Pick a Winner: Finding a Mentor

As I read the local, small town newspaper, a few years ago, I could not believe what I was reading.  Steve Riddle* was arrested on charges of fraud!

A few months earlier I had been in Steve’s large, spacious home during Christmas for an insightful and profound Bible study he was leading. From that point Steven and I started to get to know each other. He expressed interested in me and in the student ministry I was leading. Once we had even visited one of my students homes to have a very direct conversation about Jesus. Steve was bold, knowledgeable and authoritative.  I vividly recalled the conversation we had the week before his arrest. As we talked in my office about theology, students and life, I thought about asking Steve to mentor me. Even though the words were on the tip of my tongue, I hesitated and never asked. This would have been a huge mistake. Talk about dodging a bullet!

I first started looking for a mentor when my theological education and ministry experience began to exceed my father’s. My dad was an active churchmen but never a pastor or on a church staff. As my career as a pastor started to take flight, I needed someone who could impart wisdom, insight and guidance at a level neither my father or I had acquired.  But with the story about Steve, my attempts at finding a mentor have been at times frustrating and comical.

There was the time when I thought about asking the Lead Pastor I worked for to mentor me.  I would be asking him to be more than just a boss. It turns out that before I asked it came out that this guy was misappropriating church funds, a liar and paranoid. Rumor has it that after I resigned from the church he was pulled over by a traffic cop and found to be dressed as a women wearing a dress!

Sometimes the people I asked about mentoring me couldn’t or wouldn’t. Then there were times when I found a mentor, but I did not know what to expect or what to ask for. The let down was on my end.

When I moved to Colorado I was determined to find a mentor. A friend in Portland had suggested I meet up with a buddy of his who lived just outside Denver city limits. After meeting together regularly as friends for a while I asked if he would mentor me. He agree but then his life changed in a few ways that contributed to our relationship fizzling out. Nothing bad, we simply went different directions. No hard feelings.

So, I went back to the search.  In doing so I asked some people I knew who might have a good leads.  And after a few emails, a visit to a church and an invitation to coffee, I found the mentor I have been with for 2 years.

After all this trial and error here is what I found out about finding a mentor:

  • Know what you are looking for. Be specific. 
    I was looking for a mentor that was older than myself and in my next season of life. already. Someone who was a pastor, who carried the same responsibilities in the church that I did. Someone who was different enough from me and my church context that they could offer insight and perspective to me.
  • Ask others for contacts.
    Chances are you probably don’t know your mentor already, so ask around.
  • Don’t jump into the deep end too fast.
    When I invited my future mentor to coffee, I asked if we could get together to discuss the subject of mentoring (in general). It was not until our 3rd or 4th coffee that we agreed to enter into a mentoring relationship.
  • Set up a test drive.
    Part of agreeing to meet with my mentor was that we would give it a go for 6 months, meeting about every 6 weeks. This way if things did not work out, either one of us could bail on the mentoring relationship without any hard or hurt feelings.
  • Pursue the relationship with your mentor.
    I take it on myself to arrange meetings (days, date and times) with my mentor. He pastors a large church, with a big staff and is very busy. We schedule out 6 months in advance, but I ask at the end of each rotation if he would still like to meet. I also offer topics to discuss, pose questions I would love to have answered as well as allow him to speak into my life.
  • Don’t expect your mentor to do every things.
    Mentors are people too. They are busy, broken and in need of mentors themselves.  Don’t have unreal expectations there is no way they can meet. They are not going to be able to solve all your problems, meet all your needs or dig you out of every hole. Remember you asked them to mentor you for certain reasons (see the first point) and when you move beyond those reason (possibly outside their area of expertise) you may find them ineffective and unhelpful.
  • You are not an imposition 
    Yes, mentors have tight schedules, heavy responsibilities and many demands on their time, but good mentors make time to mentor.  Apprentices, mentees or proteges are not a bother or an annoyance. With that said don’t abuse the relationship or connection either.
  • Allow the relationship to be a two way street.
    The second time I officially met with my mentor he confessed his frustration at his own poor leadership and decision making.  That day we talked about misreading people, bad staffing hires and how best to handle mistakes. Even though this was not about me and it ended up be therapeutic for him (I think), I still learned  about leadership and the character of the man I was looking to be a guide for me.

If after all this you don’t find a mentor or a mentoring relationship that is a good fit, keep looking. If that yields nothing, keep looking. In the meantime position yourself to be the exact thing you are looking for for someone else.

*not his real name

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