Leadership is a Lifetime of Learning

By Rev. Tim Yee

February 17, 2018

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…

Philippians 3:12-13


Here in his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul has just stressed how much he has given up in order to attain the matchless beauty of Christ (3:8-11). But he doesn’t want to mislead his readers into thinking he has attained perfection, so he emphasizes that even he, the Apostle Paul, has much room to grow.

Someone typing on a vintage typewriter a midst a bustling crowd.Paul is using a kind of play on Greek words here: “Not that I have already obtained (lambano) all this…but I press on to take hold of (katalambano) that for which Christ took hold of (katalambano) me…I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it (katalambano).” Paul is using these ideas of holding, taking, and grasping to emphasize how much he still has to grow as a follower of Christ. The best of leaders know that learning is a lifelong process, never assuming that they have arrived.

What is the cost for not being a lifelong learner? Of not being someone who remains open and inquisitive, who seeks to gain knowledge in a changing world? Would we have failed to see the potential of the digital camera, like Kodak did back in 1977 when it held the patent? Kodak’s failure to grasp the potential of that new technology—insisting that their film business was all they needed—was a significant misstep that led to its demise. Unfortunately, I know far too many examples among Christian leaders who refuse to embrace Paul’s example of being a lifelong learner. It is painfully common to hear of yet another church or organization dying a slow death because it refused to embrace the kinds of difficult changes necessary to flourish in a complex modern environment.

Paul seemed to be a confident leader who knew he had not yet fully attained all that Jesus had intended for his leadership. Paul’s commitment to be a lifetime learner made him an influential leader who continues to impact people all over the world today.

Something to Think About:

As you look at your own experience of being mentored, who are the leaders who have been the most impactful in your life? Do you recognize this pattern of lifelong learning and teachability in them? How can you simultaneously exude confidence as a leader while also acknowledging that you still have so much more to learn?

When you look at some of your leadership failures, could the lack of a learning posture have been part of the reason for this failure? Does being perceived as a teachable leader make you uncomfortable in your organization? During your yearly evaluations, is teachability and a learning posture something you are rated on?

Something to Do:

Look at your most recent review from your organization or some kind of feedback given for a project you led. Try to highlight any positive references to your teachability and growth. Also highlight criticisms related to a lack of listening or a need to grow in a skill or interpersonal issues. Make a plan, if you haven’t already, to keep learning this year and to mitigate the liabilities discovered.


Lord, I know that you have put me into this leadership position not because I have all the knowledge needed to succeed but because I constantly need to depend on you. Forgive me for any wrong thinking that assumes I am an expert who doesn’t need to grow. Shape me like the Apostle Paul into an influential leader who knows the need to depend on you and others in order to fulfill the mission. May I be faithful to grow in the ways you see fit in this next season. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Following Christ as Ordinary Christians

Rev. Tim Yee

Contributor Emeritus & Pastor

Rev. Tim Yee is Pastor of Union Church of Los Angeles, a 100-year-old church in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo District where he serves a diverse church of professionals, internment camp survivors, artists and homeless. He serves on the Board of Union Rescue Mission where he leads the P...

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