Better Together: Are You In It For The Long Haul?
Rome wasn't built in a day and neither are good relationships! The idea of investing in the life of a person over a long period of time is one that seems to get lost in a world where we are constantly looking for immediate results. Mentoring/Discipleship is a process where there is a long term investment that is made into the life of another person with the goal of helping them to achieve a goal or goals. How long does it take to mentor someone you as? I'd say mentoring never ends,
It's true that people step into our lives for a season, but when it comes to mentoring, great mentoring relationships tend to last well beyond the time that the two people involved are physically in the same locale. The overall goal of mentoring is to raise someone up in the way they should go and then send them out to do what they've been learning to do. In my career as a mentor which spans over a few decades, the greatest joy comes from seeing the people that I have invested in move out and realize their dreams and become successful. For me, I have always told my friends that I am in their lives for as long as they will have me. Over the years, the role and position in their lives changes, but if I have done my job well, the influence will always be there.
I recently have had several meetings with young men that I have been in relationship with for more than a decade, some more than two decades. It was very special to sit with each of them and hear about what they have been up to. Hearing about their careers and families and about the people they have served over the years was simple amazing and very humbling. As mentors, we never look to take credit for their accomplishments. we realize that our job all along has been to equip them to make good decisions for themselves. It's like being a parent, you know that you have shared things with them that you thought would be helpful to them in life, but you never really know if any of that ever landed until you see the fruit from their lives.
One of my friends, Mark, from my days as a collegiate missionary at the University of Illinois called me the other day to catch up. He, like myself is preparing to head back out on the mission field. It was amazing to hear about what He and his family have been doing over the last few years since we last met up. We both have been on similar journeys of taking some time away from full time vocational ministry and working in the "secular world". Both of us have learned some valuable lessons through the experience, but are glad to be getting back to our original passions. Our discipleship journey began in a gym of all places over 20 years ago. We did life together, always speaking into each other's lives and pushing each other on and off the court.
We were a part of a group of guys who loved God and loved basketball. All of us were involved in various ministries across the campus but our love for the game is what brought us together as we created a intramural basketball team that we had for a few years. Beyond basketball, the desire to follow God is what has kept us together as friends nearly 20 years later.
As a mentor, I couldn't be more proud of each of them. This crazy group of unassuming college students and their crazy campus pastor friend (me) not only killed it on the court, but these men have been killing it in life. Who knew then that these dudes would become missionaries, engineers, worship leaders, marketing execs, and even becoming pastors. Their works have literally affected thousands of people around the world. While doing all this, we've managed to stay involved in each others lives. We've been through many of life's crazy moments together, weddings, graduations, kids, major life decisions etc. It has been a blast to go through life together although we literally are scattered around the globe. Who knows what the next 20 years will bring but it will sure be fun to watch it unfold.
It's all about the long term. Mentoring is not something that happens in a few weeks but it's a journey that can last as long as both individuals are willing to stay connected. It doesn't mean that you will be in the same locale or even talk to each other every other day, that's not realistic. The realistic view is a relationship that is built on a solid foundation of respect and love that is developed over time. As you move out and head in different directions, you always know that you have someone that will be in your corner. One of my mentors said to me many years ago that when it comes to successful ministry, you simply have to answer two questions 1. Do you love me and 2. Will you be there for me? If you can genuinely answer yes and prove it, then you have someone that will roll with you for life. I've seen the fruit of this throughout my nearly 25 year career. Recently I had that lesson unfold right before me.
I was in Minneapolis to do some orientation and check out potential places to live as I am in the midst of preparing to relocate there. I know a few people there besides my co-workers and one of them is a brother named Jon that I have been in a mentoring relationship with for almost 25 years. Jon was a rather quiet high school student who had an amazing talent for the game of basketball. He may have been somewhat quiet, but his game would speak very loudly for him. We used to spend hours working on the game on his court at the family farm. We'd always go at it late into the night until his mom would tell us it was time to call it a day. I was impressed with not only his drive to compete and be the best basketball player he could be, but I was equally impressed with his heart for God and sharing the message with his friends and teammates.
He allowed me the privilege of walking the road with him through high school as he had a great basketball and academic career graduating at the top of his class and then heading off to college, There he got involved in campus ministry, met his eventual wife, and discovered a love for competing in Ironman Triathlons. After graduating and going into the business world Jon discovered that his love for helping others never went away, which resulted in giving up that career to go back to school to become a chiropractor.
To say that a lot has happened over the last 24 years is an understatement. Some of that happened while we were living in the same locale and some of that from long distance with times where we' didn't have a face to face in a few years. No matter how long it has been, the relationship has always been there and we have always been there for each other. On this last visit, it literally was like we just saw each other last week but the reality is that it had been a couple years but we picked up right where we left off. I'm excited as now we're going to be able to live in the same city again and see each other on a regular basis. I couldn't be more proud of the man he has become.
The great coach John Wooden said one time that whenever he meets up with a former player, he never asks them about their stats, he says he can read a box score but for him, he wants to know how they are doing as a person. As a coach and mentor, he did his job teaching them the game, but for him, it was more about teaching them about life, a life that goes well beyond their basketball careers. He was quoted as saying
"What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player"
For coach and for many of us as mentors, we are more concerned about who the people we invest in become. When they go on to reproduce fruit not only in their lives, but in the lives of others, you get a sense that perhaps they did pick up what you were laying down. It's a prime example of the bible verse that defines my calling in life is found in 2 Timothy 2:2;
"These things which you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."
This verse is one that the Apostle Paul charged his young disciple Timothy with at the end of his life as he was passing on the torch of the ministry to him. In the world of mentoring it is all about the long term journey that results in them carrying on and paying it forward to the next person. Paul and Timothy's relationship spanned many years. As time went on, they grew closer together as friends. Their relationship went from teacher-student to co-laborers in the Gospel. That doesn't happen overnight. It takes years of ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies to build the type of relationship that will lend itself to lasting life change.
Many will say that they have what it takes to be a mentor. It's not an easy task and it definitely isn't something that you can do part time. It requires full investment. If you want to know if you have what it takes to be a mentor, you have to ask yourself these three questions;
Do you love them?
Are you going to be there for them?
Are you in it for the long haul?
If the answer is yes, then you have the heart to be a mentor!
Stay Forever Strong!