In Homer’s “Odyssey,” Odysseus, king of Ithaca, goes to fight in the Trojan War. Odysseus leaves his family in the care of a trusted friend, Mentor, who becomes a teacher and guide for his son, Telemachus. Presumably, over time Mentor’s name became associated with his role. Mentors serve as teachers, guides, confidants, accountability partners and much more. Given the institutional, emotional and personal demands on leaders, having a good mentor is no less valuable today than it was for young Telemachus.
Pastoral leaders experience a high degree of isolation in ministry, especially clergy serving in rural areas who are separated from professional colleagues by distance and denominational affiliation. As the average age of clergy ticks upward, younger clergy can struggle to find peers within their generation, which makes the early years of ministry quite difficult. Younger ministers know that God has called them, but figuring out how to maintain healthy relationships and navigate church politics is not something they learned in seminary.
A good mentor listens and lets us know that we are not alone. That is a huge gift when you consider the wisdom of Proverbs 15:22: “Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.” Mentors also help us solve problems. Talking to someone who is one step removed from our context can give us a better perspective and make us more aware of our default leadership reflexes.
It’s natural to think of a mentor as the wise, older sage who dispenses knowledge to the young neophyte. What if we turned the traditional model of mentoring on its head? Consider what might happen if ministers with only 5 to 7 years of experience mentored clergy with 20 to 30 years of experience. What new insights could lead to new possibilities for ministry? How might the church think about ministry to younger adults? Asking a young adult in ministry might yield answers that surprise us.
Having a mentor and being a mentor are gifts. Check out this week’s resources below as you reflect on the mentors you have and the mentors you need.
By Victoria Atkinson White
By Rhonda Mawhood Lee
By A. Trevor Sutton
By Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Before you go…
Mentors have played an enormous role in my life. Soccer coaches, college professors, pastors, experienced colleagues and parents have been my guides. Is there ever a season in life when we don’t need a mentor? The longer I do this work, the more I am inclined to say no.
For more than a decade, I have mentored seminary students. I never have enough time for this commitment, but when I think about what others have done for me, I know that any time I can give is well-spent. What is coming next for you in life or ministry, and who can you ask to be your mentor along the way?
Feel free to reach out to me and the Alban Weekly team at email@example.com. Until next week, keep leading!
Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity