We often assume that experience is the best teacher. We’d rather have a surgeon who has done our operation a thousand times. We’d rather have a seasoned teacher or mechanic or plumber or any one of a number of skills or specialties. But simply seeking after years of experience overlooks one big thing that makes all the difference.

That difference is what should come after the experience: reflection and adaptation or making the adjustments. Consider the football or sports team that learns from what happened in the first half and comes out a far different and a far better team. That's what we are talking about. It should happen with pastors, leaders and anyone who wants to grow from their experience. We often mistakenly assume that just because one has gone through those years of experience that they have been reflected upon. We further assume that the experienced persons (us?) have learned and grown or changed as a result of that reflection. But it is more rare than we know.

Yet, when one does pause to reflect and learn from what happened it is true that experience is the best teacher. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if the outcome of the experience was positive or negative! If the outcome is positive then there needs to be affirmation and learning that what one did was also positive! But even if an outcome is negative, then one just learned what not to do or what does not work. Sometimes that can be even more valuable. What’s more, there can also be other lessons not only about how something was done or not done but about one’s self. Experience can teach us how we dealt with success or adversity, skills or lack of skills, how we work with people and on and on. All this can be ours if we intentionally, carefully, frequently (and often with support and help from another), reflect and learn and put that learning to a powerful use.

But if one never pauses to reflect and if one never stops to debrief what happened then one will never fully benefit from the experience. It will often be a wasted lesson. It would be just like sleeping in class. You would be no different after the experience than you were before.

Unfortunately not pausing to debrief and learn is all to common. Busy people, such as ourselves, are too often simply satisfied checking something off of our to-do list. In our fast moving world we have rid ourselves of one more thing that has to be done. That is often satisfying enough. Yet it is sorely short sighted and it severely stunts our own growth and development as a person, a leader, a worker, etc. Churches go through the annual cycle of retreats, programs, events, worship services and all the interactions and involvement of volunteers. Then sadly, most never pause to reflect and debrief and seek to bring the lessons of one year to the activities and people involved in the next year. It is an invisible tragedy!

We are often good, well meaning people. Yet this can be a huge blind spot in that to-do list of us as boards, committees, councils, and individuals such as professional church workers. We see ourselves as smart and generally pretty tuned in to how things are going. But this reflection and learning is simply a lost opportunity. Then we wonder why we continue to struggle and why we often feel stuck. Somehow we persist but we still don't know what we don’t know.

The upcoming Leadership Halftime Retreat is one opportunity for pastors in the FL-GA district to pause to reflect and learn and determine how they will intentionally re-enter ministry upon completion of the retreat. Personal leadership coaching is another way to get serious about overcoming the stuckness or continuing cycle of frustration that may be the result of less than productive reflection and learning and forwarding the learning.

Contact us if you are interested in either of these services. The new year is upon us. Perhaps this is the year that you reach that new awareness that is a game changer for you.

Sign up for our email newsletter with new blog posts and information and announcements:


Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, scottgress@me.com or scottgress.com

"Helping leaders be more productive - less controlling"

 Check out our new book here: A Christian Coaching Guidebook, How to come alongside others for ministry results

Experience is the Best Teacher…With One Exception

One thought on “Experience is the Best Teacher…With One Exception

  • January 15, 2018 at 3:42 pm

    I think sometimes failure teaches better than success. It’s often easier to pinpoint what didn’t go well that time than to figure out why everything just went perfectly that other time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.