Mentoring

On Scripture: It's Not About You

Teacher mentoring students, iofoto / Shutterstock.com
Teacher mentoring students, iofoto / Shutterstock.com

 A life transition — like any effort to follow Jesus — is stressful: packing and unpacking, bidding farewells, refocusing from one set of commitments to a new future. It might be summarized in the early North African church leader’s interpretation of this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke 14:27: “Take up your stress and your tortures.” (Tertullian)

This September, my family’s transition from the hazy days of summer’s more casual pace back into the back-to-school rat race is tougher than usual. It not only involves our own children finding their way back onto their college campuses, but I am going too, to teach at Valparaiso University where I’ve been appointed to an endowed professorship which supports the study of Christian values in public and professional life.

Of necessity, most roads back-to-school are paved with lines of procedures, rules, and formalized rituals. The foundation of learning, however, is far less formalized or predictable — it’s more relational, like a disciple and master, protégé and mentor, choral director and chorister. Whether in musical arts, as in in Vy Higgensen’s Gospel for Teens program, or in biblical hermeneutics, the best learning happens in healthy relationships.

'I Come From Where They Come'

Custodian mop bucket, Design Pics/Darren Greenwood / Getty Images
Custodian mop bucket, Design Pics/Darren Greenwood / Getty Images

Every school day just after 2 p.m., Sandra pushes her cart into my classroom to clean the bathroom and empty the trash cans. She is the school custodian and my students love her. When students hear her squeaky wheels in the hallway outside our door, they listen for her kind giggle as she enters the room. "Ms. Sandra! Ms. Sandra! Can I help you empty the trash? Can I help you?" they yell out with their hands waving in the air.

She responds, "Jennifer, you look so cute today! How you doin' VicTOR? Francisco, baby, you look like you're doing a good job for Mr. Barton. You come on over and help me today. Anna, honey, that's okay, you can help me tomorrow." She knows all of my students by name.

Video Interview with Don Miller

Don Miller is the founder of The Mentoring Project and author of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. Miller spoke with assistant editor Jeannie Choi during Sojourners' Mobilization to End Poverty last April to share his vision to provide role models to the fatherless, and his practice of tithing as a spiritual discipline.

 

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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The Story of Your Life

What if you took the elements that make a great story in screenwriting or novels, and you began to apply them to your life? In other words, if at the end of a movie you feel this sense of fulfillment when the credits are rolling, what if you could feel that at the end of a year, or a lifetime? How would you structure your life differently?

The principles of a good story are just this: a character who wants something and is willing to overcome conflict to get it.

And what we want matters. Imagine if I wrote a screenplay: This character works in a grocery store, and he decides that he wants a Volvo. And he works for three years and overcomes this hard boss that he has, and at the end of the movie, he gets the Volvo. He’s driving off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. Are you crying at the end of this movie? Are you saying to yourself, “If he can have the Volvo, I can have the Volvo?” No, you’re not.

There’s nothing wrong with driving a Volvo or living in a nice house. But if that’s what our story is about, we shouldn’t expect to feel any different at the end than we would if we were to see it on the screen.

I wrote a book about growing up without a dad, and I met my dad recently for the first time in 30 years, so I’m acutely aware that in America we have 27 million kids growing up without a dad; 85 percent of the people in prison grew up in a fatherless home. We have 360,000 churches—if each church would just mentor 20 kids, we would shut down an enormous number of prisons in our country. So I wrote down this new ambition: I want to start mentoring programs in churches all across our country.

What happens when you find a good ambition is, you’re going to get scared. If there’s no risk, there’s no story. And the best stories are the ones where you could lose your life telling the story. And you might. You could get ridiculed. What if God wants you to give all your money to start this program?

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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Come, Follow Me

Debate over the importance of "role models" and "mentoring" touches on everything from the behavior of professional athletes to the trumpet call to men sounded by Promise Keepers. Charles Barkley claims no responsibility to be a role model, while a Million Men march to proclaim they ought to be.

A steady stream of unsettling incidents involving young people helps propel the discussion on the impact of role models—positive and negative—on impressionable youth and formative children. It's an especially urgent topic in urban America, where the social and economic fabric continues to unravel. The plagues of racism, violence, poverty, and environmental degradation have some obvious linkages to the more muted crisis of the declining number of healthy, intact families.

The end results of disintegrating family structures are obvious in our troubled Buffalo, New York neighborhood. Adult models of responsibility, maturity, and employment are hard to find on the West Side. Of the 50 or so children and teens that attend our church's youth programs, only one family is headed by a married, employed couple. Pain and disruption mark nearly all of their homes. Missing father, alcoholic mother, poor food, siblings fathered by different men (all now absent), drugs, violence.

Passing On Leadership
The need of younger people for someone to look up to, to pattern themselves after, is not limited to the inner city. It is a virtually universal instinct, one with spiritual overtones, and it raises fundamental questions about the priorities of our churches, ministries, and organizations. New and/or younger Christians often find few older believers willing and able to serve as consistent role models and mentors. Why are caring, competent role models in such short supply in such divergent places?

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1996
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