The One Where I’m the Grownup

Find a person who is good at what they do, and ask them a simple question: who shaped you for this? I’m willing to bet that the person you’re talking to is more than ready with a litany of people who helped mold them for leadership. Whether their career path is ministry, teaching, business, art, media, or some kind of trade, ANYbody who has managed to get good at something will be able to tell you who first (and best) modelled that vocation for them. Just sit back and hear the story.

I can no longer hear the word ‘mentor’ without thinking of Joey Tribbiani. In an interview for Soap Opera Digest, Joey shares (fabricates) what he does in his spare time.  At a loss, he stammers, “I… uh… read to the blind. And I’m also a mento for kids. You know, a mento… a role model.” The interviewer says, “Like the candy?” To which Joey replies, “As a matter of fact, I do!” I tell you what…that show is never not funny. And the reruns only get better with age.

Like everybody who’s anybody, I’ve got my own list of ‘mentos,’ people who shaped and molded me for my calling, and continue to be a source of support and wisdom when I need it (which is often). So it was a sobering moment when our new Pastoral Resident came on staff at church and it occurred to me that…I am the mento! Yes, i did the paperwork and applied for the grant and helped conduct the interviews and met the candidate and organized his support team and greatly (GREATLY) looked forward to having another pastor on staff. But for the life of me, it didn’t hit me till he got here that I am supposed to be teaching this guy something! All of a sudden, I felt about as qualified as Joey to help shape a new generation of pastoral leadership. Since when am i the grown-up in the room? I mean, I still laugh at Inappropriate Cooking, with Paula Deen. And ‘that’s what she said’ jokes…

In a crisis of maturity, I sat down with pen in hand (in my grown-up office, with the psychadelic Last Supper clock on the wall) and came up with the most important things I learned from my own mentor(s). I also asked some friends about the most important things they learned from their mentors. So now i have a list. Which is good, because I’m pretty sure I taught my resident everything i know in his first ten minutes or so. I figure i can keep this list handy and refer back to it frequently, and challenge myself to model these things. If, after two years, the new kid has picked up even a couple of these principles, then I will count it a job well done. And then I can happily go back to watching Friends reruns in my spare time…

Here’s what my mentors taught me:

1. Wait for the Teaching Moment.  When somebody displays a bit of disturbing theology at Bible study group, you don’t have to address it right then. When someone in a board meeting articulates a really backward understanding of stewardship or church growth, you don’t have to derail the whole meeting to have that conversation. You do not have to reply to every tacky email forward about immigrants/gaypeople/muslims/democrats/republicans/or pets watching over us from heaven, the  moment it hits your in-box. You listen. You process. You reflect on where people are coming from, and what they might have to unlearn. And then you respond. From the pulpit, or in the next newsletter article, or at the next board meeting… But you do it from a place of authority, in front of a wider audience. Could be, more than one person has some ‘unlearning’ to do, and without calling names, you just made it an engaging opportunity for the masses.

2. Ask. When you don’t know, ask. When you need help, ask. When you need money, ask. When you need a resource, a new idea, an energized perspective, or an objective ear, ask, ask, ask. And surround yourself with people–within the church, and without–whom you can trust when something needs asking. Colleagues, friends, experts, and yes, mentos.

3. Speak the truth. From the pulpit, in the board room, in the difficult phone conversation, and next to the hospital bed. Speak the truth in love, even if it is painful, even if it is controversial. Say what is true, and usually, other stuff just falls into place.

4. Have fun. I know a guy. He served as senior minister of a large church for something like 15 years. Many pastors of that age, and in that size church, have lost all joy of ministry. The calling has become daily maintenance at best, or a terrible burden at worst. But this guy made me think, every single day, that church is a party. Under everything he did ran a current of passionate celebration, and it stuck with me. Because that kind of joy is contagious, and that was fun church in which to serve. And i tell you what–when people are having fun, they get stuff done.

5. When in doubt…show up.  Because, really, how often have you had the right answer? This is really a great secret of life that we all have to learn, over and over again, maybe especially in pastoral ministry. You show up, even without the right liturgy, the right agenda, the right budget piece or the right administrative model. You show up, and in just being there, you’ve become the pastor.

And really, the whole showing up thing is also the key to mentoring. When i asked friends about the most important qualities of a good mentor, what i heard again and again was: the most important people in my life and calling were just there. They were intentional about spending time with me, they were available when i needed something, and they were truly present and engaged.  As i look at the tie-dyed Jesus clock on my wall, (which doesn’t really tick anymore) I’m reminded that my gift of time is far greater than any gifts of knowledge or wisdom I might have to share. So, here I am; showing up, speaking the truth, and being the grown-up. At least until I think of Joey and the mentos again, and then I am all 7th grade…

Who were your mentors? How did they shape you for the work ahead?

It’s better in person because, you know, the light spins around…

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...


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