I am no Charles Spurgeon. Were I to write something similar to his, Lectures to My Students, it would not be read widely and not reach the acclaim Otis David Fuller lauds on Spurgeon’s book full of advice and instruction.
Every Christian, in whatever capacity he may serve, should read and digest the contents of these lectures. Both blessing and benediction will be the reward for time thus spent. (Preface)
I have two copies of Lectures to My Students. One is the edition edited by David Otis Fuller published in 1945. The other looks to be older. It bears the marks of a fire and the frontispiece is missing. The binding is held together by yellow duct tape.
The first copy came from one of my pastors growing up. Bro. Leon was retiring and he let my brother Paul and I have a run on a number of the volumes in his library. The second copy came from my mother who understands that I am at heart a bibliophile that adores old volumes.
I think it does not hurt for a normal guy to throw out some thoughts as to how it is that he continues in ministry and in particular at one place for twenty years. That was my idea for a series 20 for 20, twenty reflections on ministry and in particular for the long term. I want to avoid the pithy overly spiritualized references to God’s will and such. It is not that I disbelieve in God’s activity in my time at Snow Hill. It is just that many find it hard to talk about without references to a zealous piety. And, we do not describe the ways in which this shows up and that, after all if we are honest, it comes in some very ordinary ways.
Success for the long term could be swept up in the debate between what influences us more, nature or nurture. Yes. There is an admixture of both. If we are going to confess that God is any way involved, then Godself must be involved all the way down and not just in some sort of haphazard manner from yon cloud.
Spurgeon mentored many a young Baptist boy from his sermons and his other writings. I recall making frequent trips to a local bookstore while in college to pick up a number of volumes published as Twelve Sermons on a particular subject. I have a copy of his devotional volume I also picked up while in college, Morning and Evening. His Treasury of David sits on my shelves among the many commentaries.
What we miss when our mentor comes via the printed word is the occasion to ask the “Prince of Preachers” a question. We do not get to push back. We do not enjoy a lively debate. When we face our first crisis, we do not get to lay out the details. We do not get much help with our hope to emulate such a famous pulpiteer. And, if all of us who were young preacher types would admit, we hoped to mirror his success. Preaching to throngs of people strokes the ego. Just survey the landscape today. Young fellows enter the ministry thinking they will one day be the next big thing. I hope not. But, it is true. Somewhere along the way we traded faithfulness for the next big thing. What’s more, we are led to believe that faithfulness will result in us being the next big thing. Many pick that up from the Sacred Text itself.
That is not to say that something is wrong with large churches and their pastors/preachers. It is just that the way young fellows think about their future always includes, “I want to get to do what [fill in the blank] is doing.” That generally includes the Green Room and invitations to speak at conferences far and wide.
For every one that makes it to the next big thing, there are countless others who do not. In fact, more pastors in America serve churches that run 100 or less on a given Sunday morning in worship than those who are part of the mega-church scene, which in the past 20 years underwent an adjustment to what qualifies as mega. The designation requires a bigger number today than when the mega-church phenomenon of emerged.
Worse is the statistic of those who find themselves no longer in ministry just five years after graduating from Seminary. There are many reasons. Surely some ran into reality like a wall while packing a heavy load of idealism. I am not sure how many people I went to college and seminary with are still plowing. There are days I wonder if a mentor would have helped.
Mentoring from a distance is really to have no mentor at all. The gift of relationship requires flesh and blood. And, we need more than one mentor. There may be a single person that stands out as the figure that holds an iconic position who invested deeply. But, along the way, if that mentoring experience held any value, a person learns the need for mentors all along the way.
Who were some of my mentors?
Pastors Who Were My Mentors
Brother Justice – Yes, growing up that was the title of honor when referring to the Pastor. I remarked recently to our congregation that while I appreciate the respect afforded this designation, it does tend to unduly elevate one among many in a congregation. I type that knowing some will quickly point to Scriptures about double honor and greater responsibility. I also have grown to understand that how we use words, including the titles we give, may undermine the very aim we have for the shape community takes. I prefer Todd, but answer to any number of designations.
Brother Justice went to summer youth camp. He even drove a pickup full of luggage, or his old station wagon. I learned both the need to invest in young people from Brother Justice. Except for unusual circumstances or a scheduling conflict, I have gone to Youth Camp most years since serving as Associate Pastor/Youth Minister, my first staff position, in 1986.
I also learned that Jesus people should take the Bible seriously. These were the days before our denominational controversies, at least the sort that led to an event described as both a takeover and a resurgence.
Annually, Brother Justice would produce material for a Winter Bible Study. There is little doubt he was a student of the Bible. Aside from the vision of my parents reading the Bible, there was not another person I could point to who read and studied the Scriptures like Brother Justice. During high school a friend had invited me to a Bible Study. My parents did not know the pastor. Before I could go, they had me call Brother Justice and get some advice. My parents wanted to be sure of what parameters Brother Justice would suggest before jumping in to study with just anyone. I did go to the Bible Study and found another person who took the Bible seriously as they taught.
Were he alive today we may learn that Brother Justice and I have differences of opinion from our readings of the Sacred Text, but I would hope he would be glad to find that I still take the Bible seriously.
Brother Larry – Yes, we called our Youth Minister Brother Larry, was my first Youth Minister. He was not the first Youth Minister I knew. My Mom worked with the youth at our church so we knew all the Youth Ministers – Alan and Charlie came before Larry. But, he was the first one who led the Youth Ministry while I fit that category and paid attention.
Larry taught me many things. He taught me that it was OK to have a sense of humor. Brother Justice could be quite stoic and felt the pulpit was no place for humor. Larry, who came to our church after Brother Justice retired, helped us see that all human emotions were what made us, well, human. After reading the Scriptures for decades, I think one must have a sense of humor to understand some of the prophetic moves as well as some of the things Jesus does and says that end up in sarcasm and irony. Genre is important.
If Larry taught us humor was a part of following Jesus, then we also learned patience is a needed fruit of the Spirit. Anyone working with young people must have patience. Period. Make no mistake, when needed, Larry could put a damper on our odd view of fun, especially when it was at the expense of one of our peers. He did so with great care and patience.
These two men would fit what I refer to as my Pastoral Mentors. That is, their particular role came in serving as my pastor on some level while I was learning what it means to follow Jesus.
In Part 2 of 1 of 20, I want to note a few peer mentors and the person that stands out as the one I most often refer to as “My Mentor.” I will conclude with a note about a couple of people who serve a newly described mentoring role under the rubric, “Reverse Mentoring.” That is to say, when we get old we sometimes calcify and think we cannot learn any more. But, we may and should.
Next up, Who Were My Mentors, Part 2