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  • Doug Balzer

I Wish I had a Mentor

As I interact with leaders (especially younger) I hear a desire to be mentored; desires to have others build into their lives. I resonate with this and see it as genuine motivation, on the part of these leaders, to get better, to become wiser, and to possess healthy perspectives on a variety of issues.

My life has been forever changed by mentors. Others, who have traveled the road further than I, have been invaluable in guiding and shaping my own journey. These people have been sources of encouragement, correction, admonishment and strength. It is fair to say that I would not likely be in vocational ministry today if it had not been for past and present mentors investing in me. To that end, I’d like to share some of the things that I have learned along the way that have been helpful to me and might be helpful to you as well in finding great mentoring relationships.

Take the Initiative Most wise leaders desire mentors in their life. Most wise leaders with experience desire to invest in and pass on some of their experience to those less experienced. However it is not likely that someone will ever walk up to you and say, “I can see that you are so foolish and I am so wise. I’d like to mentor you.” So early on, by necessity, I learned that I need to take the initiative.

In my first year of vocational ministry I came upon a ‘crisis’ whereby I desperately needed an outside voice. I contacted a pastor whom I had met but did not know well. I contacted him because I had seen him walk through similar crisis with grace and wisdom. I explained to him my situation and asked if he was willing to help me through this (via telephone because we lived 800 km apart) over the next few months. He was very willing to help me in my journey and his wisdom and guidance proved to be invaluable through my crisis. I gave him permission to speak truth into my life…even if would be difficult for me to receive. I desired wisdom and admonishment where needed, not pats on the head. We have since become good friends. Occasionally he even contacts me for my advice and input. Yet this relationship was founded because I picked up the phone and asked for help. I took the initiative and asked someone.

Make an Appropriate ‘Ask’ In my invitation to this man I did not use language like “formal mentorship” as it demands lengthy definition. I simply asked him to help me through a specific challenge over a few months. When a younger leader asks me to mentor them, I am unclear as what they are asking. It almost sounds like a marriage proposal. What are the time commitments? Is there an end to this? Will we ever pause to evaluate whether or not the relationship continues to be beneficial to us both? Several times I have invited an individual into a mentoring relationship that would last a year or longer. First of all, I invited them to coffee to discuss the possibility. I explained to them the topics that I wanted to engage them in. I promised them that I would always come prepared with thoughtful questions. I verbally recognized the need to assess whether or not we possessed the right kind of ‘chemistry’ that a productive mentoring relationship needs. We agreed together on what this relationship would look like, our frequency and length of meetings and when it would either end or be evaluated for continued benefit. I assured them that if they declined that we could ‘still be friends.’ As a rule, I always drive to my mentor’s location and I always pick up the tab.

One-Stop-Shopping Doesn’t Exist I have never found one person to provide input into all the areas where I might desire mentorship (vocational, family, leadership, preaching, relationships, spiritual direction, etc.). As such, there are numerous people in my life who prove to be guideposts on a variety of subjects. Many times their role as mentor to me is far from formal. Sometimes it comes in the form of a thoughtful question when I am with that person. Other times it is in the form of observing their behaviour and taking notice of how they live their life. I have developed relationships with a variety of people who help me, from time to time, on a myriad of subjects. Although they each perform a mentoring role in my life I doubt very much that more than a few of them view themselves as a formal mentor to me.

Go as a Group Some people seem inaccessible due to their public stature and time restrictive schedule. Suggestion: gather a few friends and take out to dinner a ‘higher profile’ person that you might not feel comfortable approaching on your own. Tell the person that your group will come prepared with questions to engage in. Oh, and be sure to pay for their dinner. I’ve been amazed with the opportunities that I’ve seen with this approach.

Mentorship by Dead Guys A great number of people have played a mentoring role in my life that I have never met and never will. I still recall reading the autobiography of George Muller and how it changed my life. Oswald Chamber’s devotional book, “My Utmost for His Highest” has formed my weekly diet for the past 24 years. These dead guys still have a lot to offer. Moreover, there are many still-living authors and ‘Pod-casters’ that continue to shape my perspectives and guide my journey. Whether or not we form a face-to-face mentoring relationship is immaterial. I know that I benefit from their pen.

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