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Just How Old a Dog Are You?

mydog_3.jpg “And brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus , an old disciple.” Acts 21:16

If the well-known cliché is true, you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. The real trick, though, is finding out how old the dog is. In terms of people, not dogs, we are reminded by our senior citizens’ group, “Young At Heart”, that getting up in years should be no barrier to high achievement. Golda Meir was seventy-one when she became Prime Minister of Israel. Michelangelo was seventy-one when he painted the Sistine Chapel. Benjamin Franklin helped frame the U. S. Constitution when he was eighty-one. Our beloved Brother Fred Kinzie, Pastor Emeritus, was seventy years old when he wrote his first of many books, and he did them all on his computer word processor. He still uses the computer every day at the age of ninety-three.

Obviously, chronological age has no relevance to learning. Anyone with a voracious appetite for mastering new things and has a zest for life can continue to learn at an age when many head for the nearest rocker or lazy-boy. On the other hand, I have known those who stopped learning before they got out of high school. They fight every attempt to goad them into some educational venture. If a training program involves more than learning how to operate a DVD player or a microwave oven, they run the other way.

All of my life, I have heard that the true disciple of Jesus has a teachable spirit and yields himself as clay in the hands of the Potter. But, if an individual has no desire to learn, what difference does a teachable spirit make? The very meaning of disciple is to be a learner. It follows, then, that anyone who intends to please God must have an overwhelming drive to take in as much knowledge as possible and then use that knowledge to expand his usefulness and skills to benefit the Kingdom of God .

In my ongoing research into leadership strategies, I have found that three huge jobs of a leader are to teach, train and coach. Teaching transfers an understanding of concepts and knowledge of a subject to a learner. Training structures a program to help a learner actually apply the concepts to his life in a real and practical way. Coaching offers the subject encouragement, analysis and motivation to succeed. From the disciple’s point of view, the challenge is to receive the teaching, training and coaching. This is where the question comes into play, “Just how old a dog are you, anyway?”

You have to be teachable. A teachable student listens. He opens his mind up to new concepts. He lays aside traditions, preconceived ideas, prejudices, pride and intellectual inertia and allows his thinking to be reshaped. He doesn’t argue petty points. He doesn’t insist on his own way. He permits the persuasiveness of his teacher to convince him.

You have to be trainable. To be trainable is to submit to the commands of the trainer. All trainees must learn to obey the simplest of commands. Although he may not fully understand why he is asked to do certain things, a trainable disciple trusts the guiding hand and voice of the trainer. He faithfully adheres to rules and schedules imposed upon him, despite any pain and discomfort they cause. Knowing that old habits die hard, he “mortifies the deeds of the body.” The person in training understands that he is growing stronger, healthier and more balanced. He has the end goal in mind and doesn’t deviate from the program.

You have to be coachable. A coachable person permits his attitude to be managed by his coach. He swallows his touchiness, his petulance, and his natural resistance to instructions in order to increase his sensitivity to the coach’s words. He forms a bond with his coach and believes that the strategies and methods of the coach will work. When the relationship between a coach and his team gels, it produces a spiritual dynamic that unites everyone and moves the team forward. The coachable person does not strive to be his own man or to assert his will against the coach. Something larger than himself drives him.

A recent development in colleges and universities is the advent of the adult student. People no longer buy the old notion that school is only for the young. They have found that older persons can go back to school and learn something totally different than the trade or profession they may have worked in all of their lives. It’s not unusual these days to hear that a retiree or an octogenarian has earned a bachelor’s degree. The early church also knew that whenever one started to be a disciple, he never stopped. It’s time we embraced this concept all over again. I believe it is significant that Mnason was designated as an old disciple. He kept learning beyond the point of conventional expectations.

Teachable, trainable and coachable. These are mandatory discipleship parameters. It doesn’t matter if you’re old, young or somewhere in between. Get started…again.

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