Following the Right Mentor

By Tim Downey October 5, 2017

One of the most difficult limitations in ministry is our inability to see around the next bend on the road of life. We wave the phrase “hindsight is 20/20” like a white flag, as if to say, “Had I known then what I know now, things would be different. Oh well!”

“We can stay on the correct trajectory of life and ministry by considering the life experiences and wisdom of those who have gone before us.”

What if I told you I had a tool that could predict the future? No, it’s not something I bought for the low, low price of $29.95 after watching a 2:00 a.m. infomercial. It’s actually much more practical than that. It may not be possible to learn the outcomes of our present decisions with absolute certainty, but there is a way to discover which decisions will likely lead in the direction we wish to go, and more importantly, in the direction God wishes us to go.

Like hikers following a trail blazed by others, we can stay on the correct trajectory of life and ministry by considering the life experiences and wisdom of those who have gone before us. Who knew the key to predicting your ministry’s future rested in the past? Think about everything you know—that’s a lot right? How did you come to know it in the first place? A few things you learned through trial and error. But most things were taught to you by a parent or a teacher or through a book, a website, or a movie.

This starts at an early age as we learn to talk by mimicking our parents. We attend school for years and years to learn information from others that would be overwhelming, if not impossible, to learn on our own. We learn to drive from drivers ed courses, we learn to play an instrument from private lessons, we learn the fundamentals of a sport from coaches, and we make our first cake with the help of a baking instructor (or the instructions that came with our Easy-Bake Oven). Are you noticing a pattern? If we genuinely desire to excel in ministry—spiritually, emotionally, and in basic life skills—it typically requires the investment of another into our lives (Prov. 22:6; Prov. 27:17; Tit. 2:1–7; 2 Tim. 2:2).

Imagine sitting down on a regular basis with someone who has gone before you to ask about key challenges of ministry and what you must know as you approach those challenges. Imagine meeting with your own personal mentor who could share lessons from farther along the path. Imagine becoming his or her “child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). Does that seem too good to be true?

You may think, That would be great, but I don’t know anyone with the free time to do that. I challenge you to personally ask four or five people who are 20 years older (or at least more experienced), wise, godly, and respected to consider meeting with you for lunch or coffee just to talk. When you meet with them—and one or two of them will take you up on the offer—buy the coffee or lunch, ask questions, don’t talk too much, and listen. Then, see what happens.

Great mentors don’t usually ask if they can invest in your life; you have to ask them. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to mentor anyone. It just means they don’t know your needs until you reveal them (they can’t predict the future, either). On the other hand, you could just keep trying to figure it out on your own. In the words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

Tim Downey

About the Author

Tim Downey

Tim Downey is an Associate Professor of Youth Ministry, specializing in the areas of discipleship and leadership at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. For 30 years, Tim has served the Christian community as a youth pastor, missionary, college professor, and international speaker. He and his wife, Kaye, have three daughters and one granddaughter. Tim […]

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