A Pathway for Growth

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The New Testament offers little more than a whisper about Jesus’ early years. Aside from the infancy narratives, the Gospels afford us no glimpses of Jesus’ growth into adulthood. The only exception is Luke’s account of Jesus visiting the temple as young boy (2:41-51). According to the Evangelist, Jesus attended Passover in Jerusalem with his parents when he was twelve. At the conclusion of the festival, his parents left Jerusalem for home, assuming that Jesus was somewhere in the caravan of pilgrims. When they stopped to rest at the end of the day, they learned to their dismay that Jesus was nowhere to be found. His absence sparked a quick return to Jerusalem and a frantic search for their son. After three days, “they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (v. 46).

Although the adult Jesus was a master teacher, this brief account shows us that the young Jesus was also a master student. This singular episode illustrates that Jesus responded to the impulse to learn. His curiosity fueled his quest to gain understanding.  Jesus thus embodied a pathway for growth that we and the churches and organizations we serve can follow. The pathway is simple:

Sitting. Listening. Asking questions.

Sitting means we stop. Sitting means we assume the posture of a student. Sitting means we allow ourselves time to think and reflect. Most of us live fast way too fast, and our daily schedule bleeds us dry with constant activity. Running on the treadmill may pay the bills but it doesn’t guarantee that we will grow and develop as human beings. Unless we learn to sit for a while, we run the risk of losing our souls. We imagine that we can’t afford to stop; the truth is, we can’t afford not to stop.

Listening cultivates our awareness. We live in a state of, as the columnist Thomas Friedman put it, “constant partial attention.” In addition to our busy schedules, we are tethered to our electronic devices. We check email, we do searches, and we make calls and send texts. And, we do all this while tending to other stuff. Multi-tasking is the name of the game! As a result of this “constant partial attention,” we rarely listen attentively to others or even to what our lives are trying to tell us. Growth and development require focus. Growth and development require that we put ourselves in the company of people who can teach us something and pay attention to their shared wisdom. Growth and development require that we listen to what’s stirring inside us. Parker Palmer, in his book Let Your Life Speak, summed it up this way: “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”

Asking questions opens the door to understanding. Sadly, many of us have bought into the lie that we have to act as if we know it all. In this day and age, we imagine that asking questions makes us look foolish and diminishes our standing in the eyes of others. Asking questions makes us look weak and vulnerable. Admitting what we don’t know or understand is taken for weakness. Nevertheless, curiosity sparks growth. If we don’t ask, we’ll never learn anything. If we don’t ask, we’ll never fulfill our potential. If we don’t ask questions, important questions, we’ll stagnate and wither. I think it’s significant that Jesus began his journey of growth and development by asking questions. I also think it significant that at the end of his life, he was still questioning: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Asking important questions of ourselves and others enables us to gain insight.

Sitting. Listening. Asking questions. That’s a pathway for growth. For pastors and leaders, these practices are essential for continued effectiveness. For congregations and organizations, these practices are essential for continued vitality. Unless we sit, listen, and ask questions, we’ll never become what we were made to be. Or, as Luke puts it, we’ll never “increase in wisdom, stature, and in divine and human favor” (v. 52).

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