I picked Warren Myers up at the airport. Warren was my mentor and friend of many years. As he jumped in and slung his luggage in the back seat he asked a question. “Dave, What do you think are the essential characteristic of a person who would make a successful cross-cultural missionary? He then proceeded to read off a list of such characteristics he had been working on and asked me what I thought of what he had come up with. As I listened it occurred to me that one important characteristic was missing.: A teachable spirit. He added it to his developing list.
A lot of years have passed since that discussion and time has not only convinced me that a teachable spirit is important, but I would now put it at the top of my list. Let me explain why!
It seems to me that if I have a genuine teachable spirit I can learn most anything that God wants to teach me. I could be talented, have some great people skills, have a warm and genuine walk with the Lord, but if I am not teachable, I will soon be unusable and out of date. John Wooden used to say, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” If am defensive when others try to teach me, never ask anybody else what they think, am closed to the critique or criticism of others I am in danger. When I’m through growing, I’m through.
A number of years ago, a pastor was going to approach the leadership team at his church about me becoming a coach and mentor for them. I told him to honestly ask them if they had any issues, problems or questions concerning me. If they shared something with him, I wanted him to come back and tell me what he discovered (without telling me who said it) so that I could learn, trust God for some changes in my life, make needed adjustments, confess sin or apologize if necessary.
I am amazed at how many leaders I have met (and I have met plenty) who are deathly afraid of hearing anyone offer a criticism or suggestion. Many are incredibly insecure and see any comment as a threat or being disloyal.
I mentioned Warren Myers above. When he was in his 70’s I spent some time with him and he asked me what God had been teaching me from my time in scripture. As I began to share, he quickly pulled out a note pad and began to write down what I was sharing for his own edification. I was stunned.
Here was a leader who had been leading for over 45 years and he was still learning, gleaning ideas and had a teachable spirit.
Several verses of have been very helpful to me through the years on maintaining a teachable spirit. Here are my top three:
“And you say, ‘Oh if only I had listened! If only I had not demanded my own way! Oh why wouldn’t I take advice? Why was I so stupid?’ ”
Proverbs 5:12,13 The Living Bible
“The intelligent man is always open to new ideas. In fact, he looks for them.”
Proverbs 18:15 The Living Bible
“Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong”
Job 6:24 NIV
I have come to the conclusion that the fall of my leaders has at its root a lack of being teachable. It reveals itself in a lack of accountability, a lack of close and honest friendship, a lack of transparency and vulnerability.
I have a list of things I pray for myself on a daily basis and being teachable is at the top of the list. I want to be so secure in Jesus, so open to anything anybody wants to say, that I never miss what God might have for me so I can continue to grow and have solid impact for the kingdom in whatever remaining years I have.
I once had a visit from my my supervisor. As we sat at a meal I said, “Darrell, is there anything you want to say to me? Anything you need to point out; anything needing correcting, repenting?”
I wanted to be truly open to whatever he wanted to say and didn’t want to be defensive or rationalize, but learn and grow. I still have that mindset and attitude by his grace! At 80 I still desire that mindset and attitude.