When I was in ministry years ago, I didn’t have good models for the type of ministry I was trying to do. There were things I was trying to figure out that I just didn’t have good examples for, which resulted in a lot of trial and error. This is common for anyone that’s trying to pioneer something new in ministry. I finally came to terms with the fact that I didn’t know much about what I was doing. I had a few goals laid out in front of me, and was working toward accomplishing them, but I didn’t know if my goals were right, I didn’t know if my approach was right, I didn’t even know if my attitude was right.
So I decided to reach out to some people I respected. And I intentionally went to people who didn’t know me well and didn’t have my same job title. I was a creative arts director, so I went to senior pastors, executive pastors, and other ministry leaders. I went to them and said, “I’ve realized I don’t know what I’m doing, and I need your help.” It was a good moment of self-awareness and vulnerability for me. I was grateful that all of the people I went to said they’d be happy to help walk through this with me.
One of the guys I started meeting with every couple of weeks, Steve, was the pastor of a prominent church in Phoenix. We would go through books together by authors like Bill Hybels and Jonathan Maxwell that would begin to stretch me as a ministry leader. Each time I would come back with what I thought was the takeaway from that week’s reading, and every time I was surprised to see that there was always a bigger picture I didn’t see right away. There was always something I would learn about myself, as a leader, as a husband, and as someone new in ministry.
These mentoring relationships taught me there was more I didn’t know that I needed to learn. They taught me there were things about my personality and leadership style that were both good and bad. They showed me where I had blind spots. It wasn’t systematic or based on a textbook. It simply revolved around the idea of just living life together. As leaders who were further along than me in the journey, they could point things out that I didn’t know about myself. They could also point things out about themselves they had figured out along the way, helping me take steps in the right directions and avoiding pitfalls they might have experienced.
There are probably over a dozen things you should be thinking about regarding mentoring in your organization, but here are a few I want to focus in on:
- Every leader, no matter where you are on the “totem pole,” should be mentoring someone and should be being mentored.I don’t care if you’re the executive director of a $50M-a-year nonprofit. If you don’t have someone pouring into you that you can be learning from, and if you’re not intentionally pouring into someone else, you’re missing an opportunity. It’s surprising to me that most of the leaders we interact with in the ministries that Keenly works with don’t have mentors, and they’re not mentoring someone else.Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a “mentee” always has to be a young person. Someone could be 80 years old and they’re still learning from someone, perhaps younger than they are. Putting this into practice keeps you young in your thinking, fresh in your perspective, innovative, and open to the idea that you may not have all the answers. We should always be learning and always be teaching. All the time.
- Seek to be a courageous truth-teller.The faith-based community does a really good job of telling people what they want to hear. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or offend. But in reality, especially when we get into a mentoring relationship, growth only comes about when we’re open, vulnerable, and honest with each other. If we’re not open, then we’re not admitting there’s a place for us to grow. If we’re not open, there’s no opportunity for us to say “I’m having a challenge with this,” or “I feel like I dropped the ball.” We tend to have this perspective that we all have to have our stuff together at any given point. The reality is, we don’t have it all figured out. True growth can only happen when we’re willing to say “I messed up,” “I was wrong,” or “I need help.” The benefits of being able to tell the truth, even when it means you lose a little bit of your image, are exponential.Being a courageous truth-teller about yourself in these types of relationships also allows your mentor to be a courageous truth-teller with you. I remember one of my mentors being brutally honest with me one day. He said, “You know what you are Jason? You’re co-dependent. Your life revolves around pleasing other people and the opinions of others. You’re eventually going to self-destruct around that way of doing things.” Receiving that truth from him started me on the process of getting to a more well-rounded place where I’ve developed thicker skin but maintained a soft heart. I needed to hear that truth.Be a courageous truth-teller about your own struggles, and be a courageous (and gracious) truth-teller to those you’re mentoring about the areas in which they need to grow.
- Mentoring shouldn’t be programmatic. It should be about relationship.I was chatting with someone recently who was telling me about this mentoring program he’s trying to develop that’s very structured. There’s curriculum, steps 1-5 of what should happen at every single mentoring interaction, etc. The challenge I see with this type of mentoring is that it can tend to be programmatic. It can become more about whether or not someone is doing the right steps on the right schedule than it is about what’s happening on the inside.The better approach, I believe, is to be less concerned about checking off a certain number of boxes, and more concerned about the condition of someone’s heart. The condition of our heart is actually more important than the number of things we’ve done right or wrong in whatever leadership role we have. Your ability to pour into someone’s heart is more important than your ability to help structure their calendar or their to-do list or how they speak or network with people. Those things are important, but they’re secondary, because if the condition of someone’s heart is not being shaped and improved, then everything else is just tactics, just surface level. And if we’re going to be courageous truth-tellers, we’ve got to get to the heart.
As you’re thinking through or engaging in different kinds of mentoring in your organization, these are just three things to consider. Let us know if you’ve got questions about any of this, and feel free to check in with us and let us know how you’re doing.