On the Job Training

learningSince I graduated from college, I’ve spent two decades in two distinctly different fields of work. I graduated with a civil engineering degree and worked for consultants while I got a Master’s degree in environmental engineering.

After 10 years in engineering, I felt a call to go into full-time vocational ministry. I was called to be a pastor in a church in Asheville, North Carolina. The denomination in which I was serving did not care so much that I didn’t have a seminary degree, they were more concerned with what I believed and whether or not I really felt that God was calling me to do this. I eventually went to seminary, successfully achieving a graduate degree in both of the fields of work in which I had spent my time.

In both my engineering career and my ministry career, I experienced on the job training. Most of the things that I had to do once I started as a consulting engineer were not things that I had been directly taught in college or in graduate school. I had a great mentor for those first few years in engineering who showed me an awful lot. We got along fairly well, which was helpful considering the amount of time that we spent together.

The same was true when I went into ministry. Considering that I had not gone to seminary when I had first started as a pastor, I felt that I was even more behind the eight ball. Every week, I was reading two or three books about ministry or theology or some subject that was relevant to what I was doing. In those first few years as a pastor before I went to seminary, I was learning on the job and I was soaking in any and every nugget of information that I could find in the books that I read, the people that I met, and the experiences that I had.

My doctor while I was in high school and through college was a doctor that my parents had used for a number of years. He was a nice guy, personable and winsome with a great bedside manner. As can often be the case with those kinds of doctors, we would get to chatting whenever I would go to the office for a checkup or visit. In our conversations, I discovered as I was getting ready to go off to college that he had graduated from my alma mater, Lehigh University.

I’ll never forget what he said to me that day. He told me that he had gone to medical school up at Yale. I thought about how smart he must have been and imagined where my next move would be after college. But he told me that he had a harder time getting good grades at Lehigh than he had at Yale. I kind of scratched my head considering all that I had heard about Ivy League schools. Then he said, “The thing is, at Lehigh they taught me how to learn.” Those words always have stuck in my head, in college, I learned how to learn.

While I rarely touch on the things that I spent hours and hours studying in college, the act and process of learning were just as important, if not more so, than the actual subject matter. Learning how to learn was an important life lesson that set the way for the rest of my life.

Since that day, I’ve laughed often as I’ve taken personality and strengths assessments that tell me of my love for learning. Anyone who knows me knows that on any given day I am probably reading three or four books. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I still have to learn, but that’s not reason to give up, it just makes me hungrier to know more, not so that I can lord it over anyone or brag but so that I can engage with as many people as possible.

I love to talk with new people. I love to hear their story and to know where they’ve been and where they’re going in life. As I delve into different subjects in my life, I find that it helps me to connect with others because I can always find some common topic to vamp on for some amount of time.

I’ve been grateful to have had some pretty great work environments where I can learn as I go. I’ve had some great mentors along the way. It certainly didn’t hurt my entrance into ministry that my dad and I had a good relationship. Having served as a pastor for about 36 years by the time I became a pastor, he was a great mentor to me. I miss him every day and long to have conversations with him, to glean his wisdom, and to hear his insights and thoughts.

As I watch my children grow, I’m thrilled to see a strong love of reading in both of my boys (my daughter hasn’t reached the reading stage yet). That love of reading and of learning will help them wherever they go. I’m looking forward to the day that I can share some of the same insights that have been shared with me. If they crave learning and learn to learn, they’ll go far.

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