I got into an interesting conversation the other day over lunch with a group of young leaders on our staff, most of them in their twenties, about mentoring. The initial question was, “Who were your mentors?” As I reflected on how to answer, I realized I had been mentored by three different groups of people.
First, by those with whom I spent time in personal, one-on-one mentoring relationships. This was particularly decisive in my early years as a Christ-follower. I was reached for Christ through the campus ministry InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The men and women of InterVarsity, and one staff worker in particular, were strategic in my life. Later on, I was privileged to have many other older, wiser Christians who continued to invest in me personally and spiritually. This has been strategic throughout my life.
Second, I was mentored by those who were contemporary role models. I may not have had much access to their lives, but they were heroes of the faith and I gained all I could from afar. For example, Billy Graham and John R.W. Stott filled this role for me. Though I was able to meet and spend time with both men, they were mostly mentors from a distance, leading lives I hoped to emulate.
Finally, I drank deeply from the well of historical mentors. By this, I mean men and women throughout history still available to pour into my life through countless biographies. From C.S. Lewis to Corrie ten Boom, Winston Churchill to G.K. Chesterton, I couldn’t imagine my life without their influence.
But in answering the question, I soon found myself lamenting the lack of mentoring in our day. Younger leaders seem cutoff from this most basic tenet of discipleship.
I’m not sure I know.
But I have my suspicions.
Some, I fear, have too much pride to be mentored. They do not seek out mentors, much less open their hearts and minds, souls and spirits, to wisdom outside of their own. It’s as if they can’t admit what they don’t know, or admit that someone might know something they don’t. Suffice it to say, there is an inherent humility that is necessary to be mentored.
Then there are those who are too insecure, even too threatened, to be mentored. For example, in every city on the planet there are seasoned pastors who have faithfully led their church for decades. In that same city are young pastors who have planted a church or taken over the reins of an existing church. You would think that the younger pastors would eagerly seek out the older ones, but they do not. Instead, a subtle competition takes hold.
Some, sadly, simply feel that those older and further down the road don’t have the time, interest or desire to invest in their life. Not only is this not true, but the irony is that those very same potential mentors feel that they are not desired or valued by those younger than they are. So you have a group of young leaders who feel, “They aren’t interested,” and a group of older leaders who feel, “They aren’t interested.”
One last reason some may shy away from seeking a mentoring moment is that they do not want to hear what they think they will hear. They do not want to be challenged. Affirmed? Yes. Challenged? No. Yet it is precisely the “iron against iron” that sharpens our lives.
All to say, be mentored.
Learn all you can. Humble yourself and go to those who:
…might know more than you,
…have lived longer than you,
…have been married longer than you,
…have built a church larger or at least more time-tested than yours,
and be mentored.
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.