Mentors and Mentoring

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I am going to take a tiny reprieve from our current series on The Reality Gap (parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here respectively, and next week we will discuss part 3 – The Pursuit of Excellence) and talk a little bit today on mentoring.  I haven’t really gathered my thoughts, so this may come across as a little stream-of-consciousness and a little idiosyncratic.  That may suit some of you and may not suit others – it doesn’t suit me, I prefer to be prepared, but I wanted to get a post on this blog this week and this is a topic a lot of people have been asking about lately.

The first thing you need to know is that being mentored is a good thing.  An exceptionally good thing.  A good mentor can be worth years of experience.  George Hill says it like this: “the best way to get somewhere is to find someone who has been there and follow them”, and I have definitely found that to be true in my life.

I know some people don’t like the word mentor, some people find it too business-like, too secular or whatever.  If that’s you, just substitute the word “discipler”.  The fact is I like the word mentor – it gives the right connotation of someone who is helping you with a task.

So the first thing you need to know is that God has mentors for you!  God has put leaders into the body of Christ to lead.  That sounds so simple, but people misunderstand it.  Some people want to be part of a church for example, and not get involved with the church’s programmes and structure, and try to create their own programmes or build their own little structure.  Other people think they know better than anyone else, when the fruit of their life shows that they don’t.

God has ordained leaders to lead us forward.  People who have done what we dream of doing, who can through their experience and wisdom take us forward.

If you don’t know the names of your mentors, your leaders, your disciplers: the people who have gone before and are helping you through their wisdom and experience, then you have a problem.  I guarantee progress made in your life is slow and an uphill struggle.  You can keep going like that if you want, but there is a better way.  The way of God-ordained mentors.

You will never have above average levels of wisdom if you fail to recognize the leaders that God wants to place in your life.  That is a fact!  You will never rise above mediocrity if you can’t name your mentors.  You need mentors.

Now the world and its dog will want to be your mentor – especially if you are young, passionate and starting to see success.  The denomination that turned me down twice suddenly knocked on my doors when we had about 60+ people on a Sunday… but be WARY, many people are only interested in what they can syphon from you, and basically in controlling you and sharing your success, they don’t want to invest in you.

Remember a mentor is there to lead you somewhere you haven’t been.  So the first step is to realize: if they haven’t been where you want to go, they are not your mentor!

This sounds so obvious, but I have seen pastors join up with networks that don’t do anything.  A pastor of a church of 300 who was given that church at 350 and lost 50 people is not the same as a pastor of a church of 150 who has built that church from nothing.  They will not have the wisdom you need to take your church from 150 to 300, but if you are swayed by size alone, you might take that person as a mentor and then wonder why your church now has 100 people – because all they know is how to lose people!

If you are 36 years old, people in their late 50s will want to be your mentor – because they have more “experience” than you.  If they haven’t done what you have done, they haven’t got the experience you have.  It’s that simple.  Paul told TImothy when telling him to tell the elders what to teach and ensure the elders are living right not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth.  Sometimes elders think they have more experience than the pastor, and the pastor can think the same because the elders have more years.  No!  Years are not experience, and an elder is not going to give you the wisdom to get where you need to go because they have never been there.

A guy once came to me and asked for a paid job at Tree of Life Church.  I had met him once before.  I said “as what?” He said “as your coach.”  He was 60-something, I was 30-something so he assumed that he knew more than I did.  Turns out that 10 years previous he planted a church and in ten years took it to 30.  Now I am not knocking that, that’s an achievement.  That’s 30 people with a shepherd, moving forward.  But in the last 3 years we have gone from 11 to 150+.  The problems you find in a church of 30 are not the same problems you find in a church of 30.  In the same way parenting teens is not parenting toddlers!  He had zero experience of what I was and am facing, and yet wanted money to pass that zero experience onto me.  I declined.

Another couple approached me and offered to pastor me and give me advice about how to properly plant churches.  So far we have planted 3 churches, all growing, all healthy. Not one of them is perfect, but they are great places to be.  I asked this couple how many churches they had planted.  Zero.  Again, I am not going to waste time listening to zero experience.

You need mentors who have been where you are and who have been where you want to go.  For me, the call of God on my life has always been to plant churches founded on the complete work of Christ and to build disciples who dream and dream big.  So, I have had to find people who have planted successful, healthy churches to find out how they did it.  To learn from a mentor is to avoid learning from mistakes.

When I find someone who has planted from nothing a successful, healthy church my eyes are on them.  When I find that the church is built on the complete work, I follow them.  When I find that the person is raising leaders with big dreams, I know that’s someone I want to emulate.  Not become – I am me and he is he, but I know they have gone the path before and know stuff I don’t know.

Now this is the important bit.  Although God has prepared mentors for you, and although many people will try and mentor you and have never been where you want to go, when you meet a true mentor (and this is the key:) you have to pursue them.  You have to chase them, they will never chase you.

Yesterday I had lunch with one of my mentors (I have three – that’s a good, healthy number, too many cooks spoil the broth and all that, and you can’t purse much more than that.  One or two is fine as well, three is just because I am greedy).  I drove well over an hour to him for a meeting that lasted an hour and a half, then drove back.  I contacted him and arranged the meeting.  I asked for his time.  I treat his time as sacred.  His name is Robert Maasbach, and I first met him at a healing meeting where my son was healed.  I since have been to his church many times, just sitting at the back getting refreshed and have sat at his feet learning from him again and again.  I invited him to preach for me one time, we had dinner and I found this stream of wisdom which I just tapped into.  Since then I try and meet him once a month.

I treat his advice as sacred too.  Every idea he has given me I have implemented and everyone has brought success and growth to the church.  That’s because he pastors a church that is pushing 1000 people on a Sunday and knows what he is talking about.  The advice he gave me yesterday has helped me re-frame an issue we have been dealing with for a few months.  I thought it was a minor issue, but he told me no – in three years time this will explode in your face.  So I have made plans to deal with it and deal with it quickly and firmly.  He helped me strategize in dealing with that as well.  I have confidence in his wisdom because by their fruits you will know them.  I know that yesterday afternoon in one hour with my mentor has saved me thousands of headaches.

Some mentors are lifelong mentors, like Robert Maasbach.  Others are for a season or for a particular issue.  Recently I had the joy of driving George and Hazel Hill around when they were in the UK.  They have planted thousands of churches.  So I asked them lots and lots of questions.  By serving them, I had earned time with them, so I used it to pull on the wisdom in them.  

They run a network of churches with several churches in the UK.  To be honest, I thought I would have to fight for their time with all the pastors in their UK network, but they didn’t volunteer, didn’t pursue, so I did and I got to spend time with them.  Now they started in Canada and started planting churches on the other sides of their city from their main church – exactly where we are now.  So I found out from their mistakes what will and won’t work, and just driving them from one airport to another has saved me hours of agony over a difficult decision because George Hill clarified my priorities and imparted his wisdom to me.

I drove them up to a pastor’s conference, and they gave me some advice on creating a special service to attract people.  I took their ideas, and started crafting.  When George Hill was preaching at the conference he mentioned the conversation and I mentioned I have started planning it already.  That impressed him – you see people with a great deal of wisdom and experience know what works and what doesn’t.  What grieves their hearts is dispensing wisdom and seeing it ignored, then people walking into hurt and difficulties.  What lifts their heart is seeing lives changed, the kingdom advancing because their wisdom is received.  

Now I am in a position of favour, and now I am receiving more wisdom from them.  But I still have to pursue them.  That’s the key here – you have to chase your mentors.  You have to value their wisdom.  You have to make some life adjustments to ensure you get the time to draw from their wisdom.

Making initial contact can sometimes be the hardest step.  The thing that keeps more people away from their dreams and success is a failure to take the first step.  So, don’t delay take the first step today.

Write an email to someone who has done what you want to do.  Ask them for some wisdom.  Go to a conference where someone you want to emulate is going to be.  Humble yourself a little and admit there is more to life than what you know and ask the Lord to show you who is going to help you take the next step.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Benjamin Conway

Lead Pastor, Tree of Life Network