The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Patching Cracks


October 5, 2022

Nearly 20 years ago, I started working at a children’s home in Indiana. It was an impatient mental health facility for kids. One of the people I met in new staff orientation was a fellow named Mark. He had been working at the home for over 30 years and was spectacular at his job. The day I met him, I decided I wanted to learn to work with kids as well as he did. He was a behavior specialist at the on-campus school and did all sorts of campus support work in the evenings. At every opportunity, I watched him do his job, asked him questions, listened to him talk, and made it a point to learn anything else I could learn from him. When I became the chaplain, I would often listen to him talking to students. He offered advice, deescalated kids, and told stories. To this day, I still use stories in counseling that I learned from him and little tricks for calming down situations I watched him employ. I am a better pastor now because I followed Mark around and learned from him. He is one of many people I learned from in the course of my career. When I encounter people that I admire or who live their lives with particular excellence, I do my best to study their behavior, habits, etc.

I learned this idea from a piece of advice I got when I got out of college: “Find people who are successful and learn from them and don’t emulate people who aren’t successful.” It seems like a no brainer, but it’s not a common pattern for folks. Though, people do it naturally. Studies have found that people tend to become like the people they spend time with most. Our weight, hobbies, spending patterns, work ethic, language, accents, and everything else tend to look like the people we surround ourselves with. We are creatures that learn through imitation. The trick I learned and I am suggesting others consider applying, is to take what comes naturally and simply do it on purpose. If we are struggling in some area of our lives or looking to grow personally, the best strategy is to learn from someone who is doing what we want to do.

This model of learning through imitation, observation, and sharing daily life with a teacher is the one employed by Jesus with his disciples. They traveled and lived with him for 3 years. They listened; they watched; they asked questions; and they imitated him. Later, Paul tells the church in Corinth to imitate him as he imitates Christ. The idea is that we learn best by spending our lives together. It is the design the church was meant to employ in growing believers to maturity. Young believers were supposed to seek out those they desired to imitate and do so.

Our culture has shifted slowly in the direction of people living their lives isolated from each other. We talk to each other less, spend less time with friends, and generally don’t share our day to day lives with anyone. One of the most effective paths to maturity and growth is found in bucking that trend. We grow best by living in community with other people, particularly those we want to learn from.


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