What qualities facilitate lifelong learning as a Christ-follower or vocational Christian leader?  What traits expedite success as a college or seminary student?  My 36 years as a faculty member at Columbia International University prompts me to focus on these four characteristics of effective learners.

1.  Inquisitiveness

This is a “want to know” mindset, an insatiable appetite for knowledge in general, and for information applicable to life and ministry in particular.

You see it not in the student who answers the most questions, but in the one who keeps asking the most intelligent questions. You see it in the young church staff member who habitually meets with more experienced vocational workers to pick their brains.  You see it in folks who are always toting around a book that they don’t have to read for a class.

2. Self-discipline

Whether it’s a class assignment, a ministry project, or a Bible lesson, sometimes we don’t feel  like   doing it.  Perhaps we’re physically exhausted or emotionally downcast over a circumstance.

But never underestimate what God’s Spirit can enable you to accomplish when you don’t feel like doing it!  Just pour out your heart honestly to Him, then get up and go through the motions until the work is done.   That isn’t legalism.  That’s self-control. There’s greater satisfaction in a finished product that you struggled to create, than one which came easily for you.

The late James “Buck” Hatch, a renowned professor at CIU plagued by depression most of his life, was known for saying, “Sometimes you just have to do the next thing.”

3. Humility

A humble person knows what he doesn’t know.  He possesses a strong felt need for God and for others.  He credits them for past successes, and never concludes that greatness within himself accounts for achievements.

I’ve met a few students who were so arrogant it’s as if they dared you to teach them something they don’t already know.  What a sad commentary on the state of their hearts.  Their natural smarts and high IQs are idols, for as John Wesley put it, “All pride is idolatry.”   

One sure indicator of a humble student is gratitude. He assumes his profs and mentors have something to teach him and often thanks them for investing in his life.
4. Balanced

As devoted as you may be to your ministry or to school, a person successful in God’s eyes is balanced.  He juggles family responsibilities with work or school, like the 35-year-old student I had who was willing to make “Bs” instead of “As” so he could coach his kids’ Little League team.  Or like the pastor who delegated the leadership of a task force meeting so he could keep a promise to one of his kids.  What his kid thought was more important than what the task force members thought.

I’ve heard married students say, “After I graduate, I’ll spend more time with my wife.  I’ll strengthen my devotional life. I’ll get those proverbial priorities straight.”

If ever there was a lie generated in hell, that’s it.

Students establish habit and relational patterns while in school that are difficult to break after graduation.  Besides, the vocational ministry that follows comes with its own unique pressures.  The longer we put off establishing priorities, the harder bad habits are to break later on. 

Josh McDowell gave this sobering warning:  “If we always do what we’ve always done, we will always be who we’ve always been.”

Which of these four traits are most evident in your life as a student or leader?  Thank God’s Spirit for its cultivation.

Which of these four traits is most lacking in your leadership or schooling?  Ask God’s Spirit to keep convicting you until you change.

What trait of a great learner would you add to this list?