How To Be Smarter Than You Are
Over the past few days I have been giving thanks to God for the people he has brought into my life. God has totally transformed my life through people. Notice I said GOD has changed my life. But I also said God has changed my life THROUGH people. I often use the expression “means of grace” from the pulpit—a very important theological concept that many Christians miss to their own harm. God accomplishes his work through means. If I had a pulpit in front of me, I would pound it right now. In fact, I can almost feel myself pounding the keyboard as I write. The Word of God came to us through people (2 Peter 1:21). The church grows through the work of people (1 Corinthians 3:6). The treasure of the gospel is carried to the world through people (2 Corinthians 4:7). Wisdom comes to us through people (Proverbs 19:20).
This is the theological rationale for mentoring. God works in our lives through people. And it is why every single person needs a mentor (or more than one mentor). This is someone you allow to speak into your life. A guide. Someone you trust and who will help you live a happier life in God. If you were to ask me to list the most important things that have impacted my life, learning from mentors would be on that list somewhere near the very top. My mind is filled with thanksgiving for the mentors God has brought into my life. I think of Dr. Bill Goode (d. 1997) who taught me how to apply the Word of God to life and ministry. Dr. Merwin “Skip” Forbes helped me sort through my own Fundamentalist baggage so that I could figure out what I needed to keep and what I needed to discard (while holding firmly to classical Christianity). Dr. Douglas Sweeney taught me how to mine the riches of the past in order to avoid what historians called “presentism”—our inane preoccupation with the contemporary. (He introduced me to Jonathan Edwards and others who have become intellectual mentors.) R. Garry Bradley (d. 2011) taught me how to get things done and love people at the same time without being naïve to the realities of human nature (he taught me a hundred other things as well). I could go on…
Nearly 900 years ago Bernard of Chartres (pronounced Chār-tra) said, “We are but dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.” The French theologian was speaking of our indebtedness to others who have lived before us. Specifically, Chartres was referring to how scholars build on the work of their predecessors and are able to see further because of their labors. (In one of the stained-glass windows of Chartres Cathedral there is an image of four biblical prophets depicted as giants. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John stand on their shoulders.) I have found that I can be smarter than I really am by acquiring knowledge, wisdom and experience from others.
A couple of weeks ago I walked into one of my favorite Valparaiso coffee shops for a much-anticipated appointment. Sitting in the corner was a man about 70 years old. There were papers scattered about on the table, a leather satchel sat on the floor next to him—and he was checking messages on his iPad. I had met him many years ago when he was the Senior Pastor of an 8,000 member church in the Midwest. He’s now semi-retired and spends his time letting young pastors “stand on his shoulders.”
I sat across from him for 2 ½ hours and asked questions. How do you befriend 8,000 people? How do you counsel 8,000 people? How do you manage your schedule? How do you make time for your family? How do you raise the level of prayer in your congregation? How do you stay in shape? How do you deal with stress? How do you choose close friends? How much did you preach? How much vacation did you take? (This is only a sampling.) He never batted an eyelash as he sat there effortlessly teaching me things I wish I had learned 10 years ago. I’m planning to stand on his shoulders so that I can be taller than I really am.