Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where's A Good Mentor?

I've had a number of people express to me their need for a mentor and ask me how they go about finding one. Because I value the art of mentoring so highly, I wanted to address this. Generally, where a few are asking, many are feeling the need. Let me begin with some general principles that I've picked up over the years.

Everyone needs mentoring.
Asking for a mentor is not an admission of failure or weakness, it is an expression of a willingness to learn. Someone stated that "the self-taught man has a fool for a teacher." Each of us has room to grow and mature in various aspects of our lives. Mentors can be a great benefit to help us grow.

Mentors aren't perfect.
If you're looking for the complete package, the person who has the right answer to every question, you'll be looking for a long time. The reality is that each of us has strengths and weaknesses.

You may want more that one mentor.
Different people have different strengths. You may look to one individual to help you in a certain area of your life, say finances for example. You may choose another mentor for advice in helping you with your relationships. You also may actually outgrow a mentor. In that case, maintain the friendship but find someone else who can take you to the next level. A wise mentor will see this coming and perhaps even recommend someone else.

When you choose a mentor, reach up.
What I mean is this: the point of mentoring is to help you improve. Reach out of your circle. Aspire to a better place than you are today. Look for the best possible mentor and take a risk. Which leads to the next point.

When I was making the transition from my previous church to Clearview Community, I had to attend some orientation meetings for my new denomination. The sessions were lead by the then District Superintendent, Bill Morrow. Bill and I had crossed paths a few times. He had a background in counselling and had been a successful pastor and leader for years. One of his sessions was on mentoring. At the end of the session he said that while he heard a lot of people talking about needing a mentor, he did not see a lot of people asking. So, I asked.

That was 15 years ago, and since that time Bill moved on to be the General Superintendent of the PAOC and is now the President of Masters College and Seminary. I have met with him over the years - usually when I've been in a crisis of decision or needing advice on how to face a ministry challenge. He has always been there when needed and has often referred me to someone who could help me in a specific way... But I had to ask.

How does one find a good mentor?
Firstly, if you're a Christian, pray that God would guide you to the right individual(s). Another key is to ask the right questions. What exactly is it that you're looking for help with? Identify that need. Is it with life in general? Is it with developing your spiritual life? Is it leadership? Is it in family life?

Once you've asked the right questions, look around you for someone you admire in that particular area. Make sure that they share the values you feel are important. Do you honestly feel that they have something they could teach you and are you willing to listen?

Buy them a coffee or an ice capp and ask them. Talk about how you see this working and how often and ask them if they're interested. Don't set anything in stone until you've given enough time for both of you to determine that it's something you want to pursue. Think about what you bring to the table. Perhaps that means buying them lunch once a month or at least expressing your appreciation.

Finally, look around you for someone into whom you could pour yourself. We ought to be reaching up to those who can teach us, but also reaching down to those who are now where we were. I believe that this is true ministry. It is a picture of Biblical community that is uniquely powerful and attractive. We can teach people from a distance, but we impact them up close. Let's grow together.

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