This Sunday will be a unique opportunity for me. I have been asked to preach at my mentor's 30th anniversary of ordination. It's quite interesting that his 30th year of anniversary coincides with my 10th, and we're both getting to celebrate together.
I can first remember meeting my mentor almost 14 years ago at Christ Lutheran Church in Georgetown. My wife had been hired to serve as their church secretary while I was in seminary. Of course, I was a wet behind the ears youngster who thought I could change the world (and the church) without much difficulty. Paul looked me over and saw that I might have a chance at doing this pastor thing, but he also knew if my idealism wasn't tempered a little, I could be in trouble.
From that day on, Paul took me under his wing. We spent many hours in conversation, talking about the way church was supposed to be and the way the church really was. Thankfully, my parents raised me to learn from others' experiences as well as be critical. Paul had survived some pretty rough places, and he was a wealth of knowledge.
I tell people that I had two separate sets of training while I was in seminary during those four years. One was my formal education, sitting in classes and listening to professors talk. The other was my informal education, sitting with Paul and learning the workings of congregations and how peoples' lives affect one's job. Guess which education I refer to most now.
Paul is an excellent mentor. He's stubborn, just like me. But he's compassionate, like me. He's a little left of center, not like me, but I can live with that because he doesn't force his understandings on me anymore than I force my understandings on him. We both agree that the church is broken and it's not likely to be fixed in our lifetimes. We both resent authority and tend to go our own way. Our similarities have helped us forge a strong bond of friendship, and I am thankful for that.
But it is Paul's methodology of teaching that has been most helpful. He never has told me what I have to do. He has always given me the freedom to make my own choices and decisions. When faced with an issue, he'll list out the pros and the cons. He'll listen to me explain the consequences I expect, and then he will fill me in on the unexpected consequences. It's those unexpected ones that will get you. After helping me see as many angles as possible, I have the freedom of choice. Several times I have plunged ahead. Several times, I have taken a different course because of his insights.
How often do we take advantage of such mentors today? How often do we take the time to sit down at the feet of those who have been there, done that? Sometimes, I think we like to disregard the wisdom of those who have endured the battles because "we know better" and "this time it will be different." But is it really? Do we really know better or is it just our perception? Are we better off because we have sit in some classes and learned from people who are supposed to know such things, or are we better off because we have spent time with someone who has gotten one's hands dirty and bloody by doing the actual work?
I know there is a place for learning things through education, yet, I have come to believe that learning from someone who is in the trenches day in and day out is much more valuable.
Today, I thank God for mentors.