Jesus knew what he was doing when he called out 12 disciples to teach, to train, to listen and to support into their role of continuing His work in the world. Jesus was the first example of mentoring leaders for the future.
According to Webster’s Dictionary a “mentor” is a “trusted guide” or “counselor”. I have been privileged in my faith journey and fulfilling a calling to ministry to have been mentored by Sunday School teachers, pastors and a district executive. This is what I have learned from them about mentoring. By no means is this an exhaustive list; nevertheless, some of the salient features of their mentoring include:
1. They had a strong faith in God and in me. They were not afraid to speak their faith and encourage me to have faith. I remember when I first became a pastor that my judicatory executive responded to my lament of not feeling as wise and able as some pastors who had twenty years of experience. After listening he displayed his faith in me when he said, “Randy, when you have been in ministry for 20 years you will know how to pastor as one with 20 years of experience”.
2. They were excellent listeners both to what I said and to what I was not saying. Their agenda for me was less important than what I was wondering about or struggling to better understand. I remember one wise woman in the congregation that I grew up in listening to my youthful questions and uncertainty about life as I sat in a rocking chair on her front porch. After being sure she understood what my question or struggle was she wisely offered, “Randy, could this be another way of looking at what you are talking about?” Her trustworthiness, her willingness to listen and kindness allowed the gems of her wisdom to inform and transform my thinking.
3. They worked with me in what I was doing as a person of faith or in my ministry function. When I asked they were willing to offer ideas and suggestions to be considered and (in some cases) redesigned to fit who I was and the calling from God I was pursuing. When I became a district executive my mentor and trusted trainer walked me through the process of placement in the Church of the Brethren. He offered how he worked at the process and what was important to keep in mind. He then suggested, “It is essential that you learn how to place pastors, using your skills and insights and not just do it the way I do it.” I used that wise counsel to create a plan that fit my personality and style, and it worked.
4. They offered wise counsel when asked. As I began to face the first stage of retirement I invited to breakfast a trusted friend who had retired ten years before I did. I was interested to learn from his journey and discoveries about an adjusted life-style. We talked about my hopes and dreams for the future. He listened well and then offered, “Whatever you do, Randy, whether paid or volunteer, make sure it is meaningful work.”
A strong faith, listening skills, training, and invited insights all fit the role of mentor. Whether walking alongside a new Christian, training a different person to take over a leadership role or being with people in their struggles for faithful living, one has the opportunity to be a friend and mentor in such a way that another person is encouraged and set free to become the person and leader that God wants her/him to be. Healthy congregations are led by people who know how to mentor others into leadership.