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

Overcoming the Mundane (or: Ministry can be boring, get over it!)

 

One of the things that happens when you become a pastor or leader, especially when you go full time, is that the things of God can become mundane.  When you see the sick healed every weekend, the novelty wears off.   When you do church every week, and a couple of new people come every week, and the church is growing every week – it can get a bit mundane.  It becomes normative, and what is normative is rarely exciting any more.

Even sharing the Word of grace and seeing lives changed and transformed becomes “the day job”.  

I used to see that feeling as something to avoid at all times – and I think that is the attitude most charismatics have.  So they try and make things novel all the time, always looking for the new thing, the new fix, the new source of revelation.  That is why you have churches going loony tunes over angel feathers, tiny diamonds appearing out of “nowhere” – even though people have been caught time and time again planting these things.  This is why there are fads like barking like a dog and having gold teeth (give me gold in the bank, Lord – not in my mouth).  That is why the drunken like crazy dimension of the grace movement is so attractive to people.  People get bored so easily.

That is why some grace teachers are now bringing the most outlandish “revelations” to people.  When they first taught the complete work it was so radical and so fresh as people suddenly realized their entire lives were built on the foundation of the sand of their effort, their blood, their tears, their sweat.  Then they found out they could build on the rock of His effort, His blood, His tears and His sweat.  They found the rest of the Lord and their lives were dramatically changed.

Once people are on that foundation – there isn’t much more dramatic change.  You are just building, one brick at a time.  An understanding of grace here, a key of how to apply it to marriage there, a piece of wisdom on how to worship: it’s all brick by brick, line upon line, precept upon precept.  It’s the lifelong task of seeing total life transformation by the renewing of the mind. 

And that process is repetitive, and it can often seem very mundane.  That is why our flesh seeks to replace that process with livelier, more sensational processes like getting zapped by the latest speaker on the circuit, getting drunk on the glory, getting high on the Most High, barking like a dog and clucking like a chicken, and having a burn night where you shout at God all through the night.  All of those processes have two things in common: they are sensational and they bypass the seed of the Word of God.

If you bypass the seed, you then totally bypass the harvest.  It’s that simple.  There is no life transformation except by a regular diet of the Word.  When we come to a Celebration service, it should be to get equipped.

As a leader, as a pastor, your job in life is to equip people to do the works of ministry.  You cannot do this without teaching the Word.  You cannot do this without sowing the seed of the Word into their hearts.  The people might be after something sensational (which, by the way is a direct synonym for carnal.  Both mean to be driven by what you see and feel), but you have to be the leader and give them something real, not something that is phoney.  You need to give hope, not hype; life not just stimulation (Onan died for doing that in the Old Testament, that’s a preaching illustration of the dangers of stimulating the church without providing seed if ever there was one – I dare you to preach it!); and something that works on Monday not something that simply takes their mind off Monday.

You have to lead.  Don’t make your service this weekend “never a dull moment” – get the Word into people, make declarations, lift your voice and teach the Word.

In Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah is told by God to go to the potter’s house (it’s in verse 1-3), and watch the potter make a pot with the potter’s wheel.  For those of you who are city dwellers (and who haven’t seen Ghost), the potter’s wheel is simply a small table that rotates in a circle.  You put a lump of clay on the wheel and spin it around again and again and again and again.  Every time you spin the clay around you make small changes to it, until it eventually takes shape as a vessel that has use.

That is our task this weekend, to take the people coming to our services and spin them around that wheel and see their lives take shape.  It might not be exciting or dynamic – it might be, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is absolutely life changing – but it is the way to build a church, it is the way to live your life.

Don’t get upset if you feel that you are going around in circles – every time you spin around you are learning a little, growing a little, changing a little, developing a little.  Don’t run from the mundane, overcome it by embracing it and using it to shape your life and shape the lives of the people around you.

Assimilation

 

No – we are not talking about my favourite Star Trek baddie, the Borg.  We are talking about the process that must be in place for making new people feel welcome when they visit a Sunday service.  In the Tree, we call that process “assimilation” – people moving from coming to a church service but feeling “not us”, to coming to a church service and feeling part of “us”.

80% of families who move area and are looking for a new church just go from church to church until they find one that is friendly.  That is all they are looking for – not healings, not miracles, not an accurate exposition of the hypostatic union, not an all singing all dancing youth ministry, but for a church that is friendly.

When I heard that statistic, I thought – I know that’s true.  People come to the Tree who disagree with grace and the complete work, but they know we love them so they keep coming.  Other people would agree with us line by line, but maybe they wanted a leadership position or pulpit or something we were not going to give them, so erroneously feeling unloved they left us.

People have to be allowed to belong to our group before they will believe what we believe.  They have to experience our unconditional grace and love before they will believe in God’s unconditional grace and love.

In Luke 7.11 it said that Jesus was followed by His disciples and the crowd.  We have to allow there to be a crowd – people do not instantly decide to become disciples.  It’s healthy to have a fringe of people in your church still trying to work things out – but while they are working out their response to God and His grace, if they are responding positively to you and identify with you then you need to ensure that they feel part of your church.  That will not happen by accident – or if it does, it will not happen as well as if you do it intentionally and on purpose.

So what is our process of assimilation at Tree of Life Church?  And as I share this – don’t try and copy it wholesale – it won’t seem authentic and people will quickly pick up on that.  A lot of churches suggest getting new people to stand up in the service and give them a round of applause or a small present.  That would not work in Dagenham.  I don’t believe it at all – the church is too variegated for people to feel at home and have that happen.  So we need to be more low key.  

So we have a three fold process, which is working well.  I am also going to suggest two changes that I am considering making in the near future to help us grow.

Firstly, we have a postcard called a Connection Card.  On the front it has a whole bunch of tick boxes that say things like “I want to know Jesus”, “I want to help on Sundays”, “I want to be water baptised”, “I am a first time visitor”.  All our ushers hand these out to anyone.  On the other side, you put your name and address and how you heard about us, and if you have any prayer requests or praise reports.  

Now anyone in our church can fill them out at any time – as the church grows it is difficult to communicate with people all the time, and this means that anyone in the church can write a note that the pastor is 100% guaranteed to read.  

People can then put them in the offering bucket as the offering bucket is passed around.  Now, the 1st or 2nd time visitor can hold onto theirs and hand it in directly to our information desk in exchange for a small gift (chocolates, a book).  This means the person staffing the information desk (who has to be an elder) can make sure that their email address is legible and also spend some time listening to the persons making them feel at home.

Then I read every card personally on Monday.   At the moment, we average between 6 and 20+ cards every weekend across the network, often with five or more from new visitors.  I read everyone, pray for everyone, email everyone and send a postcard to everyone.  That is my number one priority on Monday.  Before I process the counts for the weekend (please please tell me that you do at least a headcount each service as a minimum – if you don’t measure how can you know how well you are doing), before I process the offering, before I do anything.  

Get out of the idea that a pastor should rest on Monday.  Monday is your single most important day – apart from Sunday.  That is the day you deal with what the stirring on Sunday revealed.  Do not rest – strike while the iron is hot.  You can rest on Friday or Saturday, and be able to hit Sunday with full energy and life and smash that service.  On Monday there is work to do!

Those postcards instantly double our retention rate.  The truth is that the average church in the United Kingdom has 4% MORE new visitors per year than the size of their average congregation.  That is a gift from God!  Think about it – if you have a church of 100, you will have on average 2 visitors per week.  That’s 104 per year – MORE THAN YOUR WHOLE CONGREGATION.  Keep 10% of those and you will grow.  We keep 15-16% of new visitors at the moment which means we are a growing church.  Keep 5% and you will stay the same.  If one postcard to every new person and one email to every new person turns your church from a surviving church to a thriving church then this is the single most important decision you will make as a pastor – to build a healthy process of assimilation into place!

So many pastors get hundreds of people pass through their doors per year – a personal gift from the Father to that pastor.  And they let all of them slip through their hands.  Ouch!

Secondly, to ensure their experience from door to service is a positive one, every single service we have 2 people in place whose only job is to deal with new people.  The first one waits outside the front door with our first usher.  But whereas the usher stays in place and greets everyone, the greeter (Greeter 1) takes new people through the path way to the auditorium.  They introduce them to everyone they meet, explain how church works and then pass that person to our second greeter (imaginatively titled Greeter 2) shows them around the auditorium, helps them find a seat, makes sure they have a connection card and shows them love.

Meanwhile Greeter 1 is running back to the front door to do it all again.  We ask people we are not sure about if they are new – because we know regulars won’t mind because they know why we are doing it.  We then smile as big as we can – we want people to know that we are genuinely chuffed they came to church.  They start as guests, but we want them to feel like family.

This is a new procedure for us.  I developed it on purpose.  The first week we introduced the greeters we had a completely unprecedented 15 new visitors.  It was the middle of the holidays, a quieter than normal Sunday with no special programme or special speaker.  But as we put the procedure in place, people just came.  God is looking for churches that will welcome people.

Our third and final piece of the assimilation process is our information desk.  It’s just a table opposite our teas and coffees where new people can ask any questions.  There is always a leader of the church at the information desk and they can answer any question – double check we have people’s details, and just show kindness and grace.

That is how we do it, and that is partly why we are a growing church.  How we deal with new people is process and purpose driven – it is done deliberately not by accident.  We are a friendly church, the Assimilation process just lets us prove it.

Right now I am thinking about assimilation as I want our procedures to be even tighter.  One thing I notice is that people normally sit in the same places in churches.  So if a new person is in your zone, you notice if you are even a little observant.  I am considering appointing 6 zone monitors (if anyone has a better phrase let me know!!!) sort of front left, front middle, front right, back left, back middle and back right who will have some cards and a mission to welcome and make welcome any new looking people in their zone.  Even if the response is “well I used to sit over there but…” it’s still nice to make people feel welcome.

My second plan is to start the assimilation process from the car park not the front door.  That’s wrought with difficulties because we are in a cinema and about half the people arriving are for the cinema, but I thought if we baked some freshly baked brownies or muffins then people wouldn’t mind us handing them out and asking if they are here for church, and then walking them to the usher and greeter.  We have set up our “I’m New” page on the website for people to put their car license into so we can go and visit new people, but I am just thinking it through at the moment.

Our goal: to be the singe most welcoming church in London.  We will only achieve it if we do it deliberately and in Him.  But it can be achieved.  And we can mend the nets and ensure no fish escape us!

You Need People Who Believe in Your Dreams!

Every single human needs someone in their life who dreams big for them and isn’t intimidated or nervous if they succeed in abundance.  You need someone who loves you and knows you can make – and tells you face to face.

We all need someone with flesh and blood to tell us on the outside what God is saying on the outside: you are awesome and you can walk in your dreams!

In fact, I believe you need three people like this as a minimum. One who is further along the road than you – someone who recognizes a little bit of their younger self in you and your fanaticism and dream. Someone who has clearly acquired wisdom that you have no access to apart from them.  Someone who can give you advice with integrity because you know they know what they are talking about.

You need another who is about the same place in the journey of seeing the dream fulfilled as you – someone to challenge you, a friendly rival, a safe refuge, a comrade in dreams.   People like this are gold dust – so many people are consumed with ambition, that holding the hand of a peer or giving them a boost is anathema.  Don’t be like that – be confident enough in your dream and value that it doesn’t bother you to help someone else shine bright.

Finally, you need to find someone that is not where you are – but you know they will be and you need to make the path easier for them. That helps you realize you are moving forward and have learned some stuff.  This makes way for you in so many ways, and it makes you realize the investment that others have put in you and makes you appreciate it so much.

I am so privileged that I have an abundance of all three of these – mentors, peers and people I mentor. And the quality of people I have in all three positions is just wonderful. 

Maybe you wish you had people like this in your life? If you need some help in recognizing a mentor or leader, then listen here to message 4 and 5 here, they will help you so much in how to find the people that God has prepared for you to learn from and teach to.

If you know you have good leaders, peers and people you mentor – let us know here, or if you have any advice on these or questions, please post them!