For ten years I was a campus minister, first at Memphis State University and later at Southwest Missouri State. I did a lot of premarital counseling and performed a lot of weddings. I helped these students prepare to begin, but I rarely was called upon when things were ending. This is because college students hardly ever divorced or died. But all this changed when I shifted from the role of campus minister to the role of preaching minister.
At the very beginning of my preaching career, my first funeral message was for a ten year old girl who died due to a medical mistake. I was ignorant. I was inexperienced. I did not know what to say or do. So, I called an older, wiser minister and asked, “What do I say?” He said, “Get a pencil” and in that moment, and in many future moments, he was my mentor.
In 1992 Gary Collins wrote a book entitled, You Can Make A Difference. He tells of a team of analysts from Yale University who spent several years collecting research about moving from youth, through middle age, into old age. One major idea emerged — mentoring. A mentor is someone who guides, corrects and serves as a model for someone younger. Stories of mentoring go back to Homer’s ancient story of Odysseus who simply asked his good friend, whose name was “Mentor” to counsel his young son while he was away. And the mentoring style hasn’t changed much since that time. Mentors encourage and challenge their protégés to go beyond their comfort zone and explore their potential. Mentors listen. They observe. They advise. And there is nothing about mentoring that is done quickly. It all takes time.
I read a fascinating story about twelve executives grouped at the very top of AT&T’s international communication empire. Though they were very different from each other, still they had one common link in their background. Robert Greenleaf, a researcher for AT&T, found that each man had some early mentoring that greatly accelerated his progress. But most surprising was the fact that the same man mentored four of the twelve. As Greenleaf put it, this man had mentored one-third of AT&T’s top management. He went on to say that this man was probably the most influential manager of his generation.
Throughout history the leaders who have made the most out of life all had one thing in common — they all had mentors.
Forty miles south of Turkey, in the Mediterranean, is the small island of Cyprus. There a man named Joseph started a spiritual tidal wave that flooded the Roman world and changed history. And all Joseph did was mentor two men. One was an older teen that wrote down the story of Jesus. The other man Joseph mentored was a traveling tent-maker, a man who wrote 32% of the New Testament, planted dozens of churches and pioneered cross-cultural evangelism. The two men are Mark and Paul. And their mentor? Joseph’s Greek name is Barnabas, which means encourager.
Of course the greatest mentor of all is Jesus. And I think it’s interesting and important that Jesus did not begin his movement the way we begin movements today. He did not plan an advertising campaign. He did not write a book and launch a multi-city speaking tour. Instead, when Jesus began, he immediately chose a small group to mentor. In fact, his most well known sermon, one usually thought of as addressed to a crowd, is called the Sermon on the Mount. But have you ever taken a close look at who the teaching is actually given to? Matthew 5:1-2 begins this way, “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying, …”
Now I know that large crowds followed Jesus. I know that Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. I know that everywhere he went large masses of people formed. But I also know, as Mark 9 puts it, “Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples.”
I like the way one writer described the style of Jesus — “He choose twelve, focused on three and graduated eleven.” I especially like the admonition by the late Dallas Willard said in an interview, “Don’t count your people, weigh them.” That was the style of Jesus. What’s your style?