“Ancora Imparo” or Why You Must Never Stop Learning.
The great artist Michelangelo was credited for saying, “ancora imparo” which means, “Still I am learning.” In fact, even at the age of 87, Michelangelo inscribed the phrase, “Never Stop Learning” on one of his sketches.
Once, many years ago, I heard a professor describe heaven as a place of continued and continual learning. He imagined that every resident of heaven is at once both “completely full” of the knowledge and love of God while also growing, developing and learning more of God.With God, there is always more.
Most leadership development efforts involve gaining knowledge or mastering skill, and these are important for proficiency. But Jesus develops leaders through relationship that forms the character and wisdom necessary for skill. Qualification is measured in proximity. He calls us to abide.1 So, the Apostle John describes discipleship as a dynamic cycle of spiritual hearing, seeing, doing and telling others:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.2
Let’s examine leadership development in this four-step process:
1. Hearing. Transformation starts with hearing. In scripture, the Hebrew word for hearing (shama) and the Greek word (akouo) both carry a sense of action. Hearing implies obeying. Hearing summons a call. Jesus came to transform us not to inform us. Throughout the gospels Jesus is continually calling people to repent. The Greek word is metanoia, to actively, “change your mind.” This is no mere intellectual assent. Belief is an active response to the word of Christ. Belief recognizes our need, and exercises confidence that Jesus is Lord. Discipleship is relationship, a call to real fellowship with Jesus who invites you to, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”3
2. Seeing. Hearing forms a way of seeing. Having our ears opened to the word of Christ, the Spirit now opens our eyes to see what we were blind to before, beginning with our separation. We see ourselves truthfully. We see how desire hinders obedience. Seeing is description, the indicative following the imperative. Our desire is disordered; our love is misplaced. God opens our eyes to see the hope of a new creation.
3. Doing. Hearing and seeing may form knowledge and even belief, but they will not form character. Jesus teaches to transform us, not convince us. Faith must find expression.
Here, learning becomes a practice field, the arena where concrete habits and practices of faith are engaged and enacted. Spirit-life is revealed by the fruit of who we are and what we do.4 To live out one’s faith, disciplines, habits and practices must join intellectual and emotional learning. Walking by the Spirit means unlearning old habits and taking on new. Character is formed as fellowship with God enables the believer to have genuine fellowship with others.
4. Telling. Finally, learning comes full circle as the disciple proclaims what the Spirit has opened through hearing, seeing and doing. What Jesus learned from the Father he teaches us, so that we might teach others.5 We confess, “This is what God is doing in my life and in the world. This is what I have heard and seen and touched.” In confession, we affirm intention and confirm commitment to transformation. Our words are reflective (narrating what God has done) and generative (our commitment to what God will do.) In confession, we externalize an internal reality, confirming the hope in us while proclaiming hope for others in Christ.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.6
Note how the Trinity is active throughout every learning stage—hearing, seeing, doing, and telling. God is the initiator. Jesus is the subject. The Spirit produces the fruit. The role of the disciple is to actively believe, that is, to submit and to obey, allowing God to complete the work begun in us. We work out–with fear and trembling– what God has already put in.7
What about you? Are you “ancora imparo?”
–Jim Van Yperen
1 John 15:1-8
2 1 John 1:1
3 Matthew 11:29
4 Galatians 5:22-24
5 John 15:15
6 1 John 5:6-7
7 Philippians 2:12-23