Let me start by saying that I don’t believe I’d still be in the ministry if it were not for a man who came into my life over thirty years ago. Neither of us knew at the time that we would become lifelong friends. Even more than a friend he has been my mentor. He has been a tremendous influencer in my life. His unwavering commitment to take every call, listen to every heartbreak, talk me off every cliff, and be the source of reason on many occasions has allowed me to navigate life and ministry in a way that I still love what I get to do. My mentor reminds me of the verse found in Proverbs 27:17 which says, “Iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another.”
While a simple statement, its meaning is undeniable. A reminder that no pastor is alone. There is something about speaking the truth of God’s Word into another person’s life that is truly transformative. While my own experience is certainly not unique; the fact that I have had someone I can call a mentor has been a ministry lifeline that has forever shaped me in my various ministry settings.
I have found the following four characteristics helpful in a mentor:
Find someone who cares about you.
Care can be defined as “devoting thought to something and consider it important enough to be worthy of concern” (dictionary.com). For years I have looked forward to our phone calls. They remind me that someone is praying for me, my family, and the ministry I have the privilege of serving. I am constantly reminded that I am never alone, but there is someone who truly understands what I’m going through, who knows what I’m feeling and how each week brings new challenges and new opportunities. Having someone who understands and who provides a safe place to express yourself without fear of being called crazy, selfish, or admonishing you to just get over it, but truly cares and offers hope, encouragement and prayer is what we all need in ministry.
Find someone who will provide Godly counsel to you.
Let’s be honest, we all have hang-ups, habits, and hurts that unless they are dealt with will follow us, and often not in a healthy way. All our experiences impact our homes, our marriages, and our ministries. Having someone you can confide in, who hears you and doesn’t judge you but desires God’s best for you is someone we all need. Having the gift of listening and not condemning all the while reminding you of the truths found in God’s Word. We know the truth, but a gentle reminder goes a long way. Knowing that your personal well-being is their greatest desire can get you through the day, the month and provide hope for a preferred future. Finding a mentor who can provide Godly, wise counsel can help you run the race set before you.
Find someone who challenges you.
Allow them the freedom to ask you hard questions:
How is your prayer life?
What are you reading currently?
What are you doing to take care of yourself?
How are you doing maintaining margins in your life?
When was the last time you and your wife went on a date?
When was the last time you did something just for fun?
What are you currently struggling with?
Honestly, how many of us want to really be this transparent and answer truthfully? Admittedly, I have struggled opening up and sharing my struggles. Thinking that sharing is a sign of weakness or failure on my part. I came to realize that what was being asked of me is exactly what I needed to be a better husband, father, pastor, and leader. When I allowed myself to be vulnerable and acknowledge my own weaknesses, I came away truly aware of who I am in Christ and that neither you or I were meant to do life or ministry alone. It’s so much easier when you have someone you can share with, celebrate with, laugh with, cry with, and do life with.
Find someone who will go the distance with you.
What do I mean by go the distance? “Someone who will carry through a course of action to completion.” That is my mentor. In some ways it sounds like you’re in a boxing match. In some ways ministry feels like a boxing match. Getting hit round after round and asking yourself why do I keep getting up just so I can be knocked down again? I believe being willing to get knocked down and get right back up and continue taking the hits tells a lot about personal character. D.L. Moody said, “Christian character is what you are in the dark.” Dr. Richard J. Krejcir says that “Character is the display case of Christ and shows others our entire lives as Christians.” Ministry often feels like a boxing match where you get knocked down and counted out. Let me encourage you to get back up, prepare for the match of your life and keep getting up again and again until that bell rings and the match is over. No, I’m not crazy and neither are you. You are a child of God.
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24 ESV)
As I enter my thirty-sixth year of ministry there were many times I wanted to quit. Many times, I wanted to throw in the towel. I’ve thought many times about how awesome it would be to serve the church if it weren’t for the people. Serving is messy. Loving people is messy. Taking care of yourself is messy. Finishing is messy. Finding a mentor to go the distance with you—priceless.