“Perhaps adult learning is always dangerous.”
As I was preparing for our small group leader training a few weeks back, I retuned to this quote from Dr. Jane Vella.* It is a statement that I have wrestled with on and off for a little over 5 years. What is it about being an adult that makes us feel we can stop learning? What is it that makes learning so dangerous? Why do we have the assumption that at a certain age curiosity, growth, learning should end?
A few years back I decided to take a leap and begin taking piano lessons. As a kid I learned enough to know that there is a “middle C” and over the years Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder have helped me remember that there are ebony and ivory keys! I have always loved the beauty of music that comes from a piano, so I decided to try again. Over the years my piano teacher has told me numerous times that people are always surprised to find out that she has adults students. She frequently has people come up to her and say that they have always wanted to learn, but… whatever the reason we as adults often fear something about learning.
Is adult learning always dangerous? I don’t think so. I believe that some learning may expose us to harm, but much more often learning exposes us to the unknown. And here is where I depart from Vella; I don’t think that adult learning is always dangerous, but I think that perhaps adult learning is always costly. As we learn we are exposed to the fact that we don’t know and ignorance seemingly costs us something.
As I look through the life and ministry of Jesus I see him calling his believers to change, to grow in sanctification (aka becoming more like Jesus). Learning from Jesus’ teaching cost all of those around him. For some it cost them their status, following Jesus meant making life changes (Luke 19:1-10, Phil 1:12-13). Some had to risk setting aside their entitlement or self-righteousness and that risk was too much (Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:9-14). But for many, learning and growing required courage to risk trusting in Jesus as their status, righteousness, healing, identity, and hope (Luke 7:1-11, John 4:1-29, Matt 26:6-13).
Since August 9th 2014, it seems as if there has been a giant spot light into the hearts and minds of the church in St. Louis. Not just South City Church, but the larger fellowship of Christ’s body of believers. The events that have occurred since that day have given us a lot of opportunity to learn with and from each other. We have all been given the opportunity to risk together. But even before this past summer we all have been given a choice. Let’s name that this is hard! Learning as an adult makes us feel vulnerable, angry and/or naive. We have all been exposed to harm of some sort in the past that makes us fear the present. We have been made to feel unheard, stupid, unseen, or ill-equipped. If we let them our past experiences can shape our humility before God and man. If we let them our past experiences can shape our willingness to learn.
Brothers and Sisters I urge you to refuse to live lives of complacency! I urge you because the Gospel frees us (and calls us) to learn from each other. It gives us the freedom to laugh with each other and delight in each other amidst our differences (1 Cor 12:12-26, Eph 4:4-6, Gal 5:11-14). The Gospel gives us the freedom of humility, the freedom to learn.
Perhaps adult learning is always costly. What is it costing you?
Becky Kiern is Director of Community Life at South City Church