My wife Lorrie and I like to travel a lot by car. If we are traveling someplace new, I drive, and she navigates. Because she isn’t driving, she is able to look at the map or the GPS and anticipate what is coming and help me take the right turns and find our way to our destination. This means that I need to be attentive and listen and she needs to have a clear understanding of where we are going.
I have always loved the Psalms of Ascents. These are the songs the people sang as they made their way to the temple mount in Jerusalem for the festivals of Worship. Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” The Lord helps us navigate our way through the challenges of ministry.
But I have discovered that I can easily lose sight of the way. Ministry overwhelms with its unending demands. The cancer patient in the hospital, a family in crisis, a board meeting that has gone off the rails, my own marriage that needs attention and this ongoing sense of my own inadequacy conspire to make me feel lost and uncertain. We need companions for the journey.
We use many names to describe these companions. Mentor, spiritual friend, advisor, confidante, or life coach. My life has been filled with such people who built into me. Early in ministry I was aware of a deep need for thoughtful theological discussion and reflection. I found such a friend among the book stacks of our local Christian bookstore. We would meet for the next 30 years for lunch and conversation that fed that hunger. For two years I worked with a Senior Pastor that mentored me in the ways of pastoring and serving the church. Later, I became aware that I needed someone who would help me listen to the voice of God – to hear Him in the struggles of the soul. I found a friend who would take monthly walks with me listening and reflecting so I could hear. God met me with these companions.
Ministry can be a place of isolation and aloneness. We battle against the belief that we must have it all together – against the expectation that we need to know what needs to be done and how it should be done. We wrestle with the identity question – who are we? Are we allowed to be human?
What do we do with our failings and weaknesses? As I have watched the next generation struggle with these issues, I have determined to use this next season of my life to be that mentor, coach or guide others need. Some have described my role in their life as “Spiritual Father,” one who has seen a little more of the road than they have and is willing to walk with them. As Rueben Welch once wrote, “We really do need each other.” Interdependence is the road well travelled.
Here are some steps we can take as we think about the kind of companions we need:
1. Take an inventory of your life. Ask the Lord to reveal to you some of the key places where you need to grow.
2. Look for people who have a track record of doing well in these needed growth areas. No one person can be everything to you.
3. Ensure that your potential ‘life coach’ not only has the experience and skills but also the character necessary to walk this road with you.
4. When meeting with a future mentor be careful to set out appropriate parameters so that expectations are clear; frequency of meeting, length of commitment, means of contact, type of work to be done etc.
5. Agree to a process of review and then bathe the relationship in prayerful engagement.
Companions for the journey are not to simply make you better or more effective at what you do, they are to help you pursue the life of Christ in a way that brings honour and glory to Him. We were never meant to walk this road alone.