By Ircel Harrison
Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” This approach to preparation was popularized by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Even so, the practice of continuing personal and professional development is not a high priority for many leaders — especially clergy. They are too busy chopping down the tree to take time to sharpen the axe.
Since I became a certified professional life coach, I have entered into a world of required professional development that I have only observed from the outside in the past. My friends who are public school educators, counselors, marriage therapists, and medical professional are required to take a certain number of hours of continuing education each year in order to maintain their license or certification. Some denominational judicatories require such education for their clergy, but this is the exception in most denominations including Baptists.
I have been fortunate in my ministry to work with supervisors who both practiced and provided professional development opportunities. Glenn Yarborough, director of student ministries for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, regularly brought interesting and gifted people to share with campus ministers at staff meetings and retreats. Clark Bryan, my supervisor at Carson-Newman College, both encouraged and made it possible for me to complete an unfinished Doctor of Ministry degree while I was on staff there.
Given this background, I am always amazed and disappointed that professional development is not a high priority in our churches. Staff meetings and retreats are most often devoted to program coordination and calendar planning rather than discovering and sharing new insights and understandings with one another.
Although the pastor cannot tackle this problem alone, the initiative must begin there. The pastor must model professional development and lifelong learning and lobby church officers and committees to provide development opportunities for all staff members — both ordained and non-ordained.
Such options include, but are not limited to, finances for book purchases, time and money to attend conferences, resources for staff development events, and sabbaticals for professional staff. The advent of the Internet provides many valuable learning opportunities free or at minimal cost. Judicatories, theological institutions, professional organizations, and consultants offer innovative options for lifelong learners. Ministry leaders can also benefit from being part of a peer group or being coached by a trained life coach.
I have a tendency when I walk each morning to look down at the road rather than lifting my head and seeing the world around me. I have to remind myself to look up and see what is going on. Too many of us go from day to day only looking at what is right before us and not engaging in new ideas, learning and development.
Lift up your eyes and see what’s ahead.