by Jim Martin
I was a young minister who was eager, passionate, and committed to ministry. I was also keeping a counseling schedule that was intense and demanded long hours. I was seeing people not only from our congregation, but also from other congregations in our community.
Afternoons were often difficult and emotionally raw listening to those with marriage conflicts, rebellious teenagers, and those struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. It seemed as if each day was filled with more and more stories of heartbreaking loss.
One weekend, a great speaker led a family seminar at our congregation. At one point during that weekend when he and I were walking across some beautiful Alabama farmland, he asked me about my daily schedule and how I worked.
After sharing my typical schedule with him, he said, “Jim, this is way too much. You are going to burn out seeing this many people each day. If you are going to last, you need to make some adjustments.”
He was right! Furthermore, he helped me realized that I needed people who would speak wisdom and perspective into my life and ministry.
Mentoring Relationships and Scripture
Later, as Jesus walked with the 12 and spent much time with them, he helped shape and mold their thinking, often by asking questions or allowing them the opportunity to see him minister. Similar work would be carried on with/by Barnabas/Saul, Barnabas/John Mark, and Paul/Timothy. These are relationships where one spoke into the other’s life in a context that we might describe today as mentoring.
My Own Journey and Mentoring
For much of my adult life I have desired to be mentored. As a young minister, it was very clear to me that I had much to learn. Consequently, I was very intentional about seeking out people I could learn from. Over the years, I have learned so much from the following:
- Several trusted ministers who were very patient as I went to them again and again with my questions and difficult situations. Some of these have been a very important part of my life for many years.
- Relationships that I had for a particular season of ministry. That is, for a season, I learned from these people and stayed in contact.
- Occasional coffees and lunches with various people. These were more than casual conversations. These provided for more than casual conversations. These were moments of learning in which I asked questions and sought to learn from the strengths of others.
- Individuals through their biographies and autobiographies. I have read many biographies of Christian leaders, looking over their shoulders as they experienced both the joy and the intense pressure of ministry and life.
- At other times, I saturated myself with the writings of people such as Henri Nouwen, N.T. Wright, Gordon MacDonald, John R.W. Stott, and C.S. Lewis. For many years, I would not have used the word “mentor” to describe what I needed from these people. I just knew I had much to learn from others.
Seeking out and spending time with a mentor can be extraordinarily helpful in one’s growth and development as a Christ follower and Christian leader.
The Incredible Potential of Mentoring
This kind of investment can be helpful in the following ways:
- Mentoring can help shape your life.
- Mentoring can help you navigate your journey through life and ministry.
- Mentoring can put various problems and struggles in perspective.
- Mentoring can encourage you and help you see possibilities for the future.
Two Important Questions
Are you being mentored by anyone?
- As you think about this question, know that I continue to be mentored. I am still intentional about learning from others. I look for people I can learn from.
- What about you? Is there someone you could be learning from? Is there a person whose life reflects wisdom and Christlikeness who can teach you?
- Don’t think in terms of “having a mentor.” Think about a few people you could be learning from right now. Sometimes one might be in a mentoring relationship with another for many years. On the other hand, a mentoring relationship may only last a season.
- As you think about the possibility of being in a mentoring relationship with someone, remember to pray and to keep your eyes open. Sometimes ministers totally focus on having the opportunity to experience being mentored by an influential Christian leader who may live far away. Certainly there is much to learn from such a person; however, do not underestimate the capacity to learn from other healthy men and women who may actually be more accessible.
Are you willing to be mentored?
Following are a few questions that might be helpful to consider in answering this:
- Who am I learning from right now?
- Am I serious about growing and changing?
- Do I really listen to trusted people?
- Is there anyone in my life I talk with and then actually follow through on something that person suggested?
- Am I serious about moving from “what shall I do” to “what kind of person will I be”? Look for someone you can learn from. Ask to spend some time with that person. Go prepared. Ask good questions. Listen. Write down what you wish to remember. Listen to this person’s words and watch this person’s manner. Be fully present when you are with this person.
A few suggestions:
- Begin by praying that God would lead you to a person you can learn from.
- Attempt to schedule a time (perhaps coffee or lunch) to be with someone you would like to learn from. Simply explain that you would like to ask about ministry and life. Come prepared with questions. If you feel like you and this person mesh, you might about the possibility of meeting again in the near future to talk more.
- Write down any specific suggestions or resources that this person offers. Consider what it is like to be the person you have asked to meet with you. He or she is spending time with you, a younger church leader. If resource suggestions are made or insights offered but you do not take any notes, not even the names of books or helpful resource people, your mentor may wonder if you are really serious about learning.
- Remember that there is great value in having a long-term mentor, someone who can come alongside as you navigate the various turns and challenges of life and ministry—someone who will come to know you better and might be able to offer significant help because of prior knowledge of how you have tended to handle decisions, stress, etc. At the same time, do not overlook the value of others coming alongside you through life for a season. These mentors can be very helpful.
Life and ministry in the 21st century are difficult and challenging. If you and I are going to finish well, we need to invite people with wisdom and courage to speak into our lives. This invitation extended to another may be an important step toward gaining the wisdom and encouragement we need to live Christ-like lives and have character that reflects Christ.
Such wisdom may also be helpful in enabling us toward ministering well and finishing strong. Along the way, like those who have blessed us, we too can be intentional about mentoring and encouraging others who are just beginning.