Answering the “How” Question . . .

Answering the “How” Question . . .
Carlton L. Coon Sr.

(Mentoring relationships are desperately needed in ministry as in other areas of work. My observations are certainly not definitive on the topic, but may provide a bit of enlightenment. Mentoring answers the “how” question. It is not restricted to those of us who are preachers. Local church workers, Sunday school teachers, youth staff etc. benefit from a mentor-protege
relationship. Developing such a rapport is not as simple as providing a resource.)

As I get older, there seems to be less and less I know, even in regard to ministry. Such a confession is not particularly comfortable to say or hear. What God has asked of us is being done in a complex time. Shepherding the flock of God is still pretty simple but the surrounding environment is complicated and will only become more so. How can I do what God has asked me to do? How can I move my life, relationship with God and ministry to the next level? How can I advance the church I lead? How can I be more effective as an evangelist? How . . . how . . . how?

One can be overwhelmed by the “how” question. Look around and one may see others who seem to get all the breaks. Closer examination usually shows the person has habitually practiced particular behavior that has resulted in their effectiveness.

In ministry, should I forge a new path; reinvent the wheel . . . what should I do? Paul offers something important: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) His word follow is not to just walk behind; it means to “imitate.” “Be ye imitators of me . . .” Paul encouraged the reader, “Be like me!” One who imitates another is not doing what comes natural but is applying someone else’s actions to themselves. Paul, “Imitate me . . . as I imitate Christ.” He is saying, “I’ve found an effective pattern for accomplishing what I’m asked to do. Now, you imitate me.” It is doing what has proven to be effective.

If I could swing a baseball bat like Albert Pujols (were twenty-five years younger, adhered to his fitness regime and work ethic) might I be able to hit a baseball 400 feet? Imitating Pujols’s swing would certainly mean I hit a baseball further and with more consistency. Consider the potential of being an “imitator” in ministry. Think of the key areas of ministry we are responsible for:

Communication through preaching. Effectively teaching the Bible to a Biblically illiterate culture. Leading the flock of God. Healing hurting people. Evangelism of a community.
Growing oneself, growing people, growing a church

Who do you know who has been effective in these areas? What principles are they following that has resulted in their being effective? What behavior or actions does that person consistently practice? In the person’s principles and practices you will likely find the secret of their effectiveness. In these principles and practices are things I’m able to imitate.
We are probably not comfortable with the word “imitate.” Each of us wants to be a “self-made” individualist and in the totality of what we are there is no doubt of each person’s uniqueness. In considering someone to imitate a word we may be more comfortable with is “mentor.”

In Greek legend, when the Greek warrior Odysseus departed to fight in the Trojan War, he put his young son, Telemachus, in the care of a guardian named Mentor. The Greek’ siege of Troy lasted ten years. It took Odysseus an additional ten years to return home. When he arrived back in Greece Telemachus had grown into a man among men. Telemachus’ impact was a result of Mentor’s  wise training. During Odysseus’ twenty year absence Mentor had been busy showing Telemachus “how” to deal with life. We now speak of a mentor as one who fundamentally influences the development of another person. Our dynamics are somewhat different– a mentor is not assigned by one’s father or some other elder. It actually seems each of us chooses those who will be their primary influencers. It is important we choose well and wisely.

There are no perfect men for mentors.

This pursuit of “mentors” has some challenges for us because we tend to seek perfection. Even turning to the scripture to find real-world help is surprising. It is amazing how non-heroic the  characters of scripture are. Quite often these guys were not models of virtue: Abraham lied, Jacob cheated, Moses murdered, David committed adultery, Paul was merciless toward Barnabas and Peter blasphemed. In spite of their lack each of these men were a significant influence on some other individual(s).

We must get beyond, “I’m looking for perfection.” If perfection is the prerequisite for mentoring; nobody I know is qualified. Mentors must be allowed to be recipients of grace.

* Martin Luther, a powerful influence in the reformation, had angry outbursts.

* John Wesley influenced many but suffered through an extremely difficult marriage.

* Charles Spurgeon struggled with such deep depression that he would go to a country home for months on end.

Don’t be so idealistic that you seek mentors who have no weaknesses. All men have clay feet . . . allow it to be.

Mentors ARE Needed

Someone wrote, “The fathers we choose are more important than the father we are born to.” I’m blessed by my biological heritage; however there were some things I needed to learn from men other than L.C. Coon. I chose some “fathers.” Let me offer some suggestions for selecting mentors.

It is important to ask ourselves, “Do I want to become what they are? Is what they are doing working? Is it making a difference? Do I want to become what that man is?” If some other person’s principles and practices are ineffective, why would I want to make the same mistakes? For me . . . consciously or sub-consciously I sought out men who had not “settled.” Those men became advisors with whom I would consult in various situations.

Real World Mentoring

Here is how it works for me: One man I’ve chosen to “imitate” is a veteran pastor. As situations came for which I had little frame of reference, I would pray and examine scripture for the “God principles” involved. Then, I’d develop a strategy for responding to this particular dilemma.

At that point, I’d call the elder; lay out the situation and ask for his suggestion on how to respond. After he gave his insight we would talk about my planned response. At times my plan was workable. Often he helped me see it from another perspective. After consulting with him I’d pray and take whatever action was needed.

As the years passed my own bank of experiences increased. I called him less often. Yet, on occasion, I’d find myself again calling on him for insight. There is wisdom in the multitude of counsel.

Another mentor helped me focus on revival. It was more by observation than from being “bosom buddies.” I’ve been in the home of G.A. Mangun less than ten times yet Bishop Mangun became a mentor. He is a model of revival living, prayer, personal evangelism, consistent evangelistic preaching, work ethic, faith and personal growth. In none of those things have I attained his level. Yet his focus on prayer and evangelism was applied to our local church. Much of what I learned was by observation from afar.

It was not natural or easy for me to “imitate” any of these men. Yet, as the years have passed . . . what was at one point imitation has become part of my own approach to life and ministry.

Reflections on Mentor Relations
* Don’t expect perfection or to agree with your mentor on every topic.

* Practicing what has been modeled is not natural. It takes a determined and decided effort.

* You will need more than one mentor. Every person has strengths and weaknesses. Bring people into your life and learn from their strengths.

* As time passes, the list of those who influence you may change. Some voices that once resonated are no longer sounding boards. As growth comes one needs to find leaders who have traveled the path that now lies immediately ahead. This means reaching out for new voices with fresh perspective.

I’m grateful for the men who have been part of my life. Men who have allowed me to “tag along” watching what they did. An old adage says, “If you ever see a turtle on a fence post . . . you know he didn’t get there by himself.” Few will rise to what we could be without bringing into our life some men we choose to imitate. There are some people around you who know “how” . . . ask them and observe them. They will be your greatest help!
Recommended Resource: Mentoring by Bob Biehl (Broadman & Holman, 1997) is the best book I’ve read on this particular topic.

The above article, “Answering the ‘How’ Question” is written by Carlton L. Coon. The article was excerpted from the January/February 2010  article of the Home Missions magazine.

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.