By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
Ecclesiastes 4:12, The Message
By Greg Williams
Several years ago I was at a conference in the pleasant little town of Elburn, Illinois, with a group of camp leaders. There was an engaging session on the topic of mentoring. We were encouraged to find a trusted, more experienced person to take us under wing and spend focused time helping us as we gained experience in ministry.
The next morning my good friend Ted and I went for a walk. I had known Ted for more than a decade and admired his wide variety of skills and experiences. He is 10 years my senior, so this seemed like the right fit. After circling the block for the second time I got up the courage to ask him if he would mentor me. His reply was, “Why don’t we just keep doing this ministry together and learn from each other?” My reaction was, “Yeah, that sounds good,” but I was thinking “Am I not worthy to be a mentee?”
I’ve learned that mentoring is not so much a formal agreement, but a relationship based on mutual respect and shared experiences.
Nevertheless, Ted did become my mentor, and he and I have worked together in ministry for more than 10 years. I recently reminded him about our morning walk and he confessed to me that he had gracefully declined a formal mentoring relationship because he felt inadequate to be my mentor. The upside to this story is that we forged ahead sharing ministry and life, and I was mentored in the process.
I have learned that mentoring is not so much a formal agreement with signed contracts that feels forced and stiff. Mentoring is, instead, a relationship based on mutual respect, honesty and shared experiences.
A younger protégé cannot and will not learn from a mentor he or she doesn’t respect. Respect involves the skills, knowledge and track record of the mentor, but even more importantly, how the counsel and wisdom is delivered. Does the mentor talk down to the mentee or talk with the mentee? Does the mentor pretend to know it all or does he or she exemplify the depth of a life-long learner? You get the idea.
Mentoring at the highest level is more than the transfer of knowledge and skills; these alone fit more into the realm of training or coaching. Mentoring requires something more: heart-level honesty. This means even having the tough conversations that are risky. (Proverbs 27:6 says that “wounds from a friend can be trusted.”) Being able to speak openly and offer corrective advice moves the relationship from coaching to mentoring. If truth-telling is not a high priority, there can be little mentoring value in the relationship. Both parties need to be able to talk honestly to each other when things become fuzzy and less than genuine.
At the core, mentoring is about sharing life together (both personal and professional). When Jesus gave the invitation to the 12 disciples “come and follow me,” it was an open-ended opportunity to share the highlights of ministry, the difficulties of confrontation and persecution, and even the mundane activities of hiking about the country. It was an invitation to share life and friendship together.
When Jesus gave the invitation to the 12 disciples “come and follow me,” it was an invitation to share life and friendship together.
The disciples had the great benefit of observing Jesus, serving beside Jesus, and then being sent out by Jesus (the best seminary experience ever). This pattern speaks to the rhythm of mentoring; there is movement from novice to co-worker, and then co-worker to skilled professional. These original mentees went from being weak, almost faithless students to believers who became the strong, faith-filled founders of the church.
Ted and I had been traveling together in the shared purposes of Generations Ministries even before we titled this ministry. Ted has always made himself available, being just a phone call or e-mail away, and he has patiently been the big brother whom I look up to (figuratively and literally—Ted is 6’ 7”). He and I both realize and deeply appreciate the constant presence of Jesus over our individual lives, our shared ministry, and the unique bonds of friendship that have formed as life and ministry have merged together. Thanks Ted, for allowing me into the journey of your life, and most of all thanks to Jesus, who binds us all in journey together.
Greg and Me
By Ted Johnston
I have known Greg for 20 years. We first met when he was 28 and I was 38. We both were employed in vocational ministry in Colorado; Greg in Denver and I in Grand Junction. We both coordinated regional youth ministry programs and we often met at such events.
When our denomination decided to make a change from one central summer camp to multiple regional camps, Greg and I were involved in the planning. This led to the formation of Generations Ministries, which has been the focus of our journey together for the last 10 years.
This shared passion for youth ministry has been the thread binding us together as ministers and friends.
In his article, Greg mentions the conference we attended together in Elburn, Illinois. Such shared learning experiences have played a major role in knitting us together. They have helped us share a set of values and commitments that form the foundation of our ministry and friendship.
Greg mentions that I declined his first request to become his formal mentor. At the time, it did not seem right to me that I should take a “senior” role in our partnership. Yes, I am 10 years older. However, we were on the same path of learning and growing. It seemed more appropriate that we should journey as equals.
Only later did I learn that a shared journey is what mentoring is all about. Yes, one typically serves as mentor, and the other as protégé (mentee), but I have found that effective mentoring is about mutual trust, respect and friendship. It is about life-on-life sharing, not about rigid hierarchy. And each learns from the other. In fact, I think I’ve learned far more from Greg than he has from me. But I know he feels the same about me. I think that’s how mentoring is supposed to work.
I remember how profoundly I was impacted when at age 23 a pastor took me under his wing and treated me like a friend. I did not forget that he was pastor, but he made me feel like an equal partner on the journey of life. He gave me significant opportunities to share in his ministry. In fact, he is the one I credit with instilling in me a passion for youth ministry. I credit to him the foundation that has sustained me in ministry for 35 years.
Mentoring is not about power, obligation, or a rigid program, but about life-on-life sharing focused on helping another person achieve their personal best. And it’s about passing the baton.
Shortly after that early mentoring experience, I spent 15 years in business. There I had several “bosses” with the power to promote or fire me. However, what I experienced from most of them (and for this I am very grateful), was mentoring from a more experienced and able person who was willing to teach me, share life with me, and open doors of opportunity.
I will never forget my boss in Colorado who invited my wife Donna and me into his family life—we even lived in their home for a time. He then spent hours after work with me teaching me some of the “tricks of the trade.” That greatly encouraged and challenged me—I worked hard to live into his example.
When I left that company in 1987 to enter ministry full time, I left behind four men and two women whom I had mentored. Any one of them was fully able to take my place. For that I give credit to the one who mentored me. And so there was a chain of mentoring that spanned three generations.
Through that experience and now in the mentoring relationship I have with Greg and with others, God has shown me that mentoring is not about power, not about obligation, not about a rigid program, but about life-on-life sharing focused on helping another person achieve their personal best. And it’s about passing the baton.
I had the privilege this last March to pass the baton of leadership of Generations Ministries on to Greg. I had not grown tired of my role in Generations Ministries. Not at all. But I knew it was time to step aside so Greg could step up. That is what mentors do.
Others had done it for me before. I had done it several times before and seen the wonderful fruit borne. And though it’s not an easy thing to do (at least not for me), God has always given me new opportunities, including new possibilities for mentoring others, new opportunities to share life, passion and skill, to spend time (even years) equipping another, and then to turn leadership over to them. I hope to do it a few more times before I check out.
It seems to me that my generation (the “boomers”) faces a significant opportunity (and challenge). Our generation has been dominant in numbers alone, but also in many other ways. Now we are challenged to pass the baton we have been given to the next generation. I pray that we will do so artfully—that we will do so in ways that serve those younger than us by not merely throwing the baton to them on our way out the door, but by spending time in transition, serving as their mentors. We do so by giving them a place “at the table,” and not just any table, but the “head table.” Then we need to give them the head position at the head table, even if that means that we move to a lower position.
Passing the baton, however, does not mean to abandon. Greg has asked me to continue serving as one of his advisors. One of the greatest joys of my life is seeing the Body of Christ operate as what it truly is: a family where multiple generations serve side-by-side. This is the way of Jesus, and I love it.
As Greg moved into my position, he needed someone to take his place. Because Greg had also been mentoring, there was someone ready to take the baton.
Greg and Me
By Anthony Mullins
Why would you do that?” It was a sincere question that deserved a thoughtful response. It was puzzling to me that he would let go of something so meaningful. When I posed the question five years ago to Greg Williams, a mentor of mine, he was the director of a Christian youth camp in North Carolina called Higher Ground.
I had been serving on the volunteer staff there and witnessed firsthand the outstanding job Greg had done in leading that ministry. Now, at a time when the camp was running smoothly, he decides to pass the baton of leadership to me.
Greg was in his 40s, vibrant and in good health and it made no sense for him to walk away from a good thing. He methodically walked me through his decision-making process and shared his strategy for making disciples. That conversation marked the beginning of our journey into a mentoring relationship.
He introduced me to what I will call a ministry of “share and release.” He shared his deep desire to multiply disciples of Jesus and to help groom and release emerging leaders. We continued to tour the campground that afternoon and talked about life, family and ministry. Since that day, we have shared similar conversations over meals, at conferences, at camps, in coffee houses, over the phone, in his home and mine, at church, at airports, on long road trips, on the basketball court and in restaurants, celebrating personal and shared milestones. He has always had time for me.
Mentoring relationships require immersing oneself into someone else’s life. Entering the highs and the lows, the joys and the sorrows.
Greg saw something in me and wanted to help me reach my goals and fulfill my deepest, most heartfelt ambitions. What has been really special about the relationship is that he’s never treated it like a teacher-pupil encounter. It has never been a boss-to-employee relationship. It has been more like an older brother putting his arm around a younger brother and saying, “Let’s go learn and have some fun together while we are doing it.” It’s been life-on-life, an authentic and transparent relationship. Offering one’s life and spending that kind of time with someone speaks volumes. Whether or not it’s actually articulated verbally, it says that you value the other person. Who doesn’t want to be in that kind of friendship? What a rich gift from God!
It is through our shared ministry that I came to know Greg’s mentor—Ted. Ted is one cool dude, and I have a deep level of affection for who he is and admiration for his service to the Lord. Three generations of mentoring relationships; how neat is that?
I have entered a season in my life where I love to mentor and coach younger people and help them experience the joy that is truly theirs in Jesus. It’s interesting how things have come full circle. I have had the great privilege of directing a Christian youth camp in the Atlanta, Georgia, area for the past few years. In spring 2009, I handed the baton of leadership to a friend and gifted leader—“share and release” in action once again. Funny, just a few short years ago, I would have thought it crazy to have given up a great ministry like that. Now, thinking back on the powerful lesson Greg taught me about multiplying leaders, it makes perfect sense.
There’s an old African proverb that states if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. For me, that sums up the beauty of mentoring relationships. It’s about “we” instead of “me.” Mentoring relationships aren’t overly complicated, but it does require a willingness to immerse oneself into someone else’s life. It means entering the highs and the lows, the peaks and the valleys, the joys and the sorrows. My friend Greg has skillfully done that for me, as his friend Ted did for him.
I will always be grateful.
Greg Williams and Ted Johnston co-teach Trinitarian Youth Ministry for Grace Communion Seminary.