Thank you to my friend & fellow pastor Matt Messner for the encouragement to resume blogging. I encourage you to check out his writings – he’s a man worth listening to & he lives an example worth following.
As the oldest of 4 boys – each of us 4 years apart – I always felt a lot of responsibility to set a good example for my 3 younger brothers. Early on, a bit part of the responsibility came via encouragements & instructions from my parents to “make sure to make good decisions, because the boys will do what they see you doing.” And that they did. It was often like an impromptu game of “follow the leader,” as I’d be going about my daily business only to find one (or more) of the brothers mimicking my actions, attempting to DO what they saw me doing. Sometimes, I know they did it just to get under my skin (or was it to get me to pay attention to them & interact with them?) Sometimes they did it because it looked like what I was doing was fun (or was something they didn’t know quite how to do, so they chose the ‘monkey see, monkey do” approach to learning.)
There were people I looked up to as well; people whose actions, words, people & God-interactions, etc. helped to shape what I thought to be normal & prescriptive for what Louie should be & do, both with people & in pursuing relationship with Christ. I rarely gave any thought or intention to the process – it was more like, “I look up to these people, I respect them, & they’re older/wiser than me, so maybe I can learn from them & kinda walk in their footsteps.” But I never had an official mentor.
First time I remember hearing the word “mentor,” was watching the ’70’s TV show “Shazam!” (We watched it because the star of the show grew up across the street from my mom. But I digress.) The Shazam character had an older, trusted friend named “Mentor.” (so much for subtlety.) Mentor’s role seemed to be advising Shazam & his alter-ego in the “why’s” behind choices, values, & practices – he didn’t tell him what to do, but guided him down a path that would help him to develop his own metrics, decision making processes, & rule-of-life. Later on, Star Wars’ Jedi/Padawan learner model emerged as my very favorite picture of what a mentor is/could be. But I never had an official mentor.
In January 2000 I became the pastor of Hillside & in short order, found myself in a huge mess of confusion, loneliness (the kind that comes from not being KNOWN, being new in a new place,) unpaid bills, unclear processes & procedures on WHAT, WHY, & HOW I was to do my nebulous, barely defined job of local pastor. I can remember thinking “I have GOT to find someone or a couple of someones that will SHOW me how I’m supposed to do get out from under this mess, do this job, & care for these people.” You know, a MENTOR. I needed, desperately WANTED a mentor. And yet I had no idea where one could go to acquire one, esp. in such a real/perceived desperate point of need.
And so it happened by accident. Looking for something to fill the silence of my long Mondays of ‘doing the books, paying bills, sorting through & organizing an administrative challenge,’ based on the recommendation of a friend, I sought out the Sunday morning STREAMING ONLINE teachings of some people that I knew from the larger Foursquare family I am a part of. (If you’re interested, the rotation consisted largely of Ralph Moore, Daniel Brown, Jerry Cook, & a few others.
For the most part, these weren’t people that I had really ever had personal interactions with – they were more well-known for many years of faithful & fruitful ministry, esp. in regards to raising up & releasing others into the callings that God had put on their lives. And every Monday, I listened to these guys lead their churches in Sunday worship through various teaching series, & over the next couple of years, I began to feel like I really knew them. What motivated them. Their loves & values & strengths. Areas of frustration, traps & pitfalls they’d discovered over time. I even got to know their families & family dynamics. And not one of them ever knew that they were mentoring me, shaping me, challenging me to grow into what God was calling me to be & do in my own life, family, & ministry context.
In the middle of this time, I can remember praying, asking God to ‘send me a mentor, someone that I could look up to & interact with that would help point me in right directions.” And God answered, “I have. You’re being mentored right now. Listen. Learn. Question. Wonder. Pursue Me in the context of what you’re hearing, what you’re learning & I will guide your steps.”
It was revolutionary for me – at that moment, I saw my own life from a mile-in-the-sky view & saw that God had been working in (& THROUGH) my life for years through the men & women He’d brought into my life, whether in person (like my dad & dear friend Chuck Shoemake) or from a distance, (the teachers I was listening to, Steve Taylor, Annie Herring, & many, many others.)
The funniest part of the whole interaction with God was the very subtle but very real understanding that I came away with – I, Louie, am to live a life of someone to look up to. I am a part of the great challenge given from Paul to the Corinthians, “…follow my example AS I FOLLOW the example of Christ. 1Corinthians 11:1, NIV.) Instead of trying to find a person to be my mentor, I was to follow the great examples of those men & women in my life who were following Christ… & to expect that there were those that would then use me to do the same.
All of this to say – there aren’t any short-cuts or “7 steps to…” anything that substitute for the process of growing as a disciple of Christ, physically, relationally, emotionally, & spiritually. And if we look around, there are many, many men & women who are someone to look up to, people who are living flawed but exemplary examples of what it means to follow Christ, in their context, on their mission. Look for them. Be one of them. Keep moving forward, & bring others with you whenever you have the opportunity.