When you interact with people, they all either are ahead of you, peers with you, or are behind you. Think about those who you follow as mentors. Think of people you do life with as your peers and equals. Finally, there are those you lead.
This is actually a Biblical model. Look at the life of the Apostle Paul. He had people who led him (the other apostles, although he wasn’t afraid to disagree with them when it really mattered). He had Silas and Barnabas, people who were his partners. Finally, he had people like Timothy and John Mark who he led.
I think we need each of these groups in our lives. So, stop for a moment and consider who these people might be in your life.
Here are some things to think about that might inform who you already have in each of these groups that you might not have considered. Your mentors don’t necessarily need to be people you know in real life. They may not even still be alive.
Part of what the Bible does is that it preserves ideas, struggles, insights, and the like from people who’ve been dead a long time. I recognize that as Christians, we view it as God’s word and to be in a real way from Him, but that’s not all it is. How are most of the lessons of the Bible told? In stories. These stories have parallels to our lives. The more we know them, the more parallels emerge.
When my church opened our current campus, we found ourselves short of the funds necessary to complete the renovations. Our pastor called together the leading families and asked us to help. My wife and I have never been rich, so that’s not why we were on the list.
As we were trying to figure out if we should give sacrificially or just give something to help out, we both remembered a passage in 2 Corinthians 8 about the Macedonian churches who gave more than they could afford to give. That touched something deep inside me. I wanted to be that kind of person, so we did. That church from around 2,000 years ago mentored me in generosity.
Books, video, etc. can mentor you from afar as well. Part of my prayer as I’m writing this book is that I will be your mentor, teaching you what I’ve learned and giving you the courage to do what you’re made to do, but are afraid of.
With the advent of the internet, we might add online communities to the lists of mentors. When you’re just learning, people who’ve been where you are can be an invaluable resource.
For me, there are a couple of podcasts that are like this. I listen to Dave Ramsey’s “Entreleader” Podcast, Pat Flynn’s “Smart Passive Income”, and both Dave Jackson’s “School of Podcasting” and Daniel J. Lewis’s “The Audacity to Podcast.” Each of these leads me in a different area as I’m trying to pursue this dream of mine.
Sometimes you need someone who can encourage you not as a leader, but as a peer. These are people who know what it’s like to go through what you’re going through, not because they experienced it ten years ago, but because they’re going through it now.
Online communities and mastermind groups can be like this for you. Sometimes you need to just bounce an idea that you’re unsure of off of someone in a similar situation. They might say, “I did that and it failed” or “That’s a great idea; maybe I should do it, too.” Either way its valuable advice.
In the 21st century, things are changing like never before, so while I want you to have a mentor, someone you can follow, who’s been there before, the before could easily be long enough ago that the advice no longer applies or must be implemented differently.
In my own life, I have a mentor that I’ve followed for over a decade. He wrote the first church tech book that I ever read and when I met him in person, we hit it off immediately. Even though he’s younger than me, I still joke that he’s who I want to be when I “grow up.”
Last year when I really needed some guidance, I gave him a call. I asked what he did to get the word out when he started his ministry. He said, “When we started, it was so much easier than it is today, we were really the only ones out there doing tech ministry, so building a following and a list was easy.” He just didn’t have any experience building things in the climate of the twenty-teens because he did it in 2000 on. What worked for him wouldn’t work for me.
I continued to look around and found strategies from people who were closer to where I am and those worked fine. Peers can be a valuable source of some of the most cutting-edge information.
They’re facing your problems so some of them might have figured out solutions. Likewise, you might have figured out a solution to their problems.
That’s not the only reason to have peers in your life, though. Sometimes its just nice to be able to talk about things that others can understand. Your spouse might not get how unreasonable freelancing clients can be, but other freelancers have been asked to work “for credit” (in other words, I won’t pay you, but I’ll tell people you did work that I didn’t pay you for), not money, so they get it.
Sometimes you just want a listening ear, not a solution. Peers can be that to you.
Finally, you need to have people to lead. There are a couple of reasons for this, but one of them might not have occurred to you.
First, you need to raise up the next generation. You won’t always be here, so training and shaping others insures that what you’ve learned won’t be lost. You might think that it’s unlikely, but consider how common blacksmiths used to be and how rare they are today. If you were in need of a really, really good knife, do you know where you’d go if money were no object? I do. His name is Jay and he goes to my church. Unlike when the US was founded, his art is dying. So while computer repair might be quite common today, the secrets that technicians now use could be endangered with the future. We don’t know.
Another reason to build into a group of followers is to “pay it forward.” Remember the movie Pay it Forward, about a kid who decided that instead of paying people back when they help you out, you should pay it forward, helping someone new out.
You might not be able to pay your mentor back for their time and attention in your life, but you can give to someone else all that he or she taught you. Knowledge is precious and giving it to others shows that you think they’re precious, too.
There’s another thing to consider as well. You might not know this, but there’s a certain reward to teaching. Do you remember the time when your teachers seemed like the most brilliant people ever? Do you remember wondering how anyone could know so much?
If you’re looking at them through a child’s eyes, that explains part of the fascination. Another part is that teachers really do know more than others.
This isn’t because only the smartest of the smart go into education. It’s because in order to teach something you need to learn it well. Part of the process of teaching also teaches you more about the subject. You might believe that you know a thing quite well, until you go to teach it and a student asks a question you hadn’t considered. That causes you to reexamine what you don’t know. That gives you more to learn and in order to avoid the question in the future, you learn more. The next time you’re asked, you’re prepared.
In some businesses, by teaching you learn more about your customer. One of the bigger online industries today is education. When I say “education,” you might be thinking “readin’ and writtin’ and ‘rithmatic,” but that’s not it. It’s training on all sorts of things: car repair, Photoshop, online marketing, videography, you name it.
My teaching people online about what you already know, you’ll learn more about them and what they need to know. So, if your business is podcasting and you’re teaching people how to podcast, you’ll learn more about what they need to know so that you can teach them all the better.
While it’s still a selfless act to teach people what you know, you certainly get something out of the arrangement.
You might think that you’re disqualified (or not yet qualified) to lead people in this last group, but let me challenge that. I think you know more than you think you know. If you’re at a dinner party or talking with friends and they ask you a question about what you do, you might be surprised because you think, “I thought everyone knew that.”
The simple truth is that you probably know a ton of things that seem obvious to you, but aren’t. I was at church the other day for music practice and saw a teenage musician winding his guitar cable around his forearm. I’ve known since I was ten or twelve that the right way to do it is what we call “over / under.” I’ve known it so long that I thought everyone associated with music, sound, lights, video, and the like knew it. Apparently not.
I’ve had that happen in other areas of my life, too. I was talking to someone about the invention of masking tape by Minnesota Mining and Minerals. Haven’t heard of them? I bet you have. Now they go by “3M.” Everyone knows little things like that. Use them to train others. You really do know more than you know.
Perhaps you’re thinking that you can’t lead others because you’re “not a leader.” I could write a whole book on this myth. Do people ask your opinion? Do they ask advice? That’s influence and all a leader is is someone who influences others. You might not be great at it; you might need practice, but you’re still a leader.
Take a moment now, and figure out these people in your life. Who leads you? Who are your peers? Who follows you? Now, go learn, listen, and teach.