Conversations in Mentoring

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This is a (long overdue) follow up to the post “Rhythms from Mentors.” John and Doc took an interest in me early in ministry and greatly influenced the years ahead. Both engaged in formal and informal mentoring that blended into diverse areas of life. This post highlights some characteristics that made their mentoring effective.

Regular conversations
Both men established a regular rhythm of meeting with me. It was occasionally weekly but more often monthly. Their lives were full (as was mine), but both made an effort to connect regularly. The regular connection allowed us to build trust and a depth of relationship that enabled meaningful, “rubber-meets-the-road” conversations.

Direct communication
Neither John nor Doc is a “beat around the bush” kind of a guy. Both men lay their cards on the table; you don’t have to wonder what they’re thinking. There’s no pretense in their interpersonal relationships, and both men are willing to be direct. Maybe it was the maturity of their years (both have a few decades on me), but neither was hasty or impatient while being direct. Clarity is a high value for me—so I thrived in an environment where both men had the courage to offer direct feedback. Passive-aggressive is no way to go. John and Doc modeled good conflict and healthy, direct communication.

Loving correction
A “woodshed” conversation is when you get taken to the proverbial woodshed for correction/discipline. A good woodshed conversation is correction done in love. John and Doc excelled in loving correction. As you can deduce from the previous paragraph, both men had woodshed conversations with me. Doc coached me in administrative leadership: “Make a decision. If it’s wrong, fix it.” John once took me to lunch and gently but directly told me, “I’ve never met someone with so many strong opinions about so many things. You need to learn to sit back and listen.” His loving feedback that first year in pastoral ministry enabled me to grow in patience, humility, and maturity … though life keeps teaching me I have a long way to go.

Confident risk-taking
You can’t have tough conversations if you’re insecure about the relationship. John and Doc were secure enough to be lovingly direct without worrying about what I thought of them. If they’d related to me out of a hope that I’d like them or approve of their leadership, I’d have lost much of the benefit of their loving correction. I’ve thanked both men over the years for their investment in me—particularly their willingness to risk the relationship for the sake of loving correction. They weren’t afraid of losing the relationship, and that somehow made the relationship more secure and their love more evident.

Kind affirmation
Neither John nor Doc is a man of many words. Yet both have taken time over the years to demonstrate their desire for an ongoing relationship. They’ve affirmed personal growth, encouraged me, and prayed for me and my family. They’ve always taken an interest in me as a person, not a project. While both men are a number of years my senior, they relate to me as a peer. Some mentors are “hey-let-me-take-you-under-my-wing, little guy” kind of mentors while others are “pull-up-a-seat-at-the-table, young gun” kind of mentors. John and Doc were the latter, and that has been such a gift. They gave me the freedom to make mistakes and lovingly came alongside me when I needed help.

Trustworthy friendship
John and Doc are just downright consistent people. You know what you’re going to get from them. Though I in no way deserve to be their peer—I am far their inferior in maturity, wisdom, learning, age, etc.—they have welcomed me as a friend. And it’s not only I who am the beneficiary of their friendship. Each placed I’ve served has gotten to enjoy my being a *little* less of a knucklehead because of their influence.

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