learned, or new challenges that we are struggling with, our people won't be teachable either….

Pray for Consequence If all else fails, we need to have the courage to ask God to shake us up. Sometimes that’s what it takes. God needs to rock our world…. That’s what it took for Thor. That’s what it took for Manasseh. And that’s what it often took for the Israelites: “Whenever God slew them, they would seek Him; they would eagerly turn to Him again” (Psalm 78:34).

Humility leads to teachability… And when people stand firm on their convictions and yet have a humble and teachable spirit, this humility nurtures an environment in which God does His best work. Being teachable does carry risk, but the reward of nurturing good soil far outweighs the self-imposed limitation of a proud, callused, and closed-off heart.

--from Chapter 6 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation

Next week, I will offer some insights from Chapter 7: “Sustainable Impact.”