Mentoring: The Promise of Relational Leadership

mentoringwright(The following are reflections based on Walter C. Wright’s book, Mentoring: The Promise of Relational Leadership.)

Want to start or enhance a mentoring relationship? Are you interested in having a relationship with someone who might serve as a mentor?

Are you already a mentor to one or more persons but you are not sure how to make the most of such a relationship?

Would you find it helpful to hear what questions have been particularly useful to a mentor?

Then, read Mentoring: The Promise of Relational Leadership by Walter C. Wright. Wright is a Senior Fellow of the De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the former president of Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Wright not only has much experience in mentoring others but also has experienced good mentors as well in longtime pastor Donald Bubna and Max De Pree.

Even in the foreword of the book, written by Max De Pree, there is much help for any mentor or mentoree.

Why read this book?

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I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every December. George Bailey had many dreams but they were put on hold for the sake of others. He lives in Bedford Falls with his family, trying to keep the Building and Loan afloat.

At one point, he realizes that he is in serious trouble.  He wishes he had never been born. He is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never existed.

He is able to see how much his life has impacted some many people in his family, his town, and beyond.  He really has lived a wonderful life.

Many, many Christian leaders vastly underestimate how God is using them.  So often we think about what we are lacking.  We focus on the deficiencies in our churches and in our own lives.

Teachers, Heroes, and Sandy Hook

teach-for-americaEven days later, it is still hard to believe the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary really did happen.

Absolutely unbelievable.

For days to come, the nation will mourn, new information will be brought to light, and we will all grapple with the implications of this.

I continue to think about the heroic efforts of the school personnel.  What about the heroic efforts of the school principal, Dawn Hochsprung, as she confronted the gunman. Or, the efforts of the custodian who risked his own life as he ran down a hall warning teachers of the gunman.

In particular, I think about two teachers.

Victoria Soto, age 27, hid her students in a closet while she stood between them and the door and died trying to shield them from the bullets.

Another teacher, Kaitilin Roig, barricaded herself and her 15 students in a tiny bathroom.  She moved a bookcase across the door and locked it.  She told ABC News that she said to the class, “There are bad guys out there now.  We need to wait for the good guys.”

The stories of these people are inspiring but not surprising.

2012 Mentoring Group

2012 1This year’s mentoring group was outstanding.  Thanks to Shane, Benjamin, Shannon, Doug, Scott, Jason, and Ernie for blessing me with a great year in 2012.  Am I ever impressed with these guys!  All of them are ministers and are blessing churches.

This group met one full day per month for the last 12 months.  During these times together, we talked about life, Jesus, ministry, and the church.  Of course, as a part of any discussion regarding life, we talked about our relationships, including our spouses, children, and friends.  We remembered our calling and the meaning of our vocation.

Much of our time was spent focusing on building our interior lives.  We also talked about skills and good practices for doing our work and functioning better in our congregations.

A group such as this provides a safe environment, an atmosphere of encouragement and affirmation.  Last evening, hours after this group came to a close, I thought about the following:

1.  We are blessed when we are surrounded with encouragers.  One way this happens is to be a part of a group, like this one, of mutual encouragers.

2.  We are blessed when we are a part of a group of people who are committed to growing and learning.  Far too many people are content to lower the bar and just get by.  I loved being around a group of people for a year who were not afraid to raise the bar.

3.  We are blessed when we meet regularly with a group of people to talk honestly about our lives. Far too many people feel isolated and cut off, in part because they have no one with whom they can talk openly and candidly.

Question:

What do you believe contributes to the isolation and sense of aloneness that so many people feel?

 

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CoffeeBar_rephotography_011Each Thursday, I write a post that is designed with church leaders in mind. Many of these Thursday posts, however, are applicable to those who are not church leaders.  Church leaders and lay people both may find today’s post useful.

During July, I sat in a restaurant with a wonderful man in his 80s.  He is a former college professor, administrator, and minister.  He continues to think, grow, and make a difference.  I asked him to lunch because of particular questions I had about life as well as ministry.  I have always valued his wisdom from a distance.  This conversation, however, would be in person and last about an hour and a half.

My friend was generous with his time, his insight, and his wisdom.  After the conclusion of the lunch, I wrote several pages in my journal, carefully recording his answers to my questions.  I have read through these notes several times.  The conversation was one of the most valuable experiences I had in July.

One of the most important practices of my ministry has been creating the opportunities to learn from various people by simply asking questions.  I will ask someone to coffee or lunch and then ask questions about life, ministry, or leadership.  I have learned so much from these conversations.

I continue to seek out people whom I can learn from.  Let me encourage you to do the same.

4 Critical Areas that Need Your Investment

attentionOne of the greatest resources that you and I have at our disposal is our attention.  There are many demands for our attention.  Yet, every day far too many of us squander this valuable resource due to our own distraction.

We have difficulty giving our full attention to what really matters and being fully present in the moment.  Many of us skim along the surface of most any experience, like a bass boat speeding down a river.  We are in perpetual motion but our lives never get beyond the surface of the moment.

Consider what clamors for our attention:

  • A text appears on your phone.
  • You have a new e-mail message.
  • The phone rings.
  • Someone wants to Skype.
  • You are invited to be a member of a committee.
  • Your child is invited to be on a team.
  • You see a new Tweet from someone who interests you.
  • Your friend updates her Facebook status and you want to respond.
  • You watch television and are bombarded with advertisements.

Each day, somebody somewhere wants your attention.  If you are not intentional about where you direct your attention, others will likely get your attention simply because you are living passively instead of proactively.

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Recently, I was at Regent College and had the opportunity to hear Dr. Rod Wilson one evening.  Rod Wilson serves as the President of Regent and is also Professor of Counseling and Psychology.  His talk was helpful, informative, and encouraging.

The video is from another talk in which he discusses humility and leadership.  His words are helpful in thinking about what it means to have a healthy sense of self in a Christian context.

Five Suggestions for Cultivating Freshness

5Some of you may find this post particularly helpful.

I am going to share five practices that have been helpful to me in cultivating freshness. Hopefully, at least one of these might be helpful to you as you prepare your mind and heart for a new school year.

Each July, for the past nineteen years, I have stepped away from my daily ministry/work duties for the month.  Two weeks are vacation and two weeks are devoted to study.  I do no public preaching or teaching during this month.  The congregation that I serve has graciously supported this rhythm.

This month not only allows me the opportunity to rest and enjoy vacation, but has enabled me to spend focused time reading, praying, and thinking.

I want to share with you several practices that you might find valuable as well.

Wanted: Moments of Grace

It was an embarrassing moment as a young minister.

Charlotte and I had been living in Abilene while I finished seminary. I had just completed my studies and moved to north Alabama where I began preaching for a church. Now, I was a full-time minister for a congregation.

I was overwhelmed and had no idea what to do.  So, I began doing what many young ministers do: I watched several experienced ministers to learn how to do this work.

One preacher I had been watching seemed to put a lot of energy into welcoming guests.  He was at the large urban church near where I grew up.  Some hotels get four and five stars for a rating.  This church would probably rate five stars in somebody’s review. People in my circle talked about this church as if they were the group that seemed to do most things right.

I did notice that they seemed to do things smoothly, unlike me.  I handled things awkwardly at times.

embarrassment.jpg


One of my first Sundays I introduced a new family and asked them stand. After all, I had seen the minister at this church do the same.  I then moved on to introduce another new family.  Upon introducing them I asked them to stand.  The couple stood, but I noticed the man had a puzzled look.

“Jim, I’ve been a member of this church for a number of years.”

I froze.  I wanted to hide.   


One Question Every Church Leader Should Ask

What is it like to be someone else in your church?people3.jpg

I’m convinced that some people never wonder. These are the people who sometimes make awkward statements to others. These are the people who sometimes sound smug as they talk about people who have various problems. They seem to have no appreciation for how tough life has become for some people.

My friend sat in an assembly one Sunday morning. The minister began his sermon by referring to his “extraordinarily difficult week.” Then he explained that he had a fender-bender in a car last week. He went on to talk about trials and tribulations that people face.

Meanwhile, my friend listened, amazed that he would talk about a fender-bender using language like “trial and tribulation.” After all, for the last several months, my friend had spent his days sitting beside his wife’s hospital bed while she was dying of cancer. That morning, he left her bedside to be a part of this assembly. My friend decided this preacher really had no idea what it was like to sit beside the bed of a loved one and watch her die.

John Killinger, in one of his books, suggested that ministers need to realize that people in churches find themselves in a variety of circumstances on any given Sunday morning. He suggested an exercise in which a minister reflects on some of these situations. (Actually, this exercise would probably be useful for anyone.)

What would it be like to:

  • Have just experienced divorce?
  • Have an adult child in jail?

  • Be living on government assistance?


  • Be a new parent for the first time?


  • Have just learned you have cancer?


  • Know you are having major surgery tomorrow?


  • Be told by your wife, “I’m moving out. I’ve found someone else I love.”

  • Be told by your employer, “We won’t be needing you anymore.”

  • Live alone for many years?


  • Live in an abusive home?


  • Be single?


  • Want children and yet be unable to have children?


  • Face a move to a new community in a state where you’ve never been?


  • Experience severe depression?


  • Realize you are in serious trouble financially?


  • Grieve over your mother’s death?


  • Feel old and useless?

  • Care for aged parents while you try to be attentive to your children and grandchildren?

What thoughts, feelings, experiences, names, situations, places, etc. come to mind? There are times when I ask myself as I prepare to teach or preach, “How would a person in one of these situations hear this message?”  

Far too often, we see life only from our point of view.

Perhaps there are some people whom I will never totally be able to identify with. However, I can try. I can at least ask the questions. I can consider what it might be like to be another.   


Question:

What can church leaders do that might help them better understand the experiences of the people they interact with?