Meet Rowland – my mentor and friend

wp_20161025_004-2You’ve probably heard it said, “Every pastor needs a mentor.”  This is true not just for young pastors, but for old timers like me (I just turned 50 so I can say that). For one thing, it’s biblical. Think of some of the famous mentoring relationships – Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha and Paul and Timothy. Secondly, experience is a great teacher. We know things now because of mistakes we make in the past. Older, mature mentors can help us making those mistakes in the first place. Thirdly, we all have blind spots – weaknesses and flaws in our life and character that we cannot see, but others pick up on. And then fourthly, leaders get lonely. They need close friends around them that they can confide in and trust.

However, finding a good mentor is another thing.

I’ve had a few mentors in the past, but they weren’t very good. They didn’t really know me (or make an effort to do so); they never asked the hard questions and nor did they teach me anything. It was a cup of coffee and a social chat. Afterwards I would think to myself, What was that all about? I just wasted an hour of my day.

Then I met Rowland, or should I say Rowland met me. He called me one day and asked if I wanted to get together with him. I came up on his radar through contact with some pastors that were in his circle of relationships. He wanted to know a little more about me. That’s kind of how it started – a simple friendship. I found we had a number of things in common – a love for the Scriptures, the spiritual growth of God’s people, and reading good books. There was one thing that separated us however: age and experience. And that made all the difference. When I started my new ministry at Grace Church last year, the elders insisted that I have a mentor. There was no hesitation in my mind; I wanted Rowland.

Here are some of the reasons why Rowland is such a good mentor:

  1. He listens. I mean he really listens. He listens – not just to what I am saying but what lies beneath what I am saying. He listens for my heart. For example, I might be describing an event or situation that is happening in my life and Rowland will say, “I sense you feel really disappointed about this” or “I can detect a real joy in your heart about this – you must be encouraged.” So I think to myself, “Yes, I am encouraged” or “Actually, I am disappointed – this person let me down.” Sometimes we needs life interpreters – doctors of our souls.
  2. He asks great questions. I’ve had other mentors say things like, “So how are you doing spiritually?” or “how is your relationship with your wife?”.  Rowland says, “In the book of Revelation we find letters from the risen Lord Jesus to number of different churches. In those letters he describes what he thinks about them. If Jesus would write you a letter right now, what do you think he would say? How would he describe your spiritual life?”  That question puts a whole different spin on things.  Or, Rowland would ask, “How would your wife respond to this question?” Again, that gives reason for pause and deeper reflection. You can’t answer that glibly or superficially. Rowland asks questions that help to open up my soul.
  3. He does not answer hastily. This is a great temptation for us all. We are prone, when people share things with us, to offer them glib answers and superficial solutions. Not so with Rowland; he weighs words. He thinks over what I am saying, taking notes (see no. 5 below) or – I’m sure sometimes, silently prays.
  4. He opens up his own life to me. It’s not all one way. It is not Rowland the expert lecturing his student. It is Rowland the fellow pastor, father and friend sharing his own weaknesses and strengths, victories and failures, and hopes and dreams with me. I don’t feel inferior in our time together. In fact, sometimes it seems as if he wants to learn something from me.
  5. He takes notes. While I am sharing, he is writing and recording details about my life and journey. Then in our next session, he raises these things in the conversation and says, “So what happened about so and so…”  I have forgotten all about it. He hasn’t.
  6. He comes prepared. He does not wing it. He knows time is precious – my time as well as his. I have met with previous mentors who were nothing more than sounding boards. Hard questions are never asked. Deep issues are never probed – in fact, they didn’t even surface. Not so with Rowland. He does not enter my world hastily or carelessly, but wisely, cautiously and sensitively. He is like the skilled surgeon who has examined his patient and knows what needs adjusting, what needs mending and what can be left alone (or at least, left for another time).
  7. He prays spontaneously. He does not wait until the end of our time together before talking to God about the issues we have discussed. He talks to God throughout. Sometimes he warns me – “Let’s talk to the Lord about that…”, and sometimes he doesn’t. One moment I’m sharing something and the next I hear Rowland speaking to God. You see what this does – I suddenly sense that it is not two of us in the meeting, but three. There is a Senior Mentor present; the Holy Spirit. The effect this has on our time together is not only profound, but immensely powerful.

Perhaps when I take a step back for all this, I could sum up Rowland’s mentoring in two simple words: LOVE and TRUTH. All these things that I have observed; listening carefully, probing gently, weighing carefully, taking notes, preparing what to say and what to ask, and praying spontaneously – they demonstrate a care and concern. They demonstrate love. And the carefully weighed answers are sincere, heartfelt and biblical. He is a great example of one who speaks the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

I have discovered over the past year that Rowland has given me another life goal: I want to do what he does. I want to become this kind of mentor to younger men. As a fellow mentee of Rowland said to me this past week, “Rowland models what I want to become.” I couldn’t say it better.

Thank you Rowland, for being such a humble, Christlike father and friend to me and the other men you so faithfully and lovingly serve.

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