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I read once of a friendship that stands as a model through the centuries. According to the Roman statesman and author Cicero, Pythias was a young statesman in Rome who got into trouble with the government and was condemned to die. While he was awaiting execution, he indicated a desire to go home to his family and bid farewell to them.
His friend, Damon, took his place in prison as security for him while he was gone. Emperor Dionysius was so touched by this display of friendship that he granted them both a pardon, with the provision that they include him in the secret of their friendship.
I believe most men want close friends in spite of the fact that, as a group, they tend to process things more individually than women do. Even though much of our life is spent projecting a confident, strong, handle-what-comes image to ourselves and others, deep down we don't like being islands. We long for "buds" that go beyond having men to hang out with. But it is difficult for most men to swallow their pride or public image and work on the one area necessary for a real relationship: vulnerability.
Many of us don't know how to be vulnerable and even if we did, we wouldn't want to be! Vulnerability involves real risk. Risk of the soul, not just physical safety.
Most men prefer risks that take place in the arena of business, sports or adventure, where failure may mean a bruised ego or body but not out right rejection. I bet most men would rather hang glide, bungee jump, brave white water rapids or sky dive before they would open up with somebody about their real-life struggles. On the other hand, men can have terrific, sharpening, healthy and lasting relationships with other men. When we do, it meets one of our most profound needs.
Healthy, long-lasting male relationships need to be established on a basis of trust. That's true with any relationship, male or female. You can't have a relationship without trust. Therefore it is vitally important that we take the time to develop our trustworthiness and to exercise trust in another as that person learns to develop his trustworthiness.
With trust, it's easier to be vulnerable with one another. If I trust you, then I'm willing to show you who I really am--to a greater degree than I show my casual acquaintances. I will believe that I can trust you to keep my secrets, and I will be willing to keep yours. With a foundation of trust and vulnerability, closeness in relationship is possible.
Sam, a friend of mine, told me that many men want a meaningful men's ministry, but churches fail to provide it. So many men choose to remain an island, even in the church. "We have our sport utility vehicles and our power tools to protect us," Sam told me. "The hurt and problems run so deep in many men today that it drives us away from the solutions we need. I desire to one day have more real and honest relationships with men in my church."
Kevin (not his real name) is a successful insurance agent who has an evangelistic outreach once a month at a country club in which they present the gospel to 100 to 150 local business people. I spoke with Kevin about his own efforts at finding accountability partners. After the height of Promise Keepers, he sincerely wanted to find someone to whom he could be accountable.
He tried to form that type of relationship with a friend he had brought to a rally, but the friend's spiritual walk was not mature enough for Kevin to feel safe confiding in him. Since then, Kevin's efforts have been frustrated. Even though he is the vice president of his church's evangelistic organization and a deacon at his church, he still does not have the confidence or trust to be accountable to anyone in his social circle.
From everything I know about Kevin, he's a strong Christian who is constantly growing in his faith. But his longing is one with which most of us can identify. It's to have good, meaningful friendships to provide accountability. Frankly, it's the reason I started my men's group more than eight years ago.
I've joked about the fact we were going to help each other through midlife crisis. But we had a higher calling. I remember asking them what we could accomplish if we all challenged one another to become all we could become in Christ.
It would be easy to say that these men who long for deep friendships aren't trying hard enough to form relationships, and that they are blaming others for their own inability to open up. But we must remember that most men haven't been trained to be friends with others. And the devil tries to exploit men by keeping them in a type of solitary confinement.
Author Preston Gillham writes: "The enemy of God and man perpetrates a uniquely masculine attack--isolation. We have tried to adapt, accept and accommodate masculine loneliness by glamorizing it in the movies and portraying men as independent and self-sufficient. But the fact is, men need men. For all the competition and aggressiveness men exhibit toward each other, one of the deep needs in a man's life is masculine companionship."
Gordon MacDonald puts it this way: "We were built for intimacy, this linkage of souls, but most of us men rarely experience it. And its scarcity breeds loneliness (I don't really know anyone) and fuels remoteness (No one really knows me)."
I believe that much of this need for intimacy, for those men who are married, must be with our wives. My wife, Joy, is my best friend and has been for the last 28 years. She is the one whose company I enjoy more than anyone else's. Other friends come and go, but our commitment to each other is lifelong. Yet how many men can truly say that their wives are their best pals?
But I also have men friends. Joy doesn't enjoy racquetball or golf or lifting weights. So Steve Beam, founder of Missionary Ventures, and I have become not only good friends but racquetball buddies. Bob Minotti, vice president of advertising at Strang Communications and a member of my men's group, is also my best "golfing buddy." I just enjoy hanging around these guys. Along with the men in my men's group, I can be open with them and share my life with them.
What's the point? I'm giving examples from my own life of where these relationships have filled a real need. Cultivating these friendships is hard work and requires time. But to me, they are well worth the effort because they make life so much richer.
Why do so many men continue to feel isolated, alone with their problems and needs and unable to trust anyone to confide in? How can we solve this problem? Author Preston Gillham tackles the issue of isolation in his book Things Only Men Know:
"Isolation is an awkward problem. Most of us agree we need other men in our lives, but knowing what to do with him when God brings him along is another matter. Friendship of this type is a modeled and learned behavior. If we haven't seen it enacted, creating it for ourselves is a formidable challenge, producing awkward emotions that can be avoided if isolation is maintained.
"If you think about the men discussed in the Bible, no matter how eccentric they were, whether in the Old Testament or the New, young or old, the men of God's Word were rarely alone. You can't really think of Moses without thinking of Aaron as well. And the same could be said for Elijah and Elisha, David and Jonathan, Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Silas, and of course, Jesus along with Peter, James and John. If these men placed a premium on having other men in their lives, it seems apparent there is wisdom here we would be wise to consider."
A critical and often missing link in a man's life is mentoring. I had a conversation one day with a man in his early 30s. When I mentioned the topic of mentoring, he was almost beside himself wanting to know more. This young man had an enormous need for a mentor and said he hadn't a clue of how to find one.
"I am jealous of others who have had a mentor in their lives to help guide them," he told me. "This is something I have never known." In the last several churches he attended he did not find it possible to become "one of the guys." So many people, he found, were in their own cliques and not willing to open the circle to newcomers. Sadly, after he and his wife both felt they had tried as hard as they could to form close friendships, they gave up trying and haven't attended church for a while.
This young man would be the first to admit that he needs a mentor who could help him sort through what has become a very difficult problem to solve. A good mentoring relationship would also fulfill some of the friendship need he has identified.
A mentoring relationship can be one of the most valuable, enriching relationships a man has. A mentor is someone who has achieved, learned and struggled through more than you have, perhaps in one specific area, and who is willing to pass that knowledge on to help you meet your goals in that area.
For 13 years Jamie Buckingham was my mentor and friend. He let me attend "leader" meetings with him back when I was in my 20s. This let me learn what was happening, and it gave me credibility in the eyes of Jamie's friends who were much older than me.
For a couple of years I drove to Melbourne, Florida, 80 miles from Orlando, to meet Jamie for lunch. I would pour out my frustrations and doubts, and Jamie would encourage me and challenge me to believe God and to think big. I'm the type of person who needs to "talk things through," and I was always able to talk with Jamie and continued to discuss all major decisions with him up until only two weeks before he died.
History is full of shining examples of mentoring relationships. Socrates mentored Plato, who mentored Aristotle, who mentored Alexander the Great--quite a lineup. Leonardo da Vinci was mentored by a painter named Andrea del Verrocchio. Da Vinci then mentored another man, passing on all the knowledge he had gained. That man was Michelangelo.
And, of course, Jesus was a mentor to His disciples for three years, though at a more intense level than most of us experience. Even then, there were some in Jesus' day who seemed to have long-distance mentoring relationships with Him. Take Joseph of Arimathea for instance, or Nicodemus. These men are mentioned only a few times, but it is clear that Jesus' influence on them was profound. I am sure that was true of thousands who lived during those matchless days.
What specifically can a mentor offer you? Why would we spend the time investing in this kind of relationship?
1. Bridge to Maturity. A mentor gives you a bridge to maturity, illuminating the path that is before you in life and inviting you to become a more settled, secure and effective person.
2. Career or Personal Advice. A mentor gives you advice on your career or personal goals. If you have chosen someone within your profession, he should be able to give you words of wisdom that will save you from pitfalls or help you through common struggles. Of course, advice must be acted upon.
3. Encouragement. A mentor gives encouragement. Having a mentor is not taking a shortcut around trials. You will still have to fight through certain tailor-made struggles in life that only you can fight through. But having someone on the sidelines cheering you on can make all the difference.
4. Skill Improvement. A mentor passes on new or improved skills in your area of shared interest. On a practical level, you should be learning things that make you a more valuable commodity in the workplace or ministry.
5. Role-Modeling. A good mentor gives you a living model to follow. Not every situation can be predicted, and you will learn tremendously as you watch your mentor go through unexpected circumstances. A good mentor gives you a living model to follow.
6. Access to Opportunities and Resources. A mentor gives access to opportunities and resources. If there is a job to be done, you might get the nod and a chance to prove yourself to your mentor and to others.
7. Visibility. A mentor gives you visibility in your profession or ministry. By taking you under his wing, he is putting a label on you that tells others you are trustworthy and available.
How do you find a mentor? It isn't that difficult. You can probably think of people right now whom you would like to be mentored by--whether at work, church or elsewhere. I believe you need not one but several mentors for different areas of life: career, family, spiritual, health and fitness, educational and financial.
In all of these areas, pick someone more successful than yourself. It is axiomatic in life that you become like the people you are around, and you will emulate your mentors. Pick someone who has a healthier family than you; who has greater spiritual depth and has been a follower of Christ for longer than you have; who has better health and fitness; who makes more money than you do. As you get to know each of these men, you will begin to understand how he got to where he is.
Decide in what areas you want to grow. It would be nearly impossible to grow in all these areas at once, but maybe the Lord is leading you to one or two that you can focus on for a few months or a year. Identify in your mind what you want in a mentor and think of possible candidates. Then decide that establishing these friendships is important enough to spend time and money on. Put the names in order of priority.
Invite the potential mentor to breakfast or lunch (your treat). If the person can't or won't make time to meet with you for a free meal, it is likely that no relationship is meant to develop--but most men won't pass up a free meal. And if you're willing to be patient long enough to fit into their schedule, I've found you can get an appointment with almost anyone.
Then ask the man about himself. Ask about his early history--how he made it to where he is today. Ask him about his father (this reveals a lot about most men) and ask if he had a good mentor or if he is in a men's group.
Ask a few leading questions about why he thinks it's difficult for men to form meaningful relationships with other men. Most men will open up and talk, but some won't. If a man won't open up about these somewhat superficial topics, cross him off the list as a potential mentor.
If you feel comfortable doing it, open up about something that is somewhat revealing about yourself, but not so important that if it's repeated you'd feel embarrassed. For me, I might open up about my struggle to quit smoking when I turned my life over to the Lord in 1971. I am not proud that I smoked, but this "secret" isn't too humiliating if revealed.
After you've done this, wait to see what he says. Most people will feel obligated to tell you something about themselves. If so, you're making progress.
Assess the meeting in your own mind. Did you feel comfortable together? Was there free-flowing conversation, or at least the possibility of a friendship? If so, ask if he would like to have breakfast or lunch again.
The second or third time, you might mention the topic of mentoring. But don't do it the first time! Most men will feel they are being led into a cage for experimentation and observation. Most men don't think of themselves as mentors, and most men are ashamed of some shortcoming or sin in their lives that they are sure would disqualify them from mentoring anyone else.
In some cases, a mentoring relationship may develop simply because an older, more mature man takes an interest in you and begins to seek out times that he can spend with you. Perhaps you remind him of his own son, or perhaps you remind him of the son he always wished he had.
Maybe you are thrown together through a committee or group at work or some other social setting, and the two of you just "gel." In these cases, it's your mentor that chooses you, instead of you choosing him.
You can also be mentored by people you don't know very well. For example, I've always admired David Yonggi Cho and Pat Robertson from a distance. While I have the privilege of knowing both men, neither has been an active mentor to me like Jamie Buckingham was, or like Jack Hayford has been since Jamie died.
I've learned so much from Zig Ziglar that I consider him a mentor, even though I have never talked with him. Books can also mentor you. In a way, we are mentored by anyone who has spoken into our lives, even if they are now dead. I hope what I am writing is benefiting you in much the same way as if I could talk with you directly after playing a hard game of racquetball or enjoying a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
The mentoring relationship often goes through predictable stages:
1. Admiration. First, there is the mutual admiration stage. This is assuming, of course, that a mentoring relationship develops.
This is like a romance or a honeymoon. Both of you are anxious to please and retain a highly favorable view of the other. You are enjoying the chemistry of a relationship that seems to be working well. There may be a hint of uncertainty or fear of rejection, but these are not enough to derail the process.
2. Development. In the development stage, the mentor plays the part of the wise teacher, and the student humbly and gratefully learns from him. At this stage, a mentor can become like a father, showing admiration for your accomplishments and taking pride in what you've learned. As a "student" you are happy when your teacher is happy.
Many mentoring relationships stay at this level for years. Or, rather than moving on to the next two stages, your relationship with your mentor seems to change into one of strong friendship, with mutual admiration and respect that places you on equal footing. This would be a natural progression as the one being mentored matures.
At some point you no longer need the intensive mentoring you did to reach a level of maturity that corresponds to your mentor. But you have grown bonded in your relationship, and almost subconsciously you slip into strong friendship.
Other mentoring relationships may find themselves going through these next stages:
3. Disillusionment. This sets in as you begin to see a mentor's faults and shortcomings. You have learned enough to know what the mentor is doing wrong or right, and you begin to want to grow out from under that influence.
At this point, a mentor might be frustrated because you are no longer a willing and passive learner. This phase is as inevitable as the phase of "letdown" in a marriage when romance fades.
Author Thomas Wolfe had a mentor in his editor, Maxwell Perkins, to whom he dedicated one of his books as a gesture of gratitude. But after a while, critics began claiming that Wolfe could not write his books without Perkins' help. This infuriated Wolfe, who became determined to break off the relationship with Perkins and show the world he could write books on his own.
A similar thing happened with Carl Jung, who was mentored by Sigmund Freud. After years of working under Freud as the "heir apparent," Jung began to feel trapped. He felt his own creativity being stifled under the mentor's demands and left, leaving Freud angry.
4. Parting. A parting of the ways takes place after disillusionment. This is often awkward and uncomfortable for both parties, as you have outgrown your role and no longer know how to relate to the mentor as a peer or a teacher. Mentoring relationships usually only last a few months or years at most. But for maturity to continue, the mentoring relationship has to end, and the next phase must begin.
5. Transformation. This will occur as you assimilate all you have learned and allow it to propel you toward your goals. Some mentoring relationships will arrive at this stage after passing through the first two stages of admiration and development. Others will have to also pass through disillusionment and parting before they reach this final stage.
Hopefully, as you move into this final stage, your mentoring relationship will have the strength of the relationship that Paul and Timothy shared. Midstream in his mentoring with Timothy, Paul wrote these words to him:
"But you, Timothy, belong to God; so run from all these evil things, and follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for what we believe. Hold tightly to the eternal life that God has given you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses" (1 Tim. 6:11-12, NLT).
Those are the words of a mature, godly man who is anxiously trying to impart godly wisdom to a young, immature Christian whom he is mentoring. But as their relationship developed, and as Timothy matured in the Lord, their relationship took on the nature of strong friendship. As evidence of that, we read these words from Paul to Timothy:
"Timothy, I thank God for you...Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again...and I will be filled with joy when we are together again...Hold on to the pattern of right teaching you learned from me. And remember to live in the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus...Please come as soon as you can" (2 Tim. 1:3-4, 13; 4:9).
In these verses Paul expresses a confidence in Timothy's maturity. He seems to have developed a relationship with Timothy of mutual respect and even dependence. He is anxious to spend time with Timothy, probably as much for what Timothy can give to Paul as for what Paul gives to Timothy.
In my 20s I was a mentor-magnet. I needed, and I gravitated toward men who filled this role in my life. One man was George Clouse, a godly man 25 years my senior who worked at The Orlando Sentinel and who also attended Calvary Assembly of God. I used to spend my coffee breaks with George, and over time we became close friends. He helped me understand the office politics at the newspaper, and he gave me advice on how to ask for a raise.
One day I spoke with him about my need to earn a little extra money so my wife could quit her job and finish the last year or so of college. I told him I had an idea to start a small magazine at our church. George thought it sounded like a good idea, and so I pursued it. I will be eternally grateful for his encouragement because that magazine became Charisma, the cornerstone of our ministry.
At the same time Joy and I attended a fellowship group led by George and his wife, Mary Jo. We were powerfully ministered to during that time. But as time passed, circumstances evolved, and I began to see another elder in the church as a potential mentor.
My first thought was that I didn't want to hurt George. I valued his friendship and advice. So, I invited him to lunch and explained what was happening. He said the change sounded right, and he gave me his blessing.
This mentoring relationship moved through transition to a good friendship. Today I'm still good friends with George, and his wife, Mary Jo, has worked in our organization for the last 10 years.
Around the same time, I related to one of the other elders in the church, a wonderfully gifted man whose leadership style I still model today. He taught me how to dream big dreams, to work and build an organization, to recruit and successfully lead people. He was even the man who introduced me to the game of racquetball, and his example encouraged me to begin a lifestyle of physical fitness.
But our mentoring relationship never had the same sort of closure I had with George. Whether due to his personality or mine, or for some other reason, life took us our separate ways, and I felt rejected by him. Today I rarely see him. While I love and respect him, we have little in common and find our conversations running into dead ends. I still miss the closeness we once had.
Looking for and finding a mentor could make the difference in your life, no matter what your occupation or interests. Rather than going in circles or groping blindly, you will have the advantage of seeing through the eyes of a man who has been there. He will help you avoid the wrong paths and stay on the ones that lead to becoming a new man in Christ. *
In 1983 Stephen Strang founded Ministries Today, part of Strang Communications in Lake Mary, Fla. His new book, Old Man New Man, can be ordered on the Internet at http://book.charismamag.com.
Old Man New Man encourages men to develop deeper relationships with God and others.
Mentoring relationships are a great blessing if you navigate them correctly. But you must avoid the pitfalls, or they can quickly become a disaster.
1. Don't demand too much of your mentor's time. Determine how much you can reasonably ask for, and how much you really need. Sometimes, less is more. Having lunch three or four times a year with a businessman you want to learn from is probably enough.
On the other hand, you may want to meet twice a month with a spiritual mentor. In either case, be sensitive to taking up their time and don't overcommit, or you will both burn out quickly in the relationship.
2. Have realistic expectations of what a mentor can teach or give you. Mentors are not superhuman beings; they have just gone down the road before you and have something to pass on--from their failures as well as their successes. Treat them like people, even if they are older and wiser.
3. Don't take advantage of your mentor's connections, especially if they are in your same profession. No one wants to feel used, and the quickest way to get a mentor working against you is to make him feel like you are simply climbing the professional ladder and using his back as the next step.
4. Don't become overdependent on your mentor. Keep a well-rounded life, listen to other advice, and allow other people to speak into your life. Then, if you transition out of a mentoring relationship with your mentor, you won't be left feeling high and dry, without other stable relationships. *
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