I saw the above in my Twitter Feed several months ago and thought I’d write on that subject some day…just now getting around to it…
Going on 23 years of ministry, I’ve had time too look back on an amazing ride: the highs and the lows. God’s given me some amazing opportunities and encounters. But among them, the greatest has been the privilege of mentoring young adults, preparing them to be fully committed followers of Christ in the world.
I used to determine my “success” by the number of people I helped launch into “full-time ministry.” That was the standard set by my spiritual fathers and mentors, but not necessarily the specific calling God gave me. The majority of people I’ve worked with have ended up ministering in the marketplace, not standing behind pulpits. There have been several who ended up as pastors as missionaries but not always the way I envisioned.
Recently, I’ve discovered another reason I tend to overlook those who have made it; in my pessimistic nature, I’ve fixated on those who got sidetracked–on those who chose shortcuts, foolishness, and immaturity versus God’s best. When God gives us the hearts of mentors, we want the best for those whom He entrusts to us. This becomes such a passionate desire that we are capable of making some big mistakes while we try to do the right thing:
- Letting them get too close: boundaries are blurred to the point that they become confidantes instead of students.
- Giving them opportunities they aren’t ready for: allowing them to minister the word, take leadership roles, make administrative decisions, etc.
- Focusing too much on their ability to present the Gospel instead of living it. Who cares about the gimmicks, tips, and practices. What are they like in private? Is their prayer life growing? Do we emphasize character over charisma?
- Desiring them to succeed can blind us to their flaws. We start to unknowingly compromise standards, making excuses for their indiscretions.
- Protecting them from hard lessons because of our concern for their welfare. As leaders, we need discernment to know when to hone in and when to back off. If God’s disciplining them, don’t interfere.
- Believing too much in the process instead of the individual, it could bog us down personally, as well as others who need to be mentored. A kind warning: Choose carefully and wisely those who bear your armor; they can easily stab you in the back
I asked a close friend of mine: “How do we get to the point of not living and dying with our protégé’s successes and failures?” He reminded me that Jesus got frustrated with the Twelve. If our only goal is to build disciples, then it would seem impossible to remove ourselves emotionally. But, we see Him push past the immediate lives of his disciples and pursue His Father’s Plan all the way to the Cross. Jesus was ultimately saying, “Father, they’re yours. Use them as you will. Do in them what is needed. Your will be done, not mine.” And the result: some fell, many more made it.
A couple other suggestions I might add:
- Find people who sincerely want to grow in Christ. Not everyone is ready or willing to change. They can’t be forced or compelled to make wise choices.
- Don’t fixate on people’s gifts but their potential. There are people who have skills; that doesn’t mean they want to use them for God. I’ve seen some of the shyest people with meager skill sets become champions. Let’s not forget the underdogs and fringe people.
- Accept that we can’t “fix” everyone’s problems. We grow fond of people and want to help them. But give God freedom to move as He chooses. We can’t solve their problems people for them. In fact, many times, they resent it.
- Make sure we’re still willing to grow. Are we still maturing in Christ? Still praying? Still practicing what we preach?
- Make sure Christ’s purpose is being served, not our own. We do this to bring honor to Christ and obey Him, not to build a trophy case.
- Believe the best but prepare for the worst. We stay faithful, point people to Christ, and bring out their best…but know that it doesn’t always end optimally.
- Realize that it’s Christ who they decide to follow or reject. Determine to do things properly, and in the event that they walk away, don’t take it personally. It was and always is for Him! If people decide to bail, we can’t blame ourselves or pick up the responsibility for their decisions.
- Never give up on people. We may need to back off and let them have their emotional/spiritual tantrum…but always leave the door open for them to return.
Shout out to Carlos Ortiz in Texas for the years of friendship, advice, meals, all night conversations, and dreaming of what could be. Your passion to mentor this generation constantly pushes the standard higher!