Every day in my prayer time, I give thanks to God for the people who have mentored me and shaped my life along the way. Most of them were not formal relationships. They were simply people who invested in me or people from whom I sought advice. I’ll not share their names, but I remain deeply grateful for each and all of them.
To give a sense of what their mentoring has meant in my life, I’ll share a few of the many things they said and did. Some were from my days in the business world, while the rest I have known from my time in ministry.
- The supermarket manager who taught me to ask of no one what I would not do myself.
- Our wholesaler supplier who taught me that it was OK to take risks and experiment, and that failure was never final.
- The businessman who owned a large commercial bakery who taught me that praying on one’s knees helped to get us ready to truly listen for God.
- The seminary professor (from another school and from whom I never took a class) who has been a constant encourager for more than forty years.
- The pastor who taught me the power of a hand-written note.
- My dad who taught me how important it was to remember people’s names.
- The pastor who reminded me that I got paid to do the work of ministry and that I should be worth it.
- The woman who came to me after a sermon and asked, “Mike, do you want to use proper grammar when you preach?” (Being mentored is not always painless.)
- The couple who taught me to never underestimate the power of spoken words. There may be but one sermon preached, but every set of ears hears it differently.
- The pastors of my city who taught me a lot about trust.
- The old woman who changed my life and taught me more about prayer than I had ever known.
Of course, that is not an exhaustive list. The countless people with whom I have worked on committees have shared their insight and wisdom in difficult times of decision-making. The coaches of my youth instilled values of effort and fairness that are still held dear. Every teacher I had from the public schools to the university to the seminary shaped my life and thinking.
Last week my wife and I attended the funeral of one of our dearest friends, Dr. Max Hill. Max was an Associate Executive Minister for American Baptists in West Virginia. Recently retired, Max and his wife Debbie had joined a church in Charleston. At the funeral Max’s pastor recalled how Max had mentored him when he was starting out as a pastor. He described having Max’s undivided attention over a cup of coffee. He remembered the words of encouragement Max offered him. He remembered how Max listened to him. You could tell by the emotion in his voice, he was going to miss coffee with Max.
As he came to the end of his remarks, he noted how there were a lot of ministers from around the state in the congregation that day. He said his next words were not just for them, but for all of us. He said, “Find yourself someone to mentor.”
Mentoring is not about telling someone what to do and how to do it, so much as it is listening and trying to understand and offering encouragement. Many mentoring relationships are formal, like where supervision takes place. Yet many mentors are born out of more casual relationships. Sometimes they last for years, while at other times, they are but for a season.
Yet each of those relationships carries within it trust and truth that last a lifetime.
So, one might ask, how do these mentoring relationships get established. I believe it starts with being available. When you hand someone a business card and say “Feel free to call if I can ever be of help to you”, you need to mean it. A written note, a phone call, or even an email that reaches out and checks in can mean the world to someone on the receiving end. The invitation to lunch or for a cup of coffee opens a way to conversations that might not ever happen otherwise.
While most of my mentors have been older than I am; there have been a few younger souls who have blessed my journey. But most of the time it is the combination of experience and trust that allows the younger person to desire mentoring. The search for wise and authentic people in our lives never ends. Everyone needs a mentor. Some of us need to be mentors.
As the pastor said, “find yourself someone to mentor.”