This past weekend, I ran into a man who had mentored me in my first ministry position twenty years ago. He’s about twenty-five years older than I am. We have never been close. Since we have parted ways, we have mostly traveled separate paths. When our paths have converged, we have often disagreed. At the time, I thought I needed a friend, a sympathetic ear, an encourager. He provided encouragement, but in a different way than I thought I needed. He was a taskmaster. He challenged me, and I hate to say it, but I wilted under the challenge.
My first ministry position was something called a “church plant.” There was a small group of people in Palm Coast, Florida, who were part of a church in our denomination about thirty minutes away. They wanted to start a church in their community, and they hired me to help them. We started with ten people, six of whom were over 65, not very much money, and a pastor who was extremely inexperienced, both in life and ministry. For me, it was pretty much a disaster. As far as the church goes, they survived me. Although they had me as their pastor, they persevered and there is now an established church in that community.
After running into my previous mentor, I began to think about the time I spent with him. As I’ve indicated, this was not an ideal relationship, mostly due to my recalcitrance to be challenged. Yet, I began to think of all the things that I learned from him and carried into future endeavors that have helped me, and realized that without the influence of this man, my life would be extremely impoverished. Here are some of the lessons learned:
1. The value of hard work. Most of my life up to that point had been spent in school. I thought going to class, studying, and having a part time job was “stressful.” I was quickly challenged about the the appropriateness about this idea by the example and encouragement of my mentor, who was putting in 60-70 hour weeks to accomplish his dream. While I have read The Four Hour Work Week twice since then, I still maintain that hard, productive, focused work is the main element in developing competence and accomplishing your dream.
2. Building relationships with people who are different than you. We are naturally inclined to seek out and spend time with people who are like us — same interests, stage in life, socioeconomic status, values . . . While this man was a former corporate executive who was most like other business types, he pushed me to seek out people who were of different backgrounds, ages, interests, stages in life, seek to understand them, and build relationships with them. In the beginning, this is difficult to initiate, but it is a habit that will richly reward you. These days, most of my time is spent with people who are different than I am — middle school and high school students. Little did I know that far from being an intimidating experience, this would become a labor of love.
3. Become competent in every area of your craft. While I generally agree with the idea that the greatest gains may come with we build in areas of strength, it can be greatly limiting not to become competent in every area of our craft. My mentor could have been extremely successful by coasting on his administrative and people skills. Yet, he worked hard to become a competent teacher. It took me another fifteen years to learn this lesson and become competent as an administrator and manager. While the bulk of my work continues to be with ideas and people, becoming a competent administrator has been the skill that has enabled me to pursue other interests.
What have you learned from your mentors? If you could use the help and encouragement of someone who is ahead of you on your journey, what steps could you take to initiate that relationship and secure that help?