Being a mentor is not only important but invigorating, too

One of the most satisfying things I do these days is to mentor Elaine Dreeben, a gifted young woman who serves our church as a Lilly Pastoral Resident. A recent seminary graduate, she is spending two years with us, experiencing all the varied aspects of a large and active church in a time of preparation for a long and productive ministry.

How did we get involved in something like this? It’s a story worth sharing, because it speaks of the way in which religious communities can partner to do wonderful things.

It all started when I happened to sit at a luncheon with Tom Dunning, who has been an active supporter of Dallas for a long time. He asked what pastors were doing to get together — to share our common challenges and commitments. I said, “Not enough,” but added that I’d been thinking of getting some friends in ministry together.

Tom, who has the gift of follow-through, offered to pay for lunch! Thus a monthly lunch was born — a gathering of five pastors, living out Tom’s hope for greater community.

One day, George Mason (pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church who writes the Worship column for other Advocate neighborhoods) suggested that we write for a grant from the Lilly Endowment to start a cluster of pastoral residencies. We did, and — thanks be to God and Eli Lilly — we received the grant!

For almost three years now, we five pastors — Mason, Joe Clifford of First Presbyterian Church, John Fiedler of First United Methodist Church, Bob Dannals of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, and I — have been mentoring a group of eight pastoral residents. They are bright, caring and committed young pastors (both men and women), and they give me hope for the future.

Each week our residents meet for a homiletics seminar (churchspeak for preaching) and a pastoral seminar that deals with a range of topics from family systems theory to church administration. Each resident serves in his or her own parish, but they have also formed a close community of learners. Being young, they regularly celebrate each other’s rites of passage, such as marriages and pregnancies, but most importantly they share the joys and challenges of pastoral ministry.

And, in these last years of my own ministry, these wonderful young people are giving me an unexpected new passion for my calling.

Marsha Sinetar has written an important book titled “The Mentor’s Spirit: Life Lessons on Leadership and the Art of Encouragement.” She writes: “We need mentors — wise and faithful guides, advisers or teachers — the wisdom keepers of an entire family, a sprawling corporation, or community. The mentor’s spirit animates our life. It moves us toward wholeness and authenticity.”

Being a mentor is a joy and a challenge. It gives you a chance to leave something past your own time. It reminds me of the prophet Elijah, rising up on his chariot of fire, taking the time to drop his mantle upon his successor, Elisha.

Consider being a mentor, too. Pass along what you’ve learned. Drop your mantle on some bright young spirit.

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