Mentoring

Conversations in Mentoring

Untitled

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.

Rhythms from Mentors

Untitled

John and Doc (see “Mentors“) had distinctive patterns in their relationship with me. Both engaged in formal and informal mentoring that blended into diverse areas of life. They demonstrated interest in my family and in me personally, outside the projects we worked on together.

Time together with John and Doc generally looked like lunch together, a cup of coffee, a “third place” of some sort. Neither ever made reference to the fact that he was mentoring me or taking me under his wing. I don’t think I was ever able to pay for my own meal (even when I’d insist), and both men were generous with their time and money to a fault.

Learning with John centered around conversation and reading—especially books and articles. John had us reading a book per month on leadership, management, and finance. Leadership and management learning has been a lifelong (adult) pursuit of mine, but my rate of reading definitely trended up as a result of John’s influence. John still sends articles and food for thought every week. Our reading together was occasionally Christian but was more often common grace wisdom that we embraced together from a Christian perspective.

Doc’s and my relationship grew as a result of several key projects we worked on together. I learned the importance of strategic intentionality and willingness to proceed on a course of action, even if it’s difficult or unpopular—as long as it was a wise course of action. We approached a bloated, outdated ministry program together and were tasked with bringing it into health and sustainability. Doc designed an excellent tool that helped us evaluate decisions and make them about the process and health of the organization as a whole, rather than personalities.

Both men combined a unique love for people with a direct style of communication. We’ll next examine what made their communication so effective.

 

Mentors

Untitled

Mentors. Everybody needs one. Smart people want one. Wise people know they’re hard to come by.

God has blessed me with good friends and mentors throughout my life. My dad was my first consistent mentor, and no one’s filled the gaping hole created by his passing in 2005. Yet God has graciously and consistently brought men into my life at each step along the way. Sometimes those men have been peers who have become close friends, but others have been older … more seasoned … men who have been close friends too.

Two of these “seasoned” men—Doc and John—played a vital role in my early ministry that continues to impact my life today. I refer to one or both of them regularly in conversations with other people, though it’s been several years since we’ve been able to spend much time together, due to geographical distance. Neither spent the bulk of his life in pastoral ministry (one was primarily in education, the other in finance), yet both exercised remarkable influence in my growth and development as a person, as a Christian, and as a pastor. Since both men turned 80 in the past year, I’ve recently begun reflecting on mortality and how fast relationships go.

John’s and Doc’s relationship with me didn’t exactly mirror each other’s. Yet both demonstrated consistent initiative in seeking a relationship with me. I try to reach out to them periodically to say thank you, but that’s a rather paltry way to attempt to repay such a debt. So I wanted to take a chance to reflect on their impact and what made them so influential in my life.

Having a mentor isn’t as simple as looking for one, and being a mentor isn’t as simple as trying to be one. So I’d like reflect on the legacies of these two men over the next few weeks and see what lessons we might be able to draw from them. Maybe God will use their lives to encourage someone else.