Much as with our teacher-appreciation lists the other day, most of us will be fortunate enough to be able to list some of the adults who took an interest in us as we grew up, and beyond.
When I was eleven, Chris H gave me my first ‘fancy book,’ to start my grown-up book collection, she said. It was Thomas Hardy‘s Jude the Obscure (most depressing novel ever written, but beautifully bound in green and gold, with unevenly cut, thick, cream pages. She was a significant influence in some difficult years.
The first big decision in my life that I made with explicit reference to what God might want for me was when I was fifteen. I had the offer of a scholarship to a fancy boarding school, and having read a lot of English and American boarding school books, I was thrilled by the idea But I was just beginning to find my feet in this whole following Jesus business, thanks to my involvement in All Saints’ youth group. I made my first appointment ever to chat to the youth pastor, and decided, partly thanks to that conversation, to stay where I was. I count this as probably the first meaningful action I took to enact my hitherto theoretical commitment to Jesus. Phil’s mentoring was pivotal in my Christian development.
Today’s 40 Acts of Generosity challenge is to be a mentor, and I’m a hundred-and-seven per cent for that. I think it’s probably true that mentoring is the most satisfying thing I’ve done in my life (certainly if it’s defined broadly to include parenting!)
I’m aware that this is something that comes easier to me than some – it’s my thing. I’ve always enjoyed spending time with people younger than me. When I was a teenager I went to be a leader at Forest Lakes children’s camp, sharing a cabin with six 10-year-olds for a week every holidays. After camp, I would post them encouraging notes and keep up a correspondence for a while.
My golden period of mentoring was as a youth leader at Karori Baptist, where my main role, for nine years, was to come alongside teenagers and help them navigate their way through the jungle that is adolescence. I am immensely proud of the adults these young people have grown up to be, and the role I had in their surviving and thriving and maturing. I’m quietly planning a reunion (are you keen, KBCers?)
The churches I have been nurtured by over the years have been full of people who have invested in me. My three youth pastors, Phil, Neville (and Kerran) and Rod all taught me a great deal, and were part of significant turning points in my life. Several university lecturers were wise and helpful beyond the classroom. Friends’ parents, employers, flatmates and neighbours have all had a hand in building me into who I am today,
It isn’t appropriate to list the ‘mentees’ (hate the word, but what’s the one-word alternative?) I have been lucky enough to spend time with since those early Forest Lakes days. But there are quite a few, and they bring and have brought a lot of joy. It’s something I believe in and enjoy and prioritise. When it comes to the relationship between this love of mentoring and my professional path as a teacher and pastor, it’s hard to disentangle cause and effect.
The best thing about it, especially compared to teaching and broader pastoral work, is the self-selecting enthusiasm. You’re not forcing anyone to share their life with you. If you’re in this relationship, it’s because your presence and counsel are valued, and because you care about the growth of this person. You get the treat of seeing someone flourish before your eyes, and you don’t have to do any cajoling or disciplining or crowd-control. It’s just such a pleasure. If I had to pick the most satisfying part of my role as a pastor, it would be these relationships. It’s also the thing I most wish I had had more time for in that role.
If mentoring has sounded scary to you in the past, let me encourage you: it’s all the best bits! You just hang out with someone you like, who likes you, and offer a friendly, listening ear.
If this sounds enticing, where can you start? Is there someone in your workplace, church, parents’ group, a neighbour new to your country, or the child of a friend or colleague, who you see potential in? Someone you click with, and whom you can imagine spending time with every month or so? If not, there are lots of community organisations desperate for mentors to match up with young people who don’t have enough adults in their lives who think the world of them. Could you be one?
Let me add my recommendation to that of Lord Hastings on the 40 Acts blog. Invest in someone in a long-term way, and experience an enormous amount of satisfaction.
As with our post on teachers, please use the comments below to pay tribute to people who have mentored you. You might then like to send them a link to this post to let them know how much impact they made. You’ll make their day, I promise.