Taking Ourselves With Us

  • Don Payne
  • Feb 5, 1999

Have you ever heard the line, "Wherever I went, I took myself with me?" That is quite true of all of us, isn't it? We bring with us from our previous experience and work a variety of influential assumptions and habits. 

In the Training & Mentoring program we often use the metaphor of a camera lens to describe a mentor. As a "lens" a mentor can help students see themselves, or see things about themselves, which they might easily miss. Some blind spots can be terribly destructive. In other blind spots lay untapped gifts which the world desperately needs. The power of mentoring is in helping students see what resides in those blind spots, then manage or invest those issues wisely.

Think, for instance, of how previous work experience molds us. A professor in a British theological school recently shared that one of their graduates, a second career student, went into pastoral ministry assuming that the work of ministry would just "come to him". Over time he found it so stressful to create opportunities for ministry that he returned to his former vocation - as an air traffic controller! That vocation had made him accustomed to having work come to him. Initiative, a key to effective ministry, was a trait he did not possess. Worse, nobody in his education helped him see what he might bring with him into ministry.

In her book, What to Expect in Seminary, Virginia Samuel Cetuk encourages seminarians to be aware of how their former experiences and vocations have cultivated unique abilities, which can enhance ministry. Engineers, for example, may have an excellent eye for the detail of ministry systems and be able to think imaginatively about new ways to minister. Those with public relations experience may understand the nuances of persuasion and decision making. Almost every type of former experience in life or work has something "portable" that God can use to enhance ministry.

Powerful mentoring brings the past into focus so the student can see it and respond. Consider spending some time in your mentoring sessions exploring the unique abilities and risks presented by the student's former experience. A "kairos" moment may await you both - and the world will be different for it!