It’s been 20 years since then. No fireworks went off, and as it was Sunday, I worshiped and connected and preached in our church just as I normally do.
But this two decade mark got me thinking. What have I learned? How have I changed? What has defined my ministry journey so far? So many things rushed to my mind that I thought I’d try something different: I’ll post 20 lessons I’ve learned, over the course of May. (I may intersperse others posts, too). By breaking it down, I’ll keep things shorter and not overwhelm one post. 🙂
So, here goes.
20 Lessons I’ve Learned from 20 Years of Vocational Ministry
Lesson 1: Good Mentors Matter.
From my earliest days growing up, through Bible school and into vocational ministry, I have been blessed with terrific mentors. Alan Jones, as my first vocational ministry leader heads that list, but there are others who’ve significantly impacted my life and ministry. Gerald, Waldie, Al and Duff, all who have walked with me “in the flesh” as it were. But, as I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve been shaped by good dead mentors, too, such as Hudson Taylor, Lesslie Newbigin, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen. I also have high regard for ministry mentors I’ve happily accessed through books, teachings and podcasts, such as James Houston, Eugene Peterson, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley and Carey Neiuwhof.
Whether they be dead or alive, close-up or influencing me from a distance, mentors have made me who I am. These mentors have:
Challenged my character
Shaped my skills
Given me opportunities
Pushed me to step up
Showed me what truly matters
Kept me focused
Believed in me
Brought me back to the basics
Alerted me to pitfalls
Taught me God’s Word
Cut through the confusion
Led me toward health and strength
Made me more effective as a minister
Nurtured my relationship with Jesus
In fact, many of the lessons I’ll be sharing came from my good mentors.
Good mentors matter, not only for how they have shaped me, but also for how they have then helped me mentor others. As I have been led, so I have led. We know that’s how it goes. As I’ve learned and grown, as I’ve been challenged and shaped, what I have experienced I have passed on. The influence of my mentors continues to extend to those I mentor. May their influence continue.
I’m challenged by this lesson because it reminds me of how vital mentoring is for the church today. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for great mentors. Nor would they.
So who is around me now that needs my close attention?
Who is around you?
Coming up in my next post: Ministry Happens Best in Teams
Mentoring young leaders is top priority. If the crush of life squeezes that out, then we’d better reevaluate what’s truly important. Dare I say it? Jesus placed mentoring young leaders as his top ministry priority. So should we.
I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside many young people as they follow Jesus. It’s one of the most influential things I’ve done.
Most recently, I’ve walked alongside one young follower of Jesus, from her pre-teen years through to college. Her name is Maddie.
How did the mentoring start? Not as mentoring, I assure you; it emerged from normal life. Our families are friends, and I connected with this little girl, just like I’d do with anyone. In 2011, I had the privilege of baptizing her into Christ. As she became an early teen, we chatted about books we loved and shared favourites.
As a violinist, Maddie has faithfully served our church, first as a budding, and now accomplished, musician. Our friendship grew, and in conversations with her, I saw a growing interest in science and faith, as she considered science for future study. Knowing how critical the integration of science and faith is for students, I asked if she wanted to meet for a coffee once a month to discuss some reading. Yes, she did. And so, mentoring began more formally.
After some time in the early chapters of Genesis, we dove into Ephesians. Why Ephesians, you ask? My vision for her was larger than just science and faith. To grow, she needed to know how to read and receive God’s living word into her life. She was eager for that, too.
We then read and discussed a couple books on the topic of science and faith. Our conversations ranged from science and faith and into life, relationships, future plans, work struggles, God’s work in her life, her ministry in the church, and her family.
Seeing her deep engagement in Scripture and her passion for Jesus, I asked Maddie to preach during our summer 2015 Proverbs series. Initially taken aback (she was 16 at the time), I saw the passion flicker in her eyes. She leaped at the opportunity. Along with my close coaching, she chose her Proverbs theme, researched, prayed, studied, wrote, and then practiced her message delivery, many times. And then she preached it! It was a powerful experience of growth and development for her, for me, and for congregation. (You can listen to her message here.)
That preaching experience confirmed something that God had been growing in her–a desire to give herself fully to God’s kingdom work, using her spiritual gifts to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus. Where will that lead her? God only knows, but his path is beginning to unfold as Maddie leaves college science to pursue theological studies this fall. Wherever Jesus leads her, being invited into a mentoring relationship, being coached, encouraged, trusted, and affirmed by her community–all of that has shaped Maddie’s understanding of God, of herself, and of God’s passionate call on her life. I’m thrilled with her and thankful for God’s work in her.
Can you see why it’s such a privilege to walk with young leaders?
As I reflected on our mentoring experience, some principles emerged. While happening naturally and intuitively, there are 10 actions I took when mentoring Maddie. I hope these encourage you as you walk alongside young leaders, too.
10 Actions You Can Take To Mentor Young Leaders
You look for promise. Ask the Spirit to give you eyes to see the potential that lies in the person.
You commit to guide, gently. I wouldn’t rush this. Don’t be overbearing. Let it develop slowly. Be present. Be encouraging. Build trust.
You look for response. At certain points, response is needed. They must take initiative. This is important. Maddie said yes to reading and meeting for coffee.
You provide opportunities for leadership, service and growth. If there’s no interest in serving or growing, they aren’t ready. That’s okay. Stay present. And keep watching.
You speak life into them. Tell them what you see. Encourage them, notice what is happening, fan the flames of their gifts. Cheer them on.
You step out and call them deeply, onto risky paths. And then, because of trust, moments will arise when you can challenge them. I invited Maddie to preach; later, I raised the question of God’s call on her life. For each young leader this will be unique. But the challenge should be something that, though stretching for them, is within the realm of their developing gifts.
You pray for them. Yep, lots. And their family, too.
You help them grapple with possible paths. The future can look daunting, but having a guide to define and describe what a few possibilities might look like helps. A few months ago Maddie asked me to help her envision a couple future possibilities. It was exciting and I think she found that guidance helpful.
You let the Holy Spirit lead. This is so crucial. We are not the ones leading a young leader’s life–the Spirit is. Our role is encouragement, support, cheer and challenge, helping them learn to follow the Spirit’s lead.
You stay connected. Young leaders usually move on. But we still play an important role in their lives. Over the last year, Maddie and I haven’t met regularly as she’s been away at community college. But we stay connected through social media, as well as on weekends at church, and I keep encouraging her (and she keeps encouraging me!) as we follow Jesus.
Mentoring young leaders is top priority. So many things demand our time and our energy but none so important as this. Young leaders are worth making sacrifices for, so they become all that God has created and called them to be. Are you in?
How can we make sure young leaders are being mentored as they grow up?
Podcasts are one of the ways I’m always learning. They are free and I enjoy them while driving, working in my barn or walk the country. Here are five regularly updated podcasts that I never miss. Some are ministry specific, others with more broad appeal. All are valuable.
My Fave 5
The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast.Carey Nieuwhof (pronounced “new-hoff”) is the lead pastor of Connexus Church, a North Point Ministries strategic partner. He is an influential leader and blogger from Ontario, regularly supporting the Orange Tour. I find Carey consistently helpful to me as I seek to pastor a church that reaches out to unchurched people. In his weekly podcast, Carey interviews the best of the best, including well-known folks like Andy Stanley and Jon Acuff as well as lesser known leaders doing kingdom work in terrific ways. Carey’s insights, whether on his blog, interviews or books, are challenging and clarifying for me. (Check out out his newest book, Lasting Impact, here.) I never miss an episode.
The UnSeminary Podcast. Rich Birch, a Canadian leading in a New Jersey church, hosts this punchy, weekly podcast, all about “the stuff you wished they taught in seminary.” Rich focuses on practical ministry helps for leaders. He is generous, offering many free resources on his UnSeminary blog, as well as a more in-depth membership program. Interviewing ministry leaders across a variety of churches and ministries, Rich podcasts weekly and keeps it pretty short, usually between 20-30 minutes. The topics range from social media and discipleship to Christmas Eve services and fundraising. Valuable listening, every time.
Under the Influence, with Terry O’Reilly, is the most enjoyable podcast I follow. A consummate story-teller, Terry draws together themes from the marketing and advertising world that have much broader cultural implications. My boys and I love Under the Influence, and stories Terry’s shared are retold and related to other areas of our lives on a regular basis. You may think “I’m not that interested in marketing” but you owe it to yourself to listen to a few episodes anyway. I think you’ll change your mind after you’ve had a taste. Terry and his team have presented podcasts on “ambush marketing” featuring an athlete who used his contact lenses to promote a product, to “the internet of things”, looking at how new technology is being used to track usage and data. You’ll hear amazing stories, from Bonny and Clyde to Baywatch to the secret of Mick Jagger’s successful voice and the surprising rise of button-fly Levi’s. Under the Influence is usually only produced for part of the year, with short episodes around 25 minutes long. If you haven’t listened to this podcast, you must try it out!
Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. Andy Stanley is one of our top leaders, consistently and faithfully leading his church to reach unchurched people for Jesus. I listen to his preaching for personal discipleship and to hone my preaching craft, but I listen to his short, monthly leadership podcasts to develop as a leader. Hosted by Lane Jones, Andy Stanley, along with occasional guests, focus on key leadership practices such as showing gratitude, leading through change and delegation. Though his immediate context is the local church (and a big one!), they intentionally broaden the application of their podcast to any leadership context, from ministry to business. I’ve listened to every one, and I’ve learned and grown through the insights I’ve gained. If you are leader, you’ll grow from listening to them, too.
Hardcore History, with Dan Carlin. What can I say about Carlin’s podcasts? Epic long, and deeply, fantastically worth it .(And I mean, EPIC long. Some are 3-4 hours, in a series of five. Yes, that’s right, 16-18 hours . . .). Dan is such a gripping, passionate, insightful storyteller that the hours fly by. His series The Wrath of the Khans tramples you into the dirt of the Mongolian steppes. Blueprint for Armageddon takes you into the trenches of World War 1 and leaves you bleeding and shell-shocked. Dan takes months to produce a single episode, and it shows. Even though he constantly reminds his listeners that he’s “not a historian, just a fan” (by which I think he means that he does not have a PhD in history), Dan reads deeply and broadly, amassing sources and leading us through diverse opinions to offer a compelling narrative. Worth. Every. Epic. Minute.
There you go–my fav 5 podcasts. I do listen to audio books and I regularly ingest Scripture through audio, especially portions of the Bible through which I am currently preaching or teaching (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the book of Revelation over the last year). I do have other podcasts or preaching that I listen to regularly, but these five seem to always rise to the top of my playlist. If you are willing to try one, you might find they keep resurfacing for you as well. I hope you do.