Monday, July 20, 2009

In Praise of a Mentor

In my observation, one of the huge, gaping needs in our time is men to mentor other men. Seems to me that once upon a time this was such an integral part of our society that it wasn't even necessary to discuss the need for it. But then, a number of factors kicked in and the mentors went away...

Paul said it this way in the last letter he wrote to his young apprentice:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
2 Timothy 2:2

One of the most electrifying experiences of my entire 50 years was sitting in a dorm room at a university in Poland some years back & sharing a bit of my journey with a small group of young guys. As I asked them to share their journey with me, it became apparent that there was one guy who had mentored a second guy, who had discipled a third guy, who was in the process of discipling a fourth guy. It struck me at the time that 2 Timothy 2:2 had been fulfilled right there in the room. A holy moment for me...I almost felt compelled to take off my shoes, for truly I was standing on holy ground.

All of that was said to say this:
I am delighted to report that mentoring is not completely dead yet!

There's this one guy--among several who have poured their lives into mine--who is on my mind today. You see, today (Monday, 7/20) is his 60th birthday. A young 60, mind you...

He's a country boy from the wilds of Smith County, MS, complete with a deeply country-boy-Smith county accent. A very handsome gent, who married over his head like so many of us. Father of three kids, all grown & all parents themselves now. A veterinarian...let me repeat that: a veterinarian who has poured himself into so many of us over the years and discipled us. I love my pastor now--& the others through the years--but this layman is the one who really built into me.

He is a man of passion. About his Lord, his lady, his kids & their kids, the church he & I attend, the Sunday School class he teaches, sports...But mostly, he's passionate about mentoring/discipling younger men and about taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard it before. He's travelled to Russia doing mission work shortly after that country opened up to the rest of the world. He has sent family members to Honduras. And his disciples have scattered all over the country and the world.

I still remember that summer Sunday evening nearly 20 years ago. We were fairly new members of the church, and were totally grooving on some deep Bible teaching. We had two young children, which made me keenly aware of the very brief time I had to build into them. We had just begun teaching in the youth ministry, and I had quickly realized that I needed...well, a clue.

I'm walking out of church this particular Sunday night, & he put that famous tight bear hug on me & said "me & Sandi are starting a Masterlife group in a couple of weeks, and y'all are gonna be in it." There wasn't actually a question asked. *smile* Well, we did participate. And that time still pays dividends today--quite literally. He & his wife poured the better part of a year into us, meeting with us at least once a week (along with a few other couples) and showing us the indepth basics of what the Christian life looks like in so-called "real life." I haven't been the same since, and I am so grateful...well beyond what I can capture here in these words.

This guy taught me how to pray--really pray. He taught me how to study the Bible. And how to minister to others. And how to teach a Bible lesson. And what church is all about--really all about. He even taught me a few things about how to properly love my wife & respect my marriage vows. Still now, 20 years later, he'll stop me in the hall at church & ask "when's the last time you & your wife had a date?" He'll wait for an answer, and will NOT accept lame, typical male excuses. He'll say something like "I'm gonna ask you again next week, & you better give me a different answer." I've heard him ask many guys that very question.

He taught me--for the first time in my life--that I, a college professor then and now, have a ministry. I can take you to the spot in the church parking lot where this occurred. I was considering a job change at the time & sought his counsel. He looked at me & said "how will it affect your ministry?" A simple question, but one that drilled past all of the nonsense & got to the core of who...and whose...I am. I remember saying weakly, "what ministry?" He said, "the ministry you have over there @ the university." Blew me away. I fairly shortly thereafter shut down that particular job change possibility.

He taught me how to share my faith with another person. How to live it & teach it, to be sure, which is a vital and way under-taught part of the Christian life. But what I speak of here is how to share my faith evangelistically with someone. The first time I ever shared my spiritual journey and the gospel with anyone was under his mentoring. I know the exact spot in the church where this conversation happened too. "What're you doing rt. now?" (my reply) "I'm hanging out with you" (him) "Good! You & me are going to see _____(guy's name) to share the gospel with him." All of my well-worn excuses for not doing this faded away quickly before his intense gaze. Pathetically, I was 30 years old & had been a Christian for 20+ years--about half of which time it had meant something to me--and had never shared my faith directly with anyone. I've since had the eternally-great pleasure of sharing with others as opportunities have arisen, but that was the 1st time. BTW, the guy we visited has been a member of our church for nearly 20 years now, having received Christ in the Veterinary Clinic the following week. (aside: he's just one of many who have received Christ in that particular Vet Clinic...) Also btw, the guy was a friend & colleague of mine at the time we visited.

My mentor is a shepherd of men. He builds up the ones in his orbit, and is always looking for those who are lost on the cliffs & crags and are longing for home. He & I are so very different, but we share some common passions. He remains one of the great encouragers in my life, even now. Just earlier tonight (Monday) at a deacons' meeting, I got one of those patented hugs.

Everybody needs someone like him in their life. Especially us guys. (You ladies are much better at this sort of thing...we guys are pretty much terrible at it, which goes back to the beginning of this entry.) I am just one of dozens who have lived in his great shadow for a season of badly-needed mentoring.

His office name is "Dr. Mayfield." To me, he'll always be Johnny. My treasured friend, co-laborer, mentor, and partner in the Gospel. I am a very, very cheap imitation of him. But how deeply I treasure that year spent under his shepherding & teaching & mentoring & discipling, and the many years of friendship & partnership & encouraging since. I am a better follower of Christ, a better churchman, a better deacon (and I'm not a very good one of those!), a better husband, a better Dad, a better Sunday School teacher, a better student of Scripture, a better evangelist, a better man, and even a better worker at my job because of his impact on me. (I'm not so great at any of those, I'll grant you...which means you should be afraid of how/where I'd be apart from Doc's pouring himself into my life!)

Thanks, Johnny. You have made a gigantic difference in my life and walk with Christ and in my marriage and in my family. Thank you for showing me that I had already had wings & then teaching me how to fly. I love you, brother. Happy Birthday!

Profoundly grateful,

p.s. - May his tribe of male mentors & disciplers increase! A quote from long ago: "We have all of eternity to celebrate the victories...but only a few short hours to win them..." OK, I'm off to pray some more...

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