THE POWER OF MENTORING
I was speaking with a colleague in ministry the other day. He seemed to be wondering if he was making any impact. Sometimes I wonder the same thing. I would imagine all of us in the ministry want our lives to count for God and His Kingdom. I imagine most people want to feel their lives count for something, that they have been faithful.
My friend is in the ministry, but not a pastor at the moment, although he has been. His job is now directed at raising up pastors, church planters, and helping them to be more effective. Since I have known him for a long time, and know his work, I was able to rather quickly think of some of the positive effects of his life and ministry. He wasn’t depressed, and I know he often struggles with this question, but I was so glad to realize and rejoice in some of the impact he has made and my hope for what his work will do in our denomination and for the Kingdom of God.
However, my comments aren’t about him, but about the kind of work he does and why it is so valuable. I speak here of the power of mentoring, or being a “door opener” for younger preachers, of being an interpreter of the system, of being an “introducer.” I am sure there are plenty of younger men he has actually helped, and maybe that I have helped, that will never ascribe any of their success to us. They say success has many authors but failure is an orphan. Maybe so, and there is no attempt here to demand credit for anybody’s growth, achievement, or success. What is here is the satisfaction that being a mentor makes a difference, that being an older brother has helped the younger, that some younger believers have been humble enough to seek out help and advice, and in their humility have honored us simply by requesting our help.
I have realized over the years that there are always younger men in our denomination who want to feel significant; I was one of them too. They struggle with knowing how to be recognized, wondering why their opinions, their voice, and their preaching is not sought out like others seem to be. Sometimes these men begin to think there is some secret society that makes decisions on who to reward and who to keep obscure. Sometimes some of these men feel they are inadequate in a comparison with the gifts of others. These feelings can lead to some bitterness and cynicism. The struggle with jealousy and envy inside us can be very real and pernicious.
There is no doubt that the Lord does give some folks wonderful gifts of preaching, writing, and organizing, along with skills of marketing, and the wisdom of building a fast moving team. The Lord sometimes creates circumstances that meet with a gifted person to help produce a fast growing church, and this in turn creates a reputation of success. If we lack the blessing of one or both of those things (gifts or fortuitous circumstances) we can actually feel as if we are suffering and that God is not using us as we think he should. If we have no friends, and no older mentors, we also might lack someone to help us interpret our own lives and ministries to ourselves.
Some of us were able to build a cadre of friends at school or seminary that are still loyal to us, some of us had a pastor in our life who really spoke into our lives and helped point us in the right direction. Some of us have older men in our lives who still think about us, pray for us, and give us counsel (even when we aren’t asking for it.) The other day a man I have known since I was ten years old called me to check on me. He is now in his eighties and I am in my sixties. He told me, “I still think of you as 14 years old.” If he thinks I can make a difference somewhere he will contact me and tell me, if he thinks I am wrong about something he will not hesitate to speak into my life. When we got off the phone with each other I had to reflect on what a blessed man I was to have someone like that in my life. I have to admit I have been blessed to have a long roll call of men and women like that in my life.
I speak here of the value of mentors, models, examples, friends, and people who love you enough to ask about you, or available to answer your questions. I see the difference it makes in raising up new leaders, of helping them feel they have an ally and someone they can trust. I have the significant privilege of younger men calling me to check up on me, to ask how I am doing, and to absolutely make me feel important by asking my advice.
I love giving a verbal reference about some younger person I respect, and there are many who are so gifted and passionate that I have great hope for the Church of Jesus Christ. I love being able to say, “have you met…, “ or “you should call…” I am not a “godfather.” I don’t have power to make or break people, I don’t want that power. I can’t put anything into someone they don’t have, or take it away either.
I realize that I must be careful, as should we all, not to ever slander or seek to hurt someone’s reputation with negative comments loosely or carelessly spoken. I am honored to be able to make someone’s journey through the labyrinth of church credentialing and politics, or along Christian’s journey to the Celestial City, a little easier. I would hope all of us older brothers would take on the responsibility of mentoring, coaching, counseling, and loving younger brothers and sisters along, and realize what a positive difference it makes.
I would hope all of those younger would seek out those who could help them avoid battles they don’t have to fight, or realize there are some opinions and ideas that are just plain stupid and unhelpful, or that things aren’t so badly stacked against them as they suppose. Most of all I would hope we could all point each other to Jesus, and the love and power he has decided to give us so freely.