Thoughts On Mentoring…

To mentor is to train and counsel and advise. It is to model as much as it is to impart strength. Leading requires relationship because we are asking people to trust us. Otherwise, we are simply reducing mentoring to a conceptual leadership model of boxes to check as we run people through the machine, which often is falsely labeled as Christian community.

Mentoring is not efficient. It doesn’t fit the time study grid of a highly effective ministry leader very well on paper. To wear the mantel of a mentor may mean we don’t get a lot of actual “work” done at times. It is rarely convenient and rarely on our terms when the opportunity to invest ourselves presents itself. But when we love with the kind of love that is willing to step outside of our little ministry boxes people begin to genuinely believe us. When we trust them with our stories, they can soon find the freedom to trust themselves, and others with theirs. This is the beginning of earning the permission to speak into lives and be heard, which is at the core of a mentor’s credibility.

Since my own spiritual overhaul over the last several years I have begun looking at people through different eyes. They are not just names in our databases or slots on our music rosters. They are stories, lives, souls with dreams and hopes, and hearts longing for connection. They are eager to be invested in and in return will surprise themselves with the joy they experience from serving. As they come alive to their own stories they will become those who share and draw others in embracing their own stories. And so it goes.

As leaders we will inevitably reproduce ourselves in the people we shepherd. The question is what kind of leadership we are exhibiting for reproduction. Are we producing efficient, task oriented, goal driven volunteers who only feel God’s pleasure if they have checked off all the boxes correctly? Or are we creating an environment in which people can bring all of themselves, their whole story, to be embraced, loved, inspired, and utilized. Are we truly about creating a tapestry of lives that do community together?

My role as a mentor is one that invites people into the broken fragments, which in the hands of God become a beautiful mosaic. The lives, the stories, the restored hearts are all represented in the tiny shards he strategically places in the mortar. The beauty of the mosaic is that instead of God simply putting back together a broken vessel, he uses the pieces from many broken vessels together to tell his story. The mentor knows that there is something beautiful in progress and that God is always up to something redemptive. Those tiny specks that we almost discarded and disregarded are the very things that bring the colors to the story God is telling. As a lead worshipper, I am the one entrusted with reaching into the clutched hands of those I serve, asking them to trust me enough to let go of the sharp fragments, and then showing them that there is place in the mosaic that was saved and perfectly suited just for their own tiny pieces.

Fix Your Wig!

One of the most comical things in the human experience is to observe us when we are completely oblivious to something that is utterly obvious to everyone else. A circumstance, in which someone is so blind to his own awkwardness, dissonance, or contradictions, (especially when they are evident to everyone) can find me laughing in a nanosecond. Except when it’s me.

Tricia and I happened to be at dinner one evening many years ago when we noticed a couple entering the restaurant looking very disheveled and thrown together. The man’s shirt was only partially tucked in and the lapel of his jacket had blown upwards around his neck. His wife had a similar look as her raincoat was only partially over her shoulders and her umbrella nearly blown inside out.

As it turns out, it had begun to storm on their way in leaving the couple to run for their lives escaping gale force winds and a torrential downpour. It didn’t take long to notice that the gentleman’s hair also had a certain asymmetry to it. What at first merely resembled a wet, wind-blown coif upon closer observation had the appearance of a woolly accessory situated almost diagonally on top of his head. My OCD wanted to rush over and give it a firm tug to the left but of course, one can only observe these things from afar unless one wants the police showing up for dessert.

Maybe a good friend could have leaned in to the poor man and said, “Buford, bro, you need to fix your wig!” But, alas we weren’t those people so we just observed Buford enjoying his dinner and the oblivion of what appeared to be a small ferret-like critter parked on his lopsided noggin.

After howling together once we got in the car and then talking more soberly later we realized that there were many times that we were just like Buford. For instance, when one of us would go on a tirade we could be oblivious to the way we were coming off to others. Whether it was something we were throwing out in an argument, a rant with friends at dinner, or taking on a store clerk over a refund we were perfectly capable of being as oblivious to the way we were presenting ourselves as Buford was in his ill fitting wig.

Hence we coined our phrase, “Fix your wig!”

When one of us would hear the other going down a road that could prove embarrassing or maybe even irretrievable one of us would lean in and mumble, “You need to fix your wig!”

If the other didn’t respond to that, we might take on a more assertive tone with, “Seriously! You really need to FIX your wig.”

If one still chose to go full steam ahead the other might hear, “I’m not kidding. Your wig is freaking wrong side out right now. You need to stop!”

When everyone but me sees me as I am it is a sad commentary as I reveal my humanity in Technicolor. Despite the loving admonitions of those around me, I am perfectly capable of driving through all the warning signs until I come to consciousness having experienced the emotional equivalent of having dinner in public with a stray cat on my head.

My hope is that I will get better at heeding the warnings of those I’ve given permission to speak into my life and that I will surround myself with people who love me enough to tell me when my wig is a bit askew before I become the object of pathetic glances and curious bystanders.

Lastly, a trip to the mirror after running through a thunderstorm in fake hair is never a bad idea.

Join In the Heavy Lifting

I believe in Christian community. I believe in a body of people who come together regularly and know one another and share with one another. I believe in bringing our questions, our failures, our successes, and even our perspectives that don’t fit the grid of a traditional Christian and throwing it out there and working through all of it together.

We are in a sermon series that explores the model of Worship, Care, Serve as somewhat of a tagline that lets people know who we are as a church. It occurs to me that if we are truly doing any one of these then the other two will be in practice as well. If our worship is truly God focused, Christ centered adoration that changes us then we will be caring for others. If we are genuinely caring for others we will be serving. How can we genuinely care and not serve? Serving is just an outgrowth of sincerely caring and a byproduct of seeing Christ through the lens of a worshipping heart.

I have paid people to do my yard work weekly, train me at the gym, clean my house, wash my car, counsel me, consult with me, do my taxes, cut my hair, and even pick out my clothes for special events a couple of times.

I order food online, books that download directly to my cool electronic devices, buy music that I store in a “cloud” and have even been known to use valet parking at the mall on those rare occasions that I still shop retail.

I’m not unique in this lifestyle. The people in my worshipping community live similarly or better. I’m not saying that any of this is bad. It is the fruit of progress in a world that has changed more in the last one hundred years than all of history combined when it comes to technology.

Where the wheels begin to wobble in this cultural paradigm is when we bring these lifestyle expectations into the church. We end up waiting on people to serve us instead of seeking opportunities to serve others. We wonder why our paid staff can’t handle all the hurting and needy people in our midst. After all, that is their job, right? We pay them to do that.

We want to come and drink the coffee, experience some form of worship that is supposed to happen to us, and hear a message that is going to challenge us in ways that we never considered before because we have essentially paid people to do all of these things.

I wonder if the reason that so many of us have such empty experiences in the church is because we aren’t investing ourselves. When we view the church as a place where we go and get an experience on Sunday it will never be enough. When the church is a place where others do the heavy lifting so I can float in and out it will never be community to me.

We will experience the church as she is meant to be when we are willing to invest ourselves beyond our experiential expectations and consumerism.

When we worship, care and serve we are truly living in Christian community but not if one is without the other two.

The Beautiful Dissonance of Advent

“The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.” Frederick Beuchner, Whistling In the Dark

When I was a young piano student my teacher would take me to a number of concerts featuring our local philharmonic orchestra and guest instrumentalists. I studied piano at the University of Evansville Preparatory School of Music and had the same piano professor from the time I was in the fourth grade until I graduated from high school. I was in grade school when she first offered me those unique opportunities to experience such amazing musical performances.

Such sophisticated events were always a treat for me. My mother would get out my suit and make sure I was crisply pressed. She also managed to confiscate my chewing gum and make sure that I had one last crash course in Manners 101 before going out the door to the local concert hall in our Indiana town.

The anticipation would first begin to stir within me when my teacher even mentioned a new guest pianist that would be coming to perform with the symphony. When the day arrived I was giddy and could think of nothing else. Getting ready to go wasn’t my favorite part but if it takes wearing a suit in order to hear such irresistible music then so be it.

When we arrived at the auditorium an usher with a tiny flashlight would escort us to our seats in the dimly lit venue. Even the twilight level of the lights told me that I was in for something incredible and extraordinary. Sitting down in the spring-loaded theater seats my freshly polished dress shoes barely touched the floor as I fumbled with my program and fidgeted with excitement.

Eventually, the orchestra members, all in concert black, filed to their respective positions on the stage and took their seats. The concertmaster rose to the podium and upon a cue from him a most unusual and unexpected sound arose from the cavernous stage. It was the most dissonant and yet strangely transcendent bouquet of tones. It began with a few instruments on the same pitch and then it was joined by other instruments a fifth above or a fourth below. The swirling passages by flutes and clarinets practicing one last pass of runs that would be played masterfully later emerged in the thick sonic sauce known as tuning the orchestra.

The tones grew louder as they resonated and bellowed out into the massive concert hall. There was nothing particularly beautiful about this sound but it set the stage for what was to come and it created anticipation in us for that moment we had all waited weeks to experience. It was also a vital part of making beautiful music.

Suddenly there was silence. It was as if the air had been sucked from the room. The twilight setting of the lights faded away to darkness and even the tiniest bit of murmuring in the auditorium ceased. There was a holy hush that fell upon the room as if every person was holding their breath. It was an extraordinary moment before an extraordinary happening.

From the wings of the stage a rotund man in a tuxedo and tails emerged bathed in a white spotlight holding a baton as if it were a fragile reed. The spontaneous applause that broke forth from the audience was thunderous and wholehearted. The conductor bowed humbly acknowledging our generosity and then took the podium where every eye was completely fixed on his suddenly stalwart countenance.

He raised his baton with the grace of a feather floating upward. The silence was deafening and we, the audience desperately needed to exhale as we waited for him to unleash what would become two hours of the most beautiful music ever written.

To borrow Frederick Beuchner’s analogy, the moment that the baton is raised becomes the extraordinary moment before the extraordinary happening that we have been waiting for. As he said, this extraordinary moment is called Advent.

As I began to ponder the season of Advent this year it reminds me a great deal of the experiences I had as a youngster listening to the orchestra preparing to play. We must expect some beautiful dissonance before the peace is delivered that has been promised. Life has some artistic discord that must be embraced in that preparation season.

What does life look like when the baton is raised? Those moments find us walking a friend through their grief, meeting a monetary need, showing mercy to the sick, sitting with a troubled young woman with a difficult decision to make, spending our days mentoring a young man who has no father – these are the moments the lyric of O Come, O Come Immanuel paints so well.

This is the beautiful dissonance. Christ has come and this is what he looks like.

The beautiful dissonance of Advent is to be savored. It is the season of extraordinary opportunities, extraordinary anticipation, and extraordinary joy before the baton falls and the most beautiful music is unleashed upon us. We are enjoying the tension of that extraordinary moment before the extraordinary happening. In this anticipation is joy and shalom, the peace He came to bring.