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I’m a Baby Boomer. I’ve lived through the birth of rock-and-roll, the Jesus Movement, hippie culture, the invention of color television, the birth of FM radio, records, cassettes, CDs, MP3s, and satellite radio. I was around before the Internet and cell phones. My grandparents had a party line, and growing up all our phones had cords.

I learned to drive with a stick shift, we didn’t have seat belts, and the dashboard was metal. We didn’t use car seats, and we didn’t lock our doors at night. The streets were fairly safe for kids to play in, and we knew our neighbors. Most of us went to the same kind of church our parents and grandparents attended. We all sang hymns, but I was around when choruses started showing up in church, mainly because of the Jesus Movement.

The Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the birth of the drug culture, teenage rebellion, and the catastrophic change in attitudes in our land about social, moral, and ethical issues. I’ve lived through 12 presidents, and our family has established residence and served churches in seven states.

All that being said, I think I’ve learned a few things. I’ve been around the block a few times and learned from the Word, my experiences, my mistakes, and my mentors. I’m now in my seventh decade, and I’m still learning.

Most of what I’ve learned in life, I’ve learned from people older than me. Most of the books that have profoundly impacted my life have been written by people older than me. Most of the sermons that have challenged me to the core have been preached by people older than me. As I’ve gotten older, that fact has somewhat changed, but it still is prevalent. Most of the time in life, we learn from people who have been down the road farther than we have.

While my generation rebelled against our parents, many of us have come to realize that our parents weren’t as stupid as we thought they were. They had wisdom; we just had some form of limited knowledge. They fought for their freedoms; we took ours to excess. While a person can mature physically and have many birthdays, it doesn’t guarantee they are wise or worth listening to.

As I continue to pastor and speak in various conferences around the country, I am increasingly concerned about the lack of young leaders present. It seems the “me first” mentality has also impacted the ministry. What I’m about to say is a very general statement, but it needs to be said. You don’t have to agree with it, but you should contemplate if it contains elements of truth before you write it off. The divide is real. Very few older pastors know or invest in a younger pastor. Very few younger pastors seek out an older pastor for wisdom and guidance.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard guys younger than me express their disinterest or even disdain for older pastors. Apparently, there is a disease going around that infects people and causes them to think, “Nothing significant happened before I was born.” Many in the younger generation of preachers seem to be disinterested in anything that isn’t related to them or their events, ministry, demographic, likes or dislikes. Again, that’s a general statement. It doesn’t mean it’s true of all, but it’s true of too many.

I say that, because of what the greatest preacher I ever met said it to me when I was in my early 30s. When I met Vance Havner, he was preaching a revival in my home church. It was youth night…he was 72 years old at the time. He rocked my world. He called sin, sin. He didn’t try to be politically correct. He meant what he said, and said what he meant. He made people uncomfortable who had gotten too comfortable in their pews or in their own skin. He didn’t pull any punches, and he didn’t soften the blows. He made demands because the Bible demands our life, our love, and our all.

One day I was visiting with Dr. Havner in his living room. He was in his mid-80s at the time and had mentored me, encouraged me, rebuked me, written to me, and helped me for fifteen years. I started telling him all I was doing for God. I wanted him to be impressed with where I was serving, what I was doing and trying to tell him, and how I thought God was using me. I felt I was building a good case at that moment.

I was sitting on the couch, and he was sitting in his rocking chair. He leaned forward, put his hand on my right arm, and said, “Now son, I’ve been young and I’ve been old. You’ve just been young. Why don’t you be quiet and listen to me for a while?” It was a moment I’ve never forgotten. It’s one I’d like to have myself with a bunch of young preachers I know…and a few older ones as well.

The first man who profoundly influenced my life was my youth minister, James Miller. He believed in me, but never let me off easy. He embraced the Jesus Movement as it began to sweep across the land and led his youth group to embrace it as well. I am eternally indebted to a man who was older than me. How many of us owe the direction of our spiritual lives to a children’s pastor or youth pastor who took us under their wing?

James has always referred to me as one of his “Timothys.” I get that analogy. Timothy was, in a sense, Paul’s “preacher kid.” It’s possible that Timothy’s father was already dead, and Paul became like a father to him. Paul was certainly old enough to be Timothy’s father. He was probably in his teens when Paul came to Lystra. Timothy quickly became someone that Paul had his eyes on. I still love to talk to James, who is now in his late 70s and still has a fire in his belly for revival and awakening.

Regarding their relationship, one writer noted, “No doubt, Paul could sense as an older preacher the promise of tomorrow in the life of the younger man whom he invited to join the missionary party.” Paul entrusted Timothy with great responsibilities in evangelism, representing him before churches, and ultimately pastoring. His loyalty earned Paul’s trust. Paul’s last word was for Timothy. When Paul wrote the letter we know as 2 Timothy, it was a word to encourage his young protégé to be worthy of his heritage of faith.

Young ministers need someone to invest in them. It begins with the younger having a teachable spirit and the older having a watchful eye. If you are young in the ministry, find someone who is older, wiser, and more experienced. They may not be in your field or be interested in all the things you are interested in, but they have wisdom to impart.

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  1. Wow! I think we all can and should learn from mentors. We become like the people we hang around the most. And there are two ways I know of to really learn something (I think you’re the one who taught me this) — make the mistake yourself and learn from it or learn from someone else’s mistake. Why on earth would we want to make a mistake that someone else has already figured out is a mistake? That just makes no sense.
    I was watching an old John Wooden video where he was talking to high school students. It must have been shot near the end of his life. I watched as he was teaching a basketball gym full of kids listening intently to him talking. He had no Powerpoint. He had no fancy razz-ma-tazz (how is that for an old word coming back?) – John Wooden just had plain old fashioned wisdom.
    Those who don’t listen to old fashioned wisdom and older mentors find new fangled ways to make the same old mistakes that have plagued mankind since we left the garden. And one other thing — if it is harder for teachers than it was even ten years a go – it has GOT to be a whole lot harder to pastor than ever before.
    It is like we’re living in the days of judges where “everybody does what is right in his/her own eyes” and people make fun of the old bald guy (Elishas have been around awhile) without realizing that the old bald guy carries with him the power of God.
    Sadly, the lion may have to come roaring out of the woods seeking who he can devour before some wake up to understand they could have avoided the lion altogether. If they had just learned from someone with a close call with the jaws themselves.
    Truly there is nothing new under the sun but I’ll say this – -the greatest pastors I’ve had the privilege of knowing (yourself included) are those who DID have mentors and who also mentor others. We can find mentors in books, in our living rooms, and via smartphone or Twitter – but truly the greatest mentors often sit in the rocking chair and put a hand on our arm and cause time to stop as they pour into our minds the wisdom of the ages.
    One of my greatest mentors is Grace Adkins – approaching 90 – who still works full time as our learning lab director. She has a different view of life. And truly, I value other teachers by how they value Mrs. Adkins. For those who would dismiss a woman who has been teaching kids for longer than they have been breathing air do not value the wisdom of the ages. (Same with those who don’t make time to read God’s word.)
    I’m thankful that you have had such great mentors. They were your mentors up close but are my mentors afar (was reading Wiersbe this morning.) And I’m also thankful that you’re pointing this out here on your blog. I don’t think we talk about mentorship enough.
    I also don’t think we (myself included) slow down enough to have a mentor because some of my best mentors don’t know how to Tweet and I’ve got to sit down long enough to hear what they have to say. Some of the best lessons I ever learned were Sunday lunch when the grownups told stories and the kids listened and didn’t leave the table to go play on their smartphone. This isn’t a generation gap thing, this is a gap in our wisdom. We are so busy being human doings that we’re not human beings – and we’re forgetting what we should be in the first place. Thanks for writing this and I’m glad you write it in a modern way (via blog) so I could snag it and learn from it as well. For, as a pastor, you mentor many — both me and my own children as we think on and repeat what you say. Keep on keeping on. Thank you for speaking the truth on this Good Friday and Easter weekend!

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