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.

Making Soup

I was part of an interesting discussion recently with staff members from various churches and denominational backgrounds on the subject of worship. Ultimately, we found ourselves discussing instrumental configurations, styles, song choices, form, and tradition all encapsulated by the topic, “what makes great worship?”

It soon occurred to me that what I was hearing sounded akin to a couple who when asked to describe true love responded with talking about their terrific sex life.

Not much about chasing one another around the kitchen requires truly loving devotion and not much about our “great worship” makes us true worshippers.

Back to the discussion with my friends, after I challenged the conversation with my somewhat base analogy they asked me in what context I viewed true worship.

After taking a moment I said, “Until we view things like making soup as an act of worship then we will never have a proper view of what it means to truly give God his worth with the daily parts of our lives and we will always feel as if we have to abdicate to the experts on Sunday to do it for us. We will have a very codependent relationship with experience if we lose site of the ordinary miracles in the moment. What the church needs to know is that when we lead worship it is we, the ‘worship leaders’ making our soup. We just happen to make our soup in front of a lot of people. My soup happens to include art, story, and music. You’re soup may be literally making a meal for a friend who is on her second round of chemo. The Sunday Soup was never meant to be THE soup.”

If the main thing that comes up when we talk about worship is how we do it then we are very much like the people mistaking love for how often they swing from the chandeliers together. If our view of worship is one that understands sacrifice and living a life that matters we are less likely to be satisfied with simply slurping down the soup that someone else serves up to us once a week hoping they season it to suit our own persnickety taste buds. Trust me, my Sunday Soup will never be so good that it will quench our need to glorify God in the unseen moments of our daily lives.

I understand that when a bunch of consumers come together and decide to call themselves a church, expressions of art, music, and story in worship will be a matter of specific taste (and even propriety in the opinions of some). However, the more we can see ourselves as part of a body of past, present, and future soup makers we can begin to embrace their various expressions and place less focus on our need to brand the soup.

Maybe it would be a good thing for our perspectives of worship and intimate relationships alike to step back from the hooha and just make soup together.

The Ghosts of Christmases Past

I am fortunate enough to have known my great-grandparents. My great grandmother lived to be ninety-six and was even at my wedding. Beyond that generation however, I have no real information about my ancestors. I don’t know who came to this country in what generation or who migrated from where to get to Illinois where my relatives are all from. We have very few pictures of distant family and even the living relatives can’t agree on who these really are.

I have been going through my parents’ home movies from when we were kids. Everyone looks like they are on the set of Mad Men. It is fun, funny, and heartwarming to watch as my relatives that have now passed away joked, hammed it up, or even shunned the camera. I know who they all are. I know their stories. I know the occasion and setting of each frame of footage.

I had these fluttery films put to DVD so that we could archive them lest they be lost to the ever-rolling wave of technological progress. It occurred to me that generation after generation would be able to know these distant relatives even if they don’t know all of the stories. My grandchildren will see my great-grandmother playing croquet in the garden behind her big old house and my great-grandfather smoking his pipe in the very chair he died in.

While many of the people in our movies are no longer with us and many of the places no longer exist (and the ones that do don’t live up to the memories we hold), they are still very much a part of us. They are woven into who we are and who we became. They existed and they mattered. They shaped us. They moved us forward. They inspired and they sacrificed. They failed and they succeeded. There is a reality about them that will be in our hearts as long as we continue to tell their stories. They are not just ghosts of Christmases past.

My daughter Lauren (who is now twenty-three years old) watched some of our own home movies together from her childhood recently. She came in one day and simply said, “I want to remember mom. I only remember her as being sick and I want to remember her from before.”

As we watched she saw her mom in ways she hadn’t remembered. She saw her mother giving her advice about how to wear makeup as she got Lauren ready for a dance recital. She saw her mom telling her funny stories as we opened our own Christmas gifts. She saw Tricia serving cookies at her preschool program and teaching her to run a vacuum.

Finally, Lauren tearfully said, “I didn’t remember any of that. I only remember her as sick and removed and withdrawn. She was normal. We were normal. She really engaged me and wanted to teach me to say please and thank-you.”

There was a softening that happened that night. Suddenly Tricia was a little more human and not just a ghost. Lauren saw some glimpses of her own reality that had been there all along – she’d just forgotten.

These time capsules we watch together are powerful things. It is more than visiting the ghosts of Christmases past. It may even be less about remembering them and more about remembering ourselves.

What Is Your “IT”?

Some months ago my literary agent arranged a dinner for me with an editor from Boston to pitch my book. Normally agents keep authors and publishers apart until the process looks promising. Then, they bring us out into the light praying we don’t stick a fork in our heads once the editing powers begin to press us with observations regarding our work.

As we began to discuss the specifics of my story she began asking a lot of very specific and direct questions, which I found a bit puzzling since she had read my proposal and synopsis prior to our meeting.

Her questions ranged from what it is about my story that is going to make someone want to read it, to what I want the reader to come away thinking differently about, and about a hundred other questions in between.

As I began answering her questions she listened intently. She would pause, put down her fork, and then ask yet another insightful and difficult question. I began to fear that I wasn’t making myself clear so I would repeat myself or try to find another way to say the same thing. This line of probing went on from the salad through most of the main course.

Finally, she leaned in and said, “I get the whole ironic nature of your life and everything that felt like one big contradiction about you. I need to know what the ‘IT’ is! What are you really about?”

After my futile attempts at satisfying her pressing inquiries I was finally able to let down my guard and process aloud what she was really asking.

“I’m not writing this hoping that people put down my book and say what a sucky life I’ve had,” I said. “I’m not writing so that I can shock them with my drunk-a-logues or my sad sick wife sagas. I’m not even writing to confuse anyone with my conflicted spiritual perspectives that came from all of this. I’m writing about the silence between the instant the conductor raises his baton and the time that the most beautiful music is unleashed upon us. I’m writing about the tension in the silence. That’s where I live, and that’s where everyone lives. I’m not writing to change people. I’m writing to change the way we think about it. My story is just a conduit.”

In that moment she smiled more broadly than she had all night. She slapped the table and leaned in and said, “That’s your ‘IT’! That’s your book and that is what you are really writing about. Now that you know your ‘IT’ you will tell your same story from a completely different perspective and that is the one that the reader needs to read.”

How many of us go through our lives and never find the “IT” – that thing that we are really about? “IT” changes the way we tell the story.