With Paul in the School of Life-Long Learning

Comedian Groucho Marx (if you don’t recognize the name, Google it) once said, ”I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Evidently vaudeville and television personalities understood the value of reading and life-long learning. Today the masters of the leadership universe acknowledge that leaders in every human discipline exhibit the heart and mind of a learner. It is certainly true of spiritual leaders as well.

The other day a phrase in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy registered something new in me. Scripture is truly alive because I’ve read this verse hundreds of times, preached through it more than a few, but never caught this particular drift. It wasn’t theological instruction, words of encouragement to Timothy, or mysteries of the Kingdom. It was a personal request. He wrote, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13, ESV).

Knock me down. He asked Timothy to bring “…also the books, and above all the parchments”. The screen in my mind pictures this learned, worn traveler, church planter, missionary, prisoner, teacher and preacher, trying to lead and serve kingdom causes everyday without his small collection of books and parchments. In a few words he confirmed the life of a learner. Apparently he knew the value and practiced the disciplines of study and reading.

The velocity of these times requires informed and prepared leaders. As a result there are conferences, seminars, and events to stretch, challenge, and grow leaders in every conceivable educational discipline. Life-long learners will incorporate these opportunities into the margins of their already busy lives. Pastors, church staff, and others in spiritual leadership roles demonstrate wisdom when they participate in such training.

But then, there are the books and parchments, the treasured volumes of our portable learning. In thirty-five years of pastoral ministry they were the curricula of that every-day classroom that even the Apostle Paul needed.

So, assemble a card catalog for this personal library. What books should comprise this reading list? Well, you know we all have our preferences and my list isn’t anointed or sanctified beyond having served me well. It’s not a book list either, but rather a method to keep me, like King David, serving God’s purpose in my own generation (see Acts 13:36). So, it’s more of a system than a list. But, it includes these entries—

Daily reading: a newspaper, web site, or other current news to keep me in touch with the world happening around me. The other day I asked a friend what he thought of Ashley Madison. He said he didn’t know her. That’s good in one sense. But still?

Nightly reading: a book from one of the listed section identifiers—

  • History (church, ancient Israel, United States)
  • Leadership (especially works in spiritual leadership)
  • Personal development
  • Church administration
  • Classic and contemporary authors (theology, biography, etc.)
  • Something relating to culture (best sellers, politics, etc.)

Note: I didn’t mention the Bible. Surely it is understood that Bible study is the central book of life-long learning and should always be on the list.

After college graduation one of my professors stopped to congratulate a group of us. He shook our hands, made some kind remarks about teaching us, then said, “Now, your real education begins.” We didn’t appreciate the meaning of his comment at the time. We pretty much let it pass and went our own ways.

We’re all retired now. One was a colonel in the United States Army, another a successful CPA, another a general practice physician, one the head of a government agency, and me, retired pastor. At our last class reunion, after moments of glad-handing and re-connecting, we formed an intimate circle. The CPA whispered, “What are you guys reading?”

It’s a great question. What are you reading?

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