In Homer's epic poem Odysseus, the famed Greek soldier is off battling in the Trojan war. His son, Telemachus, is left with the warrior's trusted friend Mentor. For 20 years Odysseus' military campaign kept him away from home. Upon his return, he found his son a grown and mature man...thanks to Mentor's wise and careful tutelage.
Over the years Homer's Mentor has become synonymous with teaching, guiding, and coaching. It's the rank of one who devotes himself to influencing and developing another. The badge of the noble who serve as role models, and human standards.
Today, mentor is a word in vogue. The noun is stylish in any language. It's wrapped in dreams and laced with expectations. It's a popular topic; a big ticket item. And it's as common in the corporate world as it is in the church world. For example, since 1991 General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, has spent the bulk of his time finding and grooming his replacement. He says "It is the most important decision I'll ever make for G.E."
Though popular, mentoring is often misunderstood. Amidst all the sterling descriptions, mentoring is plain old hard work and often very disappointing. It's shooting for the moon during an eclipse. It's digging for diamonds in a rhinestone world. But oh, the wonderful payoff.
Mentoring is never easy. Just ask yours, they'll tell you. When others gave up on you, they didn't. Somewhere, somehow, they saw something, felt something. They believed in you when you didn't believe in yourself. Today, your life and ministry are confirmations to their gut feelings and tenacity. Like you, my mentors are with me every day. I see their lasting touch all the time. Their words ring in my ears. Their lessons flash back as I lead others. Pages of my Bible are covered with their fingerprints. It seems we never outgrow them. As consultant Bobb Biehl says, "It's the only funeral we never look at our watch."
Mentoring is professional sacrifice; magma cum sweat. It puts you to bed late and wakes you up early. It's parenting without a license, building a ship in a bottle, counting your money in the wind. A true autobiography worth reading.
It's also giving back. Insuring that the next generation of protgs will be equipped with your tools. It's donating a sturdy wall on which to lean their ladder. Though not every candidate qualifies, a good protg is never difficult to find. No endangered species here. But because of their abundance it's easy to overlook some. Who would want an unreliable, sometimes foolish protege who would rather hang out at a bar than at a library. One whom even his friends said "jaywalked through life." To pass on him could be walking away from a young Winston Churchill.
Not many would select an anti-social, nonverbal, arrogant, mediocre student as a protg. Especially if that someone threw tantrums and chairs with ease and regularity. At least, that's what Albert Einstein's teachers thought.
And who in their right mind would mentor a blind and deaf seven-year old. More than one person had called the young Keller kid an "animal-like idiot." But because of Anne Sullivan, Helen blossomed, graduated from college with honors, conquered five languages, and was applauded by kings for her understanding and contributions to the world.
Mentoring is what we do. Jesus did, Moses did, David did, Solomon did, Paul did, Barnabas did and so did Peter. It's like sermon preparation, but over a lifetime. It's the assignment which counts the most in the class of leadership.
Vice President of Church Relations
P.S. If you're looking for great preaching tools, don't forget Preaching Magazine. It's my favorite. Check it out at Preaching.com. Do your congregation a favor by subscribing.
Copyright 2007 by Ron Walters
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Original publication date: May 4, 2009