Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Someone Ahead: A New Kind of Mentor

In the 19 years I've been attending the same church, Pastor Mike  has repeatedly given this same piece of wise instruction:

Find someone ahead of you, behind you, and alongside of you. 
In other words, get a mentor, someone to teach you. Be a mentor, pass on what you have learned. Live in community with people who encourage you and challenge you.

I understood the concept, but I was in an introvert in a new church. I didn't want to talk to anyone, and very few people talked to me. Could I do this? How would I do this? Was it even necessary?

Eventually I learned to step outside of myself. I made a few friends who challenged me to step beyond my fears. I encouraged some women who were younger than me. And Teresa invited me to go on walks with her.

Teresa is my pastor's wife. She asked me questions about how I became a follower of Jesus Christ. She let me talk about what I was reading. She invited me to join a Life Group with her. She sent me an encouragement note after I joined. I watched her and the way she encouraged other women. I watched her nod her head and ask thoughtful questions in response to what the women said. When I started my own Life Group, I followed her example. I sent handwritten notes. I listened carefully, like I had seen Teresa do.

If I didn't know what to do about a situation, I asked Teresa on one of our walks. And then the walks became less and less often as Teresa began teaching others. It was a natural progression, and we continue to move in and out of each other's lives, depending on what's going on in our lives.

Teresa never used the word mentor, but that's exactly what she was.
In fact, none of my mentors ever used the word mentor to describe our relationship.

We just spent time together, sometimes alone, but more often in group settings. I watched, listened, asked questions, and learned.

I'm incredibly grateful for these men and women who have modeled what it's like to live as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Good mentors are hard to find. I suspect most of my mentors didn't even know I was watching.

Over the years, a few women have asked if I would be their mentors. We met together regularly, but I wasn't quite sure what to do, and I'm not sure we accomplished anything.

I still think the best mentoring relationships were more informal, more organic. They just happened as we spent time together and learned from each other.

That's why Margaret Feinberg's gave October 2012 blog titled "Four Keys to Finding the Perfect Mentor You've Always Wanted" resonated with me. Feinberg describes the difficulty in finding good mentor, the potential of feeling reject, the possibility that the relationship won't be quite what you hoped it would be.  She encourages women to take the risk and provides four guidelines for developing mentoring relationships in our lives:

1.  Reconsider the meaning of the word mentor. 
2.  Make sure there's a personal connection.
3.  Check out the person's life.
4.  Adjust your expectations.

This last one is incredibly important. No single person can give you answers to everything in your life. But perhaps that person can mentor you in prayer, or in cooking, or in training your toddler, or in learning to develop daily Bible study. Click on the link for Feinberg's blog to see more.

I need women who are ahead of me. As I grow older, I find that someone may be ahead of me in one area, but not in another area. It turns out that we end up mentoring each other.

Pastor Mike's advice, to always have some ahead, someone behind, and someone alongside, has been essential in helping me stay focused on serving God.

Who is ahead of you right now? How can you build this into your life?
Who is behind you? Who are you mentoring? How can you build this into your life?
Who is alongside of you?

We need each other.

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