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Thursday, March 01, 2007
Who Mentors the Mentors?
Over the last five years, I have mentored quite a few college students and logged a tremendous number of hours in conversation with them one on one. While we have talked a fair bit about life in general, the majority of these students have expressed significant doubts and questions about God, church, or faith in general. It's odd. They always find me. Every year. It seems that God has planted me right in the middle of people who doubt and question.

The irony of this is that when I started mentoring students, I was almost ready to give up on my own faith. Although I expressed some of my own doubts and questions to students, the conversations were not supposed to be about me, so I didn't press my own concerns in any significant way. And unfortunately, I did not have a mentor to whom I could take my own questions. I had a couple of friends who very patiently listened and sympathized, but I couldn't shake the longing to have a person in my life, someone older and wiser who had already lived through my questions, who would help me through the problem spots of faith. Even now that I have come out the other side, I still long for the wisdom and experience of an older friend.

When comparing myself to the average age of an emerging person, I am at the upper end of the spectrum. I am the oldest woman in leadership on our church plant team, and most of the people in our area even a couple of years older than me don't "get" the whole missional/ emerging movement. It appears that I am almost at the top of the emerging generation, with a few notable exceptions, and definitely at the tippy-top in my somewhat rural locality. But even when age is left out of the equation, the emerging movement is still so new that there are often very few people around who can provide the wisdom of experience.

This leads me to wonder about the biblical example of the older teaching the younger. How do we who are among the oldest, most seasoned of the emerging generation learn from older more experienced people when it appears that there are none immediately around us? Books are great, but they lack relationship. Friendships are fantastic, but they do not always provide a greater sense of wisdom. And while it is true that we can learn things from people younger and greener than we are, there is something to be said for learning from someone who has already navigated our current difficulties and can look back with the wisdom of long-since hindsight. To hear, "This is my story, and this is how it has turned out over the years" is a priceless treasure that should never be taken for granted.

The relative lack of older people in the emerging movement brings home to me just how important it is that I continue meeting with students. Not that I have arrived at the end product, but at least I have a few more years of thinking and doing than they. They need me (and you!) to do this for them even though it appears that there are very few people who can do the same for us. So I press on while continuing to hope for the wisdom of age and experience in unexpected places.

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posted by Linda at 5:30 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 3/01/2007 09:48:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    My hope is that you will find that "great mentor/friend". I also have found that you are right in that there are not a lot of "experienced (years)" people and it tends to be on the younger side. I wonder sometimes if it's that those who would be willing to embrace the ideas are not active in church communities, and may not know much about it.

    The experience our community went through, was once we began changing, and contemplating, most of our older community left up in arms. "We were way out of line". I think the hardest thing for many is the fact that they had done things a "certain" way their whole life, and the "changes" represented something "wrong". It would have been too hard for them to change their thoughts after so many years, so they found somewhere they could stay in their "comfort Zone".

    In my personal life, I have encountered numerous family members and friends who had walked away from church long ago. They had felt rejected, disrepected, etc. and didn't want to be judged anymore. As I have begun to talk more about emerging ideas, many have "perked" up and discussions have happened regularly.
    I would like to think it will change eventually, but it seems older generations alway seem to think the younger generations are wrong, or screwing things up. Then those who were young once, seem to do the same to the next generation. Who knows!

  • At 3/01/2007 10:57:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Linda, I hear you. I think mentorship is a very wide, deep, hungry need in the emerging community. I am on the young end of the spectrum and I have had no real mentors. I have found a couple of temporary, fairly superficial ones for brief, yet-meaninful times along the way, but certainly never of the kind I long for in my heart. Even though I am young, I still always end up being the trailblazer, the mentor, the initiator or whatever. There have been a few situations where I asked someone to play a role in my life they just weren't up for, but mostly I look around and don't see anyone to ask. I am nurtured by this community in many ways, but there's something my soul longs for in the way of kind, wise eyes to reassure me and sometimes hold my hand or my heart, or sometimes kick my butt to bring out the best God has in me through the intimacy of a one-on-one mentor relationship.

    In the meantime, I try to see each person in my life as a teacher from God, including my kids, the people I have issues with, the variety of believers and skeptics and human beings in general I meet and come to know in some context. And I wonder if I'll always sort of walk this lonely path or if when the fruit is ripe, a good mentor will pick me. Or vice versa.

  • At 3/02/2007 06:35:00 AM, Anonymous sonja

    I'm on the older end of the spectrum and the oldest person in our church (which would probably be considered emerging).

    It's funny because when we left our old (more fundamental) church I never wanted a solid answer ever again. But now I find myself wondering sometimes. One of the deepest desires of my heart is that our church would be more generationally integrated. We need some older people. More than that, I need an older woman to talk to. Someone to bump up against and tell me I'm cracked in the head once in a while. I may disagree. But I need to have those conversations. Someone who will challenge my vision of Jesus in the Gospels with the Pauline Epistles. Someone who will help me keep my pendulum from swinging too wildly. And, someone who has children who have been teenagers and she and they have survived. ;-)

    I feel this lack very keenly. I've been praying about it. When the time is right I know things will change. I'm just not sure I'm patient enough to wait til then.

  • At 3/06/2007 04:12:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    I've been chewing on this a little while.

    A few things to consider:

    - Would a mentor have to be someone older than you?

    - Would someone roughly your age who has had maybe had more life experience in certain areas be ok?

    - Are you only looking for a mentor within the EC? If so, why?

    - Would someone in another denomination who had an open mind and willing spirit be ok?

    I've met some truly incredible Christians who have acted as mentors for me (or for people I know well) even though we or they didn't necessarily come from the same denominational background.

    Years ago my father was greatly comforted by a Catholic Priest during a time of great spiritual upheaval in our lives. This man was a friend and mentor to my Dad at a time when he had very few of either.

    Just a thought. :)

  • At 3/08/2007 02:47:00 PM, Blogger Linda


    Good questions.

    I don't think a mentor necessarily has to be older, but she certainly needs to have more life/spiritual experience to qualify - at least in my book. In fact, years ago, I mentored/discipled someone a few years older than me and had a wonderful friendship experience. I would be open to the same experience.

    The reason I mention finding a mentor within the emerging church is because this is the place where I feel I have less experience than all others. I have lived within conservative evangelicalism so don't need any help there, but maybe someone from another denomination would still be helpful. Good thought. It is so difficult, at times, in my particular location to find people who can help me (and our church leadership!) understand how to contextualize faith and leave behind the trappings of the evangelical subculture that sometimes prevents faith from growing.

  • At 3/09/2007 10:00:00 AM, Blogger Lydia

    It is so difficult, at times, in my particular location to find people who can help me (and our church leadership!) understand how to contextualize faith and leave behind the trappings of the evangelical subculture that sometimes prevents faith from growing.

    I understand. I wish I had the resources to help you find a mentor. :)


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