The Power of an Average Mentor
It was an inauspicious meeting, really. It took place in the corner booth at a Burger King. He, in his early 70s, a veteran pastor and church leader. Me, a young Bible college graduate and soon-to-be pastor. I was serving as a volunteer youth pastor at a struggling church in the Chicago suburbs and he was the interim, brought in to stabilize the congregation during a period of turmoil and decline.
I wasn't really sure why I called Bill and asked for a meeting. I told my wife it was simply to "get on the same page" with the senior pastor of the church I was serving. But I had other motivations. I was contemplating a full-time call to the pastorate, but casting out for better leadership examples than what I had seen modeled in my previous ministry experience. I also knew that Bill had influence over the church's search committee and … if a miracle occurred and he liked me, maybe he'd put my name in the hat.
I didn't telegraph that intention in our conversations, but I did honestly share with him my doubts about pastoral work. Because I was never gifted with a sort of Type-A, rah-rah leadership style, I'd been told I wasn't pastor material. In the paradigm I had grown up in, servant leadership was eschewed in favor of top-down, aggressive management. Not only did this kind of leadership make me cringe, I didn't think I could pull it off.
But Bill … he was different. Refreshingly different. Kind in every way, a great conversationalist, a gentle, caring shepherd of a man. We hit it off right away and soon Bill urged me to apply for the senior pastor position. He not only championed me before the search committee, Bill coached and encouraged me. This was in the fall of 2007. By June of 2008, I was installed as the senior pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church.
Bill became one of my best friends during my five years of pastoral ministry. On several occasions, early in my tenure, he saved me, literally. He showed me how to pursue change in a way that didn't alienate members. He taught me how to deal with conflict in a graceful, humble way. More than anything, Bill showed me what it looks like to shepherd God's people. "Make the ministry about God and about people, Dan, and you will do well," he frequently said.
In my years of ministry I've had the privilege of meeting many church leaders. I've learned a lot from their years of experience. Some people collect baseball cards, artifacts, or books. But I collect mentors, downloading wisdom and grace for crucial life choices.
But none have impacted me like Bill. He never once said, "Want me to be your mentor?" He just stepped right in, meeting me for monthly breakfasts, lifting me up during trials, and serving me as a coach. Bill cried with me. Laughed with me. Grew with me. He opened up his life and shared his deepest frustrations and greatest triumphs. And even though he and I ministered in two different generations, the gap never hurt our friendship. It only enriched it.