A loud red t-shirt with bold silver letters bearing a Tongan message was a recent gift to my husband. Not knowing the Tongan language, he had to ask several Tongan friends what the words meant. “Difficult to say in English,” was the usual response. Finally, he found someone who was willing to hazard a rough translation. “It sort of means, ‘Wow! What you are saying is really interesting!’”
Whether the translation is accurate or not, the message is unlike any other t-shirt message I have ever heard. Most t-shirts boast the value of the wearer or his team or his ideas. This message underscores the value of the other person and the worth of what he has to say.
A teachable spirit is a rare commodity today especially in independent churches where rightness trumps openness as the premium virtue. James 3 teaches us that true wisdom is both meek and open to reason. Proverbs contrasts the wise man who seeks knowledge to the fool who despises wisdom and instruction. In contrast to an attitude that assumes that we already have the answers, the culture of our churches should foster a desire for lifelong learning and Spirit-led growth.
Both leaders and non-leaders can profit from being willing to learn. Approaching others with a learner’s posture no matter who we are and who they are will open doors for growth on both sides of the equation. Imagine the churches and Christian institutions that might still be thriving today if only the leadership had been willing to admit that they hadn’t arrived at the final answer, that they still had plenty to learn. Even pastors and seasoned believers can learn from little children, baby Christians, and even the unsaved.
Why do we tenaciously close our ears to the very things we need to hear? As we refuse to learn and change, we are guilty of quenching the Spirit and despising prophecies (1 Thess. 5:19-20). Yes, “test everything” (v.21a), but remember that things can’t be tested when they haven’t even been seriously considered. Let’s humbly seek God to help us determine what good things to “hold fast” (v. 21b) and what to discard.
Over the years I have had the privilege of meeting many Christian workers, experienced and inexperienced. The most effective ones are the ones who are habitually saying, “Wow! What you are saying is really interesting! Tell me more.”