As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)
Mentors. Over the past decade or so, I have prayerfully approached a few men in my environment to be a mentor to me. Not really just a friend, not a "replacement parent", but more a wiser, older, "been there before" type I could talk shop with and seek wisdom (confidentially) on all things life/faith.
The first time I was encouraged to seek a mentor was during my time as an intern at Christ Chapel in Ft. Worth (late-90s/early 00s). My boss, the late David Phillips, challenged me to pray about the concept, and see if any names popped out to me. So I did (pray), and one did (a name): a dad to one of the youth I served, George Montague. George and I would meet weekly (or so), usually for lunch. We'd talk about following Christ, relationships with girls, the future, the past, etc. It was always a fruitful time, and since I live "sort-of" near George, I have made occasional attempts to re-connect (but I confess I've been too busy and/or lazy to make a huge effort...that needs to change!), and one day soon I hope to catch up with George again.
During my Houston/Chapelwood days (2001-2004), I didn't really have what I'd call a true mentor until the last 18 months or so we were there. This time, a mentor relationship developed more organically, less sought-out, but it was equally rewarding. A parent who volunteered with the senior high ministry (and I served the junior highs) that I seemed to click with one days asked me if I'd like to go running with him a few mornings a week. I despised (still do, really) running for fitness purposes, but definitely needed some fitness in my life so I agreed. So Fred Gibson, one of those annoying (haha) "20 years older than me but three times as fit"-guys, became a friend that I consider a mentor. We would run and talk, and he always had such poignant bits of wisdom (and humor) to offer. I remember especially he was an "ear" for me during a tough time during my last year in Houston, and it was/is so appreciated. Fred is a true friend (whom, again, I need to reconnect with...common theme in my life unfortunately), that also shared a love for cheesy sci-fi/destruction movies, and during my last week in Houston, we made plans to go see the enviro-destruction flick "The Day After Tomorrow"...mostly just to see New York destroyed by a giant wave :-).
Fast forward to my current time in Weatherford, Texas (2004-current). For my first 3+ years here, for whatever reason, having a true mentor just wasn't really on the radar. Oh sure, occasionally I would ponder the idea, but usually it wouldn't develop far. I did have an older co-worker/pastor/friend (Gary Turner), that could possibly be considered a mentor (and If I lived closer to him, would probably seek more of that type of relationship) during the first 18 months in Weatherford, but I guess I think someone a bit more "off the radar" works best for me (aka, I saw Gary all the time, and having a more focused meeting time to be with a mentor is more fruitful to me I suppose). Well, earlier this year, after much prayer and listening, I approached who I like to call, "The coolest 75 year-old you'll ever meet", Tom Loughrey, Sr. We meet every 2/3 weeks, and it is just a pleasure. I wish we could meet more often, in fact, but his schedule simply does not allow it (many, apparently, seek his wisdom on several matters...good idea!).
So, in closing, I highly recommend prayerfully seeking a mentor in your life. I know parents can have that role, and I love mine dearly and trust their wisdom, but I think someone "other" is more beneficial for this type-of relationship. Some pseudo-criteria I'd recommend as you search include:
- Someone same-gendered as you. That may sound goofy to some, but let's be honest: Guys and gals are just wired differently, and when it comes to seeking wisdom, I think it's best to have someone who understands your specific wiring better...
- Someone at least 10-20 years older than you. More life under a mentor's belt=more wisdom for you to ponder. It's as simple as that. Think about it: Sometimes of us younger folks like to "think" we are wiser than we are...oh sure, we may truly have had some experiences that would benefit others, but it just seems like our motives seem to mature as we get older. I know I have had a struggle in the past to want to "be seen as wise/important", and it got in the way... I have also seen that need in others I've been friends with who were close to my age (but felt the need to always tell me what they thought I should do, often cloaking it in "God-language", etc.). So I recommend seeking someone older. For example, I, if approached, probably wouldn't agree to "mentor" anyone older than early twenties at this point in my life (I'm 34...).
- Someone with similar spiritual convictions (but more mature faith-wise). As a Christian, I need a mentor who similarly is seeking to follow Christ. Yet, it needs to go beyond that... If you fancy your level of spiritual maturity to be, say, "5 out-of 10", I would seek someone that is more like a 7 or 8. Someone who simply seems to have a better sense of what it means to live your entire life holistically as an act of worship to God. Not perfect (duh), but farther along in that way... Just seeking the 10/20 years older thing doesn't matter if I, at 34, am more mature spiritually than a possible mentor of 60...
- Someone at least "sort-of" off your friend radar screen. I know we can have "wisdom-sharing" between close friends (like Gary whom I mentioned earlier), but I recommend seeking a mentor that, while they know you, "clicks" with you on some level, and is able to still watch you from afar, isn't someone you seek out (or vice-versa) daily just to "hang". I have had, in the past, a friendship that seemed to go into a pseudo-mentor-type thing, but we spent way too much time together...and in the end, it got weird. In fact, it ended up making all kinds of relational dynamics just goofy to other friends and co-workers, and resulted in some schisms between us and others. And I directly equate it to the fact that this friendship based on wisdom sharing was just not what was, well, wise. We do need to be able to share (and seek) wisdom from spouses, very good friends, etc., but I think if the seeking and sharing of life/faith wisdom is nearly all of what the friendship entails, it can become dangerous. So, I recommend seeking someone not obviously in your friend circle (following the above age guideline can help with this as well). George, Fred, and Tom are all guys I already knew and respected, but I didn't really hang out with them before we started the mentor relationship, and I think it helped make the actual mentoring a better, more "real" experience...and allowed them to impart some of the tough wisdom needed...because they were partially removed from my daily life (aka we didn't have to see each other all the time...allowing for each of us to ponder, pray individually over tough issues brought up at times).
So, I am eternally grateful for each of these mentors God has given me the honor of sitting with. I truly recommend that you prayerfully seek a mentoring relationship for yourself as well!