Pastor Chris Hodges Explains: Evaluated Experience Is the Best Teacher

By  //  June 13, 2023

So many people believe that they learn by doing, and that experiences alone are what help shape us into successful leaders for the future. Yet, Pastor Chris Hodges of Church of the Highlands takes that thought one step further, saying that evaluated experience is the best teacher.

“Experience doesn’t teach you anything, because that means everybody who’s experienced something would be smart, and they’re not,” says Hodges. “The smartest people, the wisest people, the great leaders don’t just have experience. They have evaluated experience.

“They actually put the effort in to go through your life and go through your year and make some notes, make some changes, leave some things behind and step into a new year.”

How to Evaluate

Pastor Chris Hodges, who describes himself as a “systems person,” says that all leaders should evaluate the past, look forward to the future and plan. While the start of a new year is a great symbolic time to do this exercise, it can also be done on an ongoing basis.

In fact, he explains that, once a month, he does what he calls a Personal Retreat Day. On this full six-to-eight-hour day, Hodges makes sure he gets away somewhere to reflect. 

He begins with a couple of hours with the Lord, journaling, praying and worshiping. Then, he follows that up with reflective thinking while exercising, reviewing his calendar, grading his dashboard, planning for the future, and planning out his dreams and goals.

While this Personal Retreat Day could look different for each leader, it’s important to step away and reflect so you can stay focused and on point.

Grade Your Dashboard

A major aspect of evaluating experiences is doing what Pastor Chris Hodges calls grading your dashboard. He separates this into 12 major areas of his life, giving himself a grade for each on how he honestly believes he’s doing right now. Then, he writes one sentence about what can make that area of his life better — an action step, if you will.

For Hodges, there are 12 “lives” which he is evaluating — faith, marriage, family, office, digital, ministry, financial, social, attitudinal, creative, mental and physical.

By grading his dashboard this way, Hodges allows himself to fully reflect on the past so he can evaluate his experiences so he can use those lessons for the future.

Ask Reflection Questions

Pastor Chris Hodges adds that the final component of evaluating experiences is asking himself five reflection questions. He wants to answer what his purpose is, what he’s doing to accomplish this purpose and how he’s doing in that regard.

He also re-evaluates his own values, asking himself: What single thing, if improved upon, would make the biggest difference in my life?

To that last point, Hodges suggests choosing one word for the year ahead that will drive you.

He suggests that all leaders ask themselves what is the one thing they need to do to get ahead? What is the most important thing right now? 

Then, once they have that answer, they can use their evaluated experiences to figure out what needs to happen to achieve it.

About Pastor Chris Hodges

Chris Hodges, best known as the founding and senior pastor of Church of the Highlands, a life-giving church with multiple campuses across Alabama and Georgia. He also is passionate about launching and equipping other local churches through his co-founding of the Association of Related Churches (ARC) and founding of GrowLeader, a coaching network that trains and equips pastors and churches globally. He is also Chancellor Highlands College, a ministry training school committed to launching students into full-time ministry careers. Chris is a devoted family man, happily married to Tammy and proud father of five children in Birmingham, Alabama.