I never had a mentor

by vernsanders on June 18, 2010

I have never had a mentor. Growing up I was taught to be “fiercely independent,” a phrase that I used rather innocently once in an interview with an incoming senior pastor. It would come back to haunt me later in my role at that church.

Probably the first time I was aware that I didn’t have a mentor was when I was applying for a job as a newly minted doctoral degree holder. Well, actually not then…it was later, when I found out that friends and colleagues who had attended different universities actually had the experience of their professors making outbound calls to prospective music department chairs on their behalf. I had been, and was, on my own.

I was also very aware I had no mentor when I got caught up in the political snare of the pastor referred to above. Nobody told me you had to be careful what you say around pastors (and, I’ve since learned, worship elders, but that’s another, much longer story…).

As a result of these experiences, and many more, I’ve learned the “old fashioned” way – by reading, asking questions, and doing. As you can imagine, I’ve made a boatload of mistakes.

On Christmas Eve, 1999, I walked out of a midnight service as a retired church musician. There are a lot of reasons why, which are not important here, but I thought a lot about my own situation, and  I made a decision. If I were to go back to church music, it would be to give back. You can read more about that here.

Fast forward a few years, to a phone call from a pastor who was also a friend. In essence, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: to serve in a small church where, in part, I would train people to replace me…to teach them everthing I knew (or, more realistically, that they could absorb). Of course I said yes.

Three years later, my position at that church was eliminated due to financial difficulties (my friend, the founding pastor, had moved on six months before I left and three months after that the stock market had a significant meltdown…you can fill in the blanks). By that point, though, I was, in a sense, dispensable, because one of my assistants stepped in seamlessly for me when I left, the other of which having by then left to be in charge at another church in the area.

While I was there, we had regular meetings after rehearsals, and my standard starting line was: “OK…ask me what you don’t understand about what I just did.” For several months I sat at the piano and let my assistants take part or all of those rehearsals, and then we all talked about it. After staff meetings or committee meetings, we debriefed. The point was to continually do a brain dump for them about what I was thinking, doing, saying, and, just as importantly, not doing or saying.

When I left that position I was not out of work a single day. Another church in the area called me because their young worship leader was leaving in a few months, and they wanted someone on board in order to make a smooth transition. My job description was to be the choir director, but I also had meetings with the young worship leader. We still talk from time to time, and the church at which he now serves offered him the opportunity to be a full time worship pastor.

I often wonder how my life might have been different had I had a professional mentor. But it is what it is. I’ve been fortunate to mentor a number of students and colleagues. In the crush of the responsibilities that today’s church musicians and worship leaders have on their plates, being a mentor may seem like one too many things. But I encourage you to do it if you can. The personal rewards are many, and the church itself benefit enormously.

What about you? Have you been a mentor? Have you had a mentor? What was good and bad about it? Please leave a comment and tell me about it.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

lura June 18, 2010 at 11:31 am

I love that phrase “ask me what you don’t understand about what I just did”…I’m going to have to borrow that. Thanks for the inspiration.

PS You are a mentor to me.

vernsanders June 18, 2010 at 12:26 pm

borrow away…and “”ask me what you don’t understand about what I just did” anytime…

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