If you want to learn, you have to get uncomfortable. And since we don’t often choose to be uncomfortable, if we want to learn, we have to find teachers and mentors and programs and responsibilities and experiences that will make us uncomfortable.
The semester has begun at Boyce College, my final semester as a college professor. And this pedagogical conviction continues to solidify in my heart: If you want to learn, you have to get uncomfortable. It’s true of my students, and it’s true of me.
We’re only in our third week of Introduction to Biblical Counseling, but we’re already getting uncomfortable. We’re not just talking about foundations and fundamentals and general methodology. We’re watching a video of an intense marriage counseling situation, and we’re jumping right into the confusion of marital conflict, the darts of accusation and counter-accusation, the real-time dynamics of interruptions and excuses and emotions and blame-shifting and shared sinful habits that present a Gordian knot to the would-be counselor.
We’re not getting as uncomfortable as we could get. There are all sorts of ways that we could do far more challenging things. But I’m doing some things I rarely did when I first started teaching. I’m pausing the video when a hard question comes up, and just asking students how they would respond. Sometimes they give good answers. Sometimes they give bad answers. But they have to answer, and they have to answer right away, and they have to answer whether they’re ready or not, because now they’re on the hot seat — just like they will be when they’re the one doing the discipleship or the counseling or the evangelism or the teaching or the prison ministry.
If the boot camp never looks like the battlefield, what is the boot camp worth?
If you want to learn, you have to get uncomfortable, and you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. You have to be challenged and exposed and pushed, lovingly and wisely, so that what you know is affirmed and what you don’t know is exposed. Then you can start honing and deepening what you know, and start learning what you don’t know.
Because once you know that you don’t know, you’re ready to start learning. And once you know what you don’t know, you’re really ready to start learning. But if you’re never forced to see that you don’t know and what you don’t know, your motivation will be lacking and your character untested.
In many academic fields, and especially in theological education, it’s all too easy to get lecture-heavy and listen-heavy. Many of us professors have spent inordinate amounts of our lives reading tens of thousands of pages, writing dozens of papers, and sitting through scores of classes. So we have a lot to say, as every professor does. This process was important to our development, and without it, a knowledge base and a way of thinking would be missing.
But while information-sharing and lectures and one-way communication have their place, it’s also vital that people training students for ministry (or for anything else) don’t just make students listen and record and memorize and regurgitate. They need to be uncomfortable, challenged, put on edge, thrown into the fog of war that marks real life ministry. Because if you want to learn, you have to get uncomfortable.
Train only in the classroom, and you’ll be ready only for the classroom. Train in lab-like conditions, and you’ll be ready only for lab-like conditions. But learn to navigate the storm, and the winds, and the waves, and you’ll be ready for the storm, and the winds, and the waves. Or at least you’ll know a bit more about the mystery and the danger you’re about to face.
So: Did you have a teacher who pushed you beyond your bad habits and lame excuses? Give thanks to God. Did you have a professor who put you through challenging activities to develop competency and skill? Write her a letter. Did you have a teacher’s assistant who loved to bleed grading comments all over your research papers? Bless him from the bottom of your educated soul. Did you have a coach who squeezed out of you the kind of effort you didn’t know you had? Become that coach to the next generation of young men and women.
It’s essential, and not just important, that education stretch us and challenge us and take us beyond the boundaries of our instinctive habitats. If we’re just allowed to live where we already live, do what we already do, think like we already think, and keep using the skills we were already using before we set out to get educated, then something is happening that’s more like theft than education.
I like being comfortable. Trust me, I do. But there’s something I like more. I like growing, and changing, and maturing, and developing. I’d rather be less comfortable today and more skilled tomorrow than more comfortable today and equally skilled tomorrow.
So rather than being unchallenged and therefore unchanged, here’s to being challenged and changed, being tested and transformed, and being made uncomfortable until we gain both character and competence. In other words, here’s to education.