People look to their pastors for answers. Whether it be questions about faith, the Bible, or how to respond to the latest headline, pastors are often called upon to offer their insights and guidance.
This is especially true during uncertain times, as people search for solid answers to life’s most pressing questions. Because of their calling, faith, and theological training, pastors are well equipped to provide those answers.
That doesn’t mean that pastors know everything, though. Nor should they pretend to. In fact, the most effective pastors are often not the ones who know the most or can speak the most eloquently. Rather, one of the most important tools a pastor can have in his leadership tool belt is curiosity.
Curious pastors are better pastors. Conversely, a lack of curiosity can be a serious detriment.
Here are three pitfalls that pastors can more successfully avoid by focusing on cultivating curiosity in their lives.
In many ways, fundamentalism is the opposite of curiosity, the closing off of our minds and hearts to new ideas, lest they carry us away from our faith. Fundamentalists languish under the conviction that unless you hold to your faith in the very specific and particular way they do, then your salvation itself is in question. They then spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince others of the same.
To be sure, there are fundamental Christian convictions that must be affirmed in order for a person or congregation to be uniquely Christian. It’s just that those borders are much wider than the fundamentalist often imagines.
But if all truth is God’s truth, then we need not be afraid of ideas or thoughts that are new or strange to us. If these things really are good and true, then we need not fear them. And if they aren’t, we also need not fear them, even as we do not adopt them.
Pastors who allow suspicion to guide their interactions with foreign ideas and practices not only cultivate a personal lifestyle marked by fundamentalism but an entire congregation that is.
While most pastors couldn’t be characterized as hardcore fundamentalists, many of them do have fundamentalistic tendencies that often arise from a lack of curiosity. This lack of curiosity sometimes springs from fear, because you can’t be fearful and curious at the same time. Your body just isn’t built that way. Fear causes us to protect, while curiosity causes us to explore.
Curiosity makes us more intellectually honest when it comes to our convictions. And in the end, that actually makes us far more credible when discussing our distinctly Christian beliefs with those who disagree with us. Curiosity makes us humble, empathetic, and ultimately more engaging to a world that needs Jesus.
We must be open to the idea that we can learn from followers of Jesus who are from faith traditions different than our own, whether that relates to their views on church polity, baptism, or the role of liturgy or church tradition.
Further, we must not also be afraid to learn from Christians or even non-Christians who have expertise in areas of study that fall outside the realm of what seminary covered. Certainly, we must be discerning. But discernment is a far cry from suspicion.
In a time where people have experienced upheaval after upheaval, cynicism has not been in short supply. Cynicism often serves as a reflex to pain, fear, and uncertainty. And pastors have experienced all three of those realities in abundance the past few years.
Cynicism arises from our need for certainty—even if the “reality” that we find certainty around is as unpleasant as it is untrue. We often fool ourselves into thinking we know how situations will play out, how people will react to us, what their intentions are, and how certain solutions will fail. These “certainties” keep us from attempting anything ambitious that may not succeed, as a way of insulating ourselves from further pain. However, in the process, we never truly heal from the pain that made us cynical in the first place.
Conversely, research has shown that curiosity is associated with improved mental health, lower levels of anxiety, and increased satisfaction with life. In other words, curious people tend to be happier people.
Part of this is because happy people are already in a mental and emotional space where curiosity tends to thrive. But it also may provide a secret to solving our deeply seated cynicism, as actively choosing curiosity can begin to rewire our brains.
Thus, curiosity not only helps you to reach your full potential, it makes it more likely that you will actually enjoy the process as well.
Cultivating curiosity also keeps us from making foolish decisions or behaving in unwise ways. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” And the fact of the matter is that you will never know unless you begin learning to ask the right questions. This requires curiosity.
When we are seeking to make an important decision, and others on the leadership team disagree with our approach or reasoning, often our immediate response is to be defensive—to find a way to bolster our argument or convey it more compellingly. Pastors often win these battles, because, after all, a large portion of their weekly responsibilities involves crafting compelling words. But if in those moments we instead cultivate curiosity, understanding that disagreement does not necessarily mean attack, we may gain valuable wisdom from those around us.
The same goes for our interpersonal conflicts. When someone is upset with us or criticizes us, it is easy to assume the worst of their motives. However, curiosity causes us to seek to understand the situation from their perspective, allowing us to ask good questions, humbly receive correction, and deepen relationships with people who are important to our lives and ministries.
Life is better when we acknowledge our own finitude. We don’t have all the answers, and life is a journey to discover everything that God has called us to, given to us, placed within us, and is drawing out of us.
This article originally appeared on churchleaders.com and is published here by permission.