Mentors, Part 1

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being. 

Julie, M. Div., LTS, 2002

Julie, M. Div., LTS, 2002

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 1
by Julie Richardson Brown, Advancement Associate, Lexington Theological Seminary

I’d known from the moment the idea took root that it would be a tough sell. So I’d spent weeks plotting my plan of attack. What can I say, I’d think to myself as I scribbled potential talking points, that will make them say yes?

What I wanted is for a particular adult Sunday School class to serve as mentors (of a sort) to a group of middle schoolers. This class was made up of generally stable and successful baby boomers, most of them with children grown and gone, a few with a high school senior or college sophomore. Many of them were now caring for aging parents. A handful were already grandparents themselves. They were focused on and invested in all kinds of things, but those things weren’t youth ministry. One had even said to me when I’d first arrived at that church, “Don’t ask me to do anything with the youth. I’ve done that. I’ve served my time.”

Ok. Whatever. We’ll see.

Why them?

If you’re asking that, it is a valid question. They weren’t the young and hip and fun youth sponsors who kept things moving on Sunday nights. They weren’t even cool youth parents that the other kids didn’t mind having around. And most of them were pretty unknown to our 6th-8th graders at the time. Still…I was convinced that they were exactly who I needed to remind a ragtag bunch of middle schoolers how much God loved them, how much potential they had, how much their church cared.

You see, that Sunday School bunch—they knew things. They knew things that mattered. They knew that life doesn’t always work like we plan. They knew that sometimes marriages fall apart and children die and tragedy strikes and jobs get lost and addictions take over lives. They knew these things.

And they also knew it was possible to survive these things. I knew their stories. And I believed that our kiddos needed to know, “Life can sucker punch you with terrible force. And it can also call you back into all its loveliness—into its very self—again.”

In the end, I put away all my fancy talking points. I scrapped the big speech. And I told them the truth, “I need you. I need you because you know things that I don’t know yet, but that our kids need to know. So help me. Help me surround them with love and guidance and witness to the truth that there is, always, on the other side of darkness, bright lovely beauty waiting.”

And wouldn’t you know it? More than a few of them said, “Yes.”

This is why mentoring matters—in work, in growing up, in just being, it matters. Even when we are at our very best, there’s so much we don’t know, and if we’re wise, we’ll find someone who can perhaps show us the way. Knowing that someone else out there has a stake in our success simply because he or she has invested his or her life into ours—this can make all the difference.

I’ve known it in my own life—teachers, church members, professors, colleagues—who have said, “I’ll help you.” And they did. And still do. And I wouldn’t be even a smidgen of the person I am without them.

Who has helped you along the way? Who has made a difference in your work or your relationships? Who has helped shape your heart and your way of being?

These people—these mentors—these are who we celebrate in this blog space for the next few weeks. And in doing so, may we be reminded of how connected we all really are. And practice gratitude for the shoulders of others that we all stand on.