Last August as I sat beside my wife, Cari at the funeral of her father and my mentor, Dennis Warren. I was numb from the loss. I was thankful that he didn’t have to endure any more suffering. And I was happy that he’d made it home…but beneath it all, I was grateful for the time he took to pour his life into my life. All I could think was, what the African poet Amadou Hampate said, “When an old man is dying, it is as if a whole library is burning.”
If Dennis Warren’s life was a Library, then I’d like to pull five books from the hundreds of shelves and share them with you. Each book represents something you can do to change the world starting today. But you must realize that mentoring is “long obedience in the same direction.” Mentoring is a lifelong pursuit. It’s not built in a day, but it IS built daily.
Book One from Dennis’ library: Break the Silence
I was 14. I’d just preached my first sermon. It was about how God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. That next week, Dennis Warren, just a layman in the congregation, came to me with a cassette tape (one of those little plastic things with two holes that were popular in the 80s).
He said, “Mikey, I really enjoyed your sermon last week. It impacted me deeply.” As he went on about specific points I’d made, I was shocked and excited that anyone would remember it…especially a seasoned man with so much wisdom. He continued, “Hey I was listening to this leadership preacher named John Maxwell this week and there was a young man at the end of the tape that reminded me of you. I’d like you to listen to this teaching and let me know what you think.”
I took the tape and rushed home to see what he was talking about. I can’t remember what lesson John Maxwell was preaching about, but I’ll never forget how I felt as I listened to it. What I now understand is that there was an older man in the congregation, a man who wasn’t related to me, who took the time to think about me, and then give me something.
I was used to being kinda scared of adults. I interacted politely with family; aunts and uncles, but hadn’t had a lot of conversations with adults yet. I was just a kid. What did I know? But here’s this guy who thought I was worth his time and not just to gripe at me about how I dressed, or what my generation was up to. He was interested in… ME…wow.
He broke the silence, and crossed the room, and initiated a conversation.
There may be a young person in your congregation. The first step you need to take is to watch them and pick out something specific that you see God doing in and through them…something admirable. Once you’ve discovered that, cross the room, shake their hand, and let them know. Break the silence. It will probably feel weird and slightly unnatural. They will probably be surrounded by their friends. That’s okay. Just push through the awkwardness and be the adult.
The Second Book from the Library of Dennis Warren is: Build Trust
I went right home that Sunday Morning to listen to the tape. That night (when Sunday Night services were still a thing) I went up to Dennis at church and asked him questions about what he thought about the rest of the tape. We stood around the foyer for thirty or more minutes discussing leadership principles…but when I think back to it….I was doing most of the talking. I was just excited about what I’d learned.
He was nodding and chipping in “yea, that’s a good thought.” He built trust by listening intently, by being genuinely interested in my life, and by asking good questions. It seemed as the years went by that Dennis would never give me a straight answer on anything. He was such a Mr. Miyagi…and I was his Danielson. It seemed that every question I asked, he’d answer with another question. Try doing that. It’s very difficult.
As a mentor now myself, when a question is asked, I have this urge to shoot from the hip. I have to quickly grab the duct tape and restrain my mouth so I don’t jump in with an answer like a riddle I need to solve.
Here’s the deal. They don’t need you to solve their riddles. They need us to pull the answers out of them…to show them that the answer resides inside them somewhere deep down. Which leads me to….
Book Three of Dennis Warren’s Library: Invest
He invested in me by buying me Cokes at Hardees. He’d pick up a book or CD and send it my way and say, “Hey I wanted to get your thoughts on this.” He bought me a subscription to the Enjoy Life Club by John Maxwell for Christmas one year (Maxwell became our guy.) He’d invest time and energy, and long hours of listening. I hardly remember him ever correcting me, though I’m sure he must have. I just can’t remember him ever doing it…
More than any principle he imparted to me, more than any book or tape, was Belief. He believed in me more than I believed in myself.
At the Wesley Foundation where I serve now, we call these “I-C-N-U convos.” That’s short for “I see in you conversations.” It’s where we unleash all the good things we see in them. It’s kinda like watering the grass. When you have weeds in your yard, you can spend all your time pulling weeds, or watering the grass and waiting for the grass to choke out the weeds. ICNU convos have a way of watering the grass like a summer rain. It’s amazing how quickly the weeds in their lives get choked out when you do that!
Won’t that blow up their heads with pride?
Listen, a recent study showed that the average person hears 1,200 words a minute of self-talk. The study found that 1,100 of those words were negative. People are constantly beating themselves up, both consciously and subconsciously. Perhaps the best gift you can give someone is “Belief.”
See, most people just see dirt when they look at themselves. But one of the literal books that I read from Dennis quoted a guy named Andrew Carnegie, who said, “When miners are digging for gold, you have to move tons and tons of dirt to get just a little bit of gold…but you don’t go in looking for the dirt. You go in looking for the gold.”
As mentors, we have to see the gold in them. They are going to be overwhelmed by the dirt, the shame, their failures, their fears. We have to look past that to the gold inside of them. Once we show them that there is, in fact, gold inside of them…they’ll never be the same.
Book four from the shelves: Build something together
I was into knighthood and stories of chivalry. My dad used to tell me stories of knights and read to me about Robin Hood. Dennis picked up on my interests pretty quickly, so he had me come out to his place of work where we found scrap iron in the junk pile and built swords and armor together. He showed me how to use a cutting torch and a welder, and what color the metal had to be to bend it or hammer it out.
Later he would coach me in ministry and we would build the Kingdom of God together as I mentored my friends.
From this book we learn to help them build something. Maybe you don’t know how to make swords, but you do know how to fish, or do some other hobby. Bring them into that world, or better yet, research how to help them do something they’re into. Just a little hint…most of the men in the younger generations don’t know how to use power tools. If you show them how to use a 24 volt Dewalt Drill, they’ll look at you like you’re Superman.
From the fifth book he taught me: Never eat alone
Which was kinda a joke. Cari says there would be times when she’d be up to get something late at night and he’d come stumbling into the kitchen saying, “no one eats alone around here. That’s just cruel.” and he’d cook them up something. Sure he liked to eat, but what he meant was “never do anything alone.” Take someone with you.
This is a challenge. It may seem uncomfortable, but find a way to take an apprentice with you on almost everything you do. Let them see how you respond in situations, how you interact with strangers, your family, the waitress at the restaurant. I try to take a different apprentice with me to ministry meetings in Lubbock, or to meetings with other students if I can. Almost every lunch I have is a meeting of some kind, and I usually bring one of my apprentices with me. They come to my house and hang out with my family sometimes. We go prayer walking late at night every now and then.
So to sum it up:
- Break the Silence: Cross the room and start the conversation
- Build Trust: By listening to them and showing them you care
- Invest: Get them books, podcasts, I-C-N-U conversations
- Build something together: make something tangible
- Never eat alone: Find a way to take them with you places
Know that they will see all of your flaws the more time you spend with them, but also know as Dr. Howard Hendrix said, “You can impress people from a distance but you can only impact them up close.”