AriseInternsThis week, ten worship interns from across the globe, left our church campus and returned to their homes in Australia, Canada and the United States. During the two months these Arise Worship Internship millennials were with us, I treasured the opportunity to inspire young leaders toward transformissional living. I had the privilege of funneling nearly four decades of leadership experience into ninety minutes one morning. I shared ten things I’ve learned about leadership. You can see the list in my last blog post.

Since that blog post, many of my readers asked me to share more about each one of those ten. So there will be ten blogs to come. Here’s the first one: Leaders are Learners.

As a young leader, Dr. John Maxwell provided me this axiom: leaders are learners. For many years, I subscribed to his Injoy Life Club –monthly leadership teachings on cassette (some of you young leaders will have to Google that word). Later, I added to my growth plan, Defining Moments, monthly talks or interviews by Bill Hybels. Those were on CD. Later it was DVD’s. For decades, I attempted to read at least one new leadership book per month. I attended a two or three day leadership conference and/or a one day workshop at least once per year. These were my biggest leadership growth habits for dozens of years.

Many years in a row, I sat down and wrote a growth plan for the year ahead. What would I read, listen to or attend? Who would I try to learn from? Understandably, as a pastor, I wanted to learn from the best teacher. So a heavy dose of my reading included the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus. As a pastor who was starting and growing a young church, I knew I needed leadership skills and inspiration in large doses. So I read inspiring stories of great business leaders and church leaders. I studied how-to books. I learned from other great churches, a few years ahead of ours. I sought out mentors from near and far.

In more recent years, I intentionally developed another passion, my long-time hobby—photography. Same thing. Books, online videos, websites, blogs, photography magazines, and studying the work of other photographers have consumed most of my leisure time. I created more free time. I stopped watching television. If my wife is watching one of her few favorite HGTV home makeover shows, I’m sitting beside her with my laptop, learning from other photographers or processing my own captures.

Award-winning “Boat on Fire” by Dennis. For more images, go to

More than any of the above methods of growing my leadership skills, is an even more important one. Consistent face-to-face contact with other inspiring leaders. King Solomon wisely stated, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). For the last twenty years, I’ve met weekly with a group of several other like-minded growing pastors. I’ve learned so much from them. They might have even learned a little from me. They’ve taught me, encouraged me, challenged me, stretched me, supported me, laughed with me and cried with me–over lunch on Monday’s.


Glacier National Park as seen thru Dennis’ lens.

As I’ve grown my love of photography into a fully self-supporting hobby and business, the most important component of that development is my investment in a five-day hands-on photography workshop at Glacier National Park in Montana. Led by professional nature photographer, Joseph Rossenbach, that experience was epic in thrusting me forward. I learned so much. Even the five other learners were teachers for me. Iron sharpens iron. Invaluable technical skills and business acumen were transferred into my life that week.

Over the decades, things have changed. But they haven’t. Now it is Kindle, Mp4’s, You Tube, Vimeo, podcasts and webinars. But still, growing organizations are led by growing leaders. You are never too young or too old to learn. Young, middle age or older. All of us are potential learners. Leaders must be learners.

QUESTION: What keeps you a learner? What is the most effective way you learn? Please share it in the comment section below. Thanks!


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