Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
I guess I am going to state the obvious, but I am a pastor. That’s my job, that’s who I am. I don’t usually like talking about myself, but today I want to tell you a little about how I ended up here. In our current message series on teaching and learning, we have been talking about the kids getting back to school and we have been talking about how we can grow with God. I’ve shared before how I have gone to school—like a lot of school, to get to where I am. My time in seminary helped shape me into who I am and helped me think deeply about how God works in people’s lives.
While seminary helped me to become a pastor, it’s not school that I want to tell you about. I want to tell you a little bit about how I got to where I am and how I became a pastor. I grew up going to a United Methodist Church in my hometown. It was something we did as a family. As a got older, I attended youth group and several of us got very close. We grew up together; we relied on each other. We also had a youth director that cared deeply for us. As part of what we did in our Youth Group, we went to a yearly youth retreat called Resurrection. This is the same Resurrection that we still take our youth to. It has changed quite a bit, but it is still the same transformative time that I remember.
As a kid, I remember that I loved going to Resurrection because my mom would give me spending money, and we would all go into the shops in Gatlinburg and buy knives and lighters and stuff we don’t want our students to buy when we go to Resurrection these days. Anyways, when I was 16, I remember the speaker making an invitation for people to come forward that felt that God was calling them into full time ministry. I don’t remember much about this, but I do remember walking forward and acknowledging that God was calling me into ministry. This wasn’t some transformative event as you might imagine, but it imprinted in me that at some point in my future I was going be working in the ministry.
Then when I was in college I got connected with a pastor of a small United Methodist Church who asked me to be the youth director of the church. During this time, I got serious about figuring out my options for what I was going to do with my life, so I started to talk to him about becoming a pastor. He connected me with a process known as candidacy. This candidacy process is the process that people in The United Methodist Church go through if they feel as if God is calling them to be a pastor. One of the first steps of this is that you appear before the district board of ordained ministry (kind of scary at 20 years old), then you are assigned a mentor.
Drew Henry was my mentor. Drew has since passed away, but I recall driving to his office in Cleveland every couple of weeks as he and I worked through my candidacy process. He helped me complete the different steps that were needed. He talked with me and helped me think through this being a pastor thing. And he discussed seminary with me. Drew even did premarital counseling for Hope and myself. Drew took away the glamor of the pastor thing, and shared deeply with me as we explored together. I will be forever thankful for the time that he poured into my life.
I tell you all of this to show you that I didn’t get to where I am today by myself. I didn’t become a pastor just because God “called” me one day out of the blue. I am who I am today, because people invested in me. People mentored me. People like Patty and Todd and Drew showed me God and invested in me. It is because of them that I am who I am today. And there have been plenty more people since then that continue to impact my life and serve as mentors.
As I reflect on those who have been mentors in my life, I am curious about the mentors in your life. I think most people can relate to this in some way. In most people’s lives there is a least one person who shows them how to live. In most people’s lives there is that one person who invests in them and teaches them how to be a woman or how to be a man. Sometimes this is a coach or a Sunday school teacher. Sometimes this is an aunt or uncle or older sibling. It doesn’t matter if you were assigned an official mentor as was I or not, there are likely people who invested in you and shared their life with you. And if this isn’t the case, you worked extra hard to get to where you are and you probably wish that there had been someone there to help you along.
This mentoring thing is so important. It is through relationships that we learn how to live and learn how to grow. Take babies for example. How does a baby learn to talk, well for months and months she listens to the people around her, her mom or dad, or grandparents. And through hearing these people she then starts to form her own words. Or your children? How do they learn how to act and behave. Children learn how to act in situations by watching their parents, their peers, and others around them.
It’s also through relationships that people learn about faith. Nobody is born a Christian. A Christian research firm did a study and found that about 60% of people say that a personal invitation from a friend or neighbor would be effective in getting them to come to church. Then when you are involved in church, you learn from others. We learn the faith through relationships. Faith is passed down from one person to the next. (https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/july/power-of-invitation-our-god-pursues-lost-and-so-should-we.html)
We find this same thing when we look at the Bible. I want to share with you today the story of a mentor and how this mentor shaped the life of a young man. As we do this, I also want you to start imagining how you can or how you already mentor others.
I want to tell you about Paul. Now in the church we talk about Paul a lot because he was someone who really loved Jesus and wrote a lot of our Bible. Today, I am going to read to part of a letter that Paul wrote to this guy named Timothy. (1 Timothy 1:1-2)
From Paul, who is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the command of God our savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.
2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ok, that’s a really short passage of scripture, really it is just the greeting portion of the letter, but I think it is important. In this letter two people are introduced: Paul and Timothy. Paul is this guy who loves Jesus and works like crazy to spread the message of Jesus around the world. We also are introduced to Timothy, the guy that Paul is writing to. Paul describes Timothy as “my true child in the faith.”
In a letter to another church, Paul also writes this about Timothy: (Philippians 2:19-24)
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to see you soon so that I may be encouraged by hearing about you. 20 I have no one like him. He is a person who genuinely cares about your well-being. 21 All the others put their own business ahead of Jesus Christ’s business. 22 You know his character, how he labors with me for the gospel like a son works with his father. 23 So he is the one that I hope to send as soon as I find out how things turn out here for me. 24 I trust in the Lord that I also will visit you soon.
It is clear, from these two letters, that Paul loves Timothy; it is clear that Paul cares for Timothy. From these two letters, it seems that Timothy works closely with Paul and that Paul sees Timothy as a son. Timothy is not Paul’s actual son; Paul’s is not actually Timothy’s father. But Paul describes Timothy like a son. What’s going on here, is that Paul is describing his relationship to Timothy as Timothy’s mentor. Paul is Timothy’s mentor. The reason Paul knows him so well and trusts him so well is that Paul has worked with Timothy and taught him everything he knows. Paul is Timothy’s mentor.
To give you a little background on this relationship, it seems that Paul first met Timothy when Paul stayed at his house. At this point Timothy must have been very young, but Paul must have left an impression on young Timothy. And Timothy became a deeply committed Christian. Surely, this traveling preacher, Paul, became something of a hero to Timothy. Here Timothy was surrounded by his family and people in his own town. Then this out of towner comes through and rocks the status quo, and shows people the life changing love of Jesus. Timothy was hooked.
On another visit, Timothy had grown up some, perhaps he is a teenager at this point. You can read more about this in Acts 16:1-3. Timothy wasn’t private about his faith, people in the church community knew that this was a bright young man who loved Jesus. Perhaps they felt God was calling him to be a pastor. Everyone speaks so well of Timothy, and Paul is impressed, so Paul takes him with him on the journey. Maybe Paul sees in this young man someone who could carry on Paul’s legacy, someone who Paul could mentor and shape. From this point on, Timothy is Paul’s constant companion. Paul is teaching Timothy; Timothy is working with Paul. All the while, God is using this mentoring relationship to shape Timothy into the person and pastor that God desires. It is because someone invested in Timothy’s life that he experienced the goodness that God desired for him.
Timothy didn’t get to be who he was alone. I don’t care who you are, you didn’t get to where you are alone. You didn’t become the person you are today through mere solitary hard work. You didn’t make what you have alone. Some, perhaps, find this offensive—the idea that you didn’t get to where you are by yourself. But it’s true. All along the way there have been people that touched your life. You have learned from these people and from each circumstance. It would be naive to suggest that all of these interactions were positive, but they all helped shape you to be who you are. People along the way served as mentors, whether formal or informal, in your life. And without these persons, you would not be who you are today.
My question for you is, who are you mentoring today? Whose life are you investing in today? There are so many people in your life and in your community that need investment. There are so many people in our community that need people to invest in them. There are people in our own congregation who could use someone to listen to them and to care about them.
The thing about mentoring is that mentoring looks so different depending on the circumstance. There are career mentors, peer mentors, faith mentors, life mentors, and we could probably think of some other ways people could mentor. But for you, I think there is one takeaway that can help you invest in someone’s life – take a genuine interest somebody. That’s it. Paul took a genuine interest in Timothy, and he may have done way more than you could ever do, but the starting point is the same. Take a genuine interest in somebody. I think that no matter how old you are or where you are, you have the ability to show genuine interest in another person.
But I also want to speak to you, if you are in a place where you feel as if you need a mentor. There are those times in life when it seems that everything is caving in. The bills, the family members, your health, your sanity, your kids, your job—nothing seems to be going your way. It’s a miracle that you can get one foot in front of the other. If that’s where you are, I want you to know that I care for you. I want you to know that God cares for you. I want you to know that there is hope. If this is where you find yourself, I hope that you will reach out to someone today—if you don’t know anyone, reach out to me. I’ll be around all day.
When it all comes down to it, we all need other people; we need each other. I hope that you will take a genuine interest in somebody; it’s doesn’t take a formal mentoring relationship to make a difference. And if you need someone, I hope that you will reach out—there are people who care.
Today we are wrapping up our message series about Teaching and Learning, and I want you to take this message away from here. I want us all to remember that we all need to learn and we all need to teach. And really the best way for that to happen is through us mentoring each other, taking a genuine interest in somebody else. The best way to continue to live is for us to invest in the lives of others and teach them what it means to be a person of faith, and also to listen to them and learn from them. That’s what this teaching and learning thing is all about. Let us continue to grow together, to learn together, and teach together.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.