Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan. Harry Potter and Dumbledore. Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. Frodo and Gandalf. These aren’t just some of the great pairs of literature and film. Each one represents a mentoring relationship. Inexperienced and eager novices receive wisdom and counsel from those who have walked the road before them. Opportunities for growth occur as the rookies listen and learn. The emerging identities of the beginners are shaped by the mentoring relationships they possess.
Those of us who contribute to this blog have significant ministry experience under our belts. But, speaking only for myself, I can say that I still have a lot to learn. I know I am only at the beginning of this journey called pastoral ministry. When I’ve stumbled, been confused, or lost the road entirely, I’ve turned to those who’ve walked the road before me. They aren’t self-proclaimed experts, but fellow pilgrims on the journey. Here’s why I believe mentors are vital in helping us to navigate our calling as pastors.
1. They ask questions that weren’t even on your radar: In the midst of a challenging decision or situation, questions swirl around my mind. I make every effort to answer them, but often end up feeling more confused than resolved. Countless times I’ve brought my muddled heart and mind to a mentor. With great gentleness, they’ve helped me to see that I’m muddled because I’ve been wrestling with questions that may actually be irrelevant. My questions weren’t dismissed as “wrong” or “foolish” but reframed to help me gain understanding.
2. They take you out of the tunnel: It’s easy to develop limited perspectives in pastoral ministry. We get so caught up in routines and our vision gets stifled. Mentors break into the tunnels we don’t even know we’re stuck in and invite us to see and experience what’s out there. So often I’ve thought, “This is the only way or path” and a mentor has helped me see that such thinking only keeps me walking through life and ministry with blinders.
3. They listen: Are you picturing an 80s after-school special with just the right touch of soft-glow lighting? Me too. I’m not talking about someone sitting across from you whose wistful expression changes only as they offer knowing head nods. Pastors spend a lot of time listening to others. Hopefully, each of us has someone—a spouse, a parent, a dear friend—that spends time listening to us. But mentors listen in a unique way. It’s difficult for those closest to us to listen without being “all in”; that is what makes our relationships with them intimate. Our relationships with our mentors aren’t like our deepest interpersonal connections. There is a bit of distance that allows mentors to stand as a non-anxious presence in our lives. This doesn’t mean they are cold and unfeeling. It means they are free to hear us in ways others cannot.
4. They get it: It’s tempting to think of mentors as people on a pedestal. But what makes someone a mentor is their willingness to kick the pedestal to the curb and get on the ground with the rest of us. When mentors have shared experiences similar to my own, it’s enabled me to move past a place of isolation to a place of connection. Mentors can say “I’ve been there. I know your heartache. I know your joy. I know your confusion. I know.” This empathic knowing helps us normalize things that don’t seem normal. It helps us see we are in a particular season that is part of God’s bigger story.
5. They pull a John the Baptist: Perhaps the greatest thing mentors do is point us to Jesus. We spend a lot of time teaching, preaching, leading others in bible study, and joining them in mission. But, if we are honest, we know that doesn’t mean we are aware of how Christ is present and working in our lives and ministry. Like John the Baptist, mentors witness to Jesus’ presence and work. Mentors help remind us we are first and foremost disciples. Our primary calling isn’t to “do” the tasks of ministry. It is to live our lives in Christ, to be rooted and built up in him, to join in his work by the power of the Spirit. Mentors steer us off the driven, type-A paths we might not even know we are on and toward the path of discipleship. Mentors stand with us and urge us to see Christ is here.
How have mentors impacted your life and ministry? What have you learned or unlearned as a result of your relationship with a mentor?