When you feel small and sometimes out of place in your denomination, the timely attention of a mentor comforts and inspires in ways that are
difficult to describe. The relationship does not have to be an “official” mentoring relationship where both mentor and mentee have formally agreed to meet for professional or spiritual formation of the mentee. It might just happen around a shared interest across generations.
One of my unofficial mentors has been Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian. When I began working on the revision of the old Catechism of the Free Methodist Church which became the Classic Catechism, I needed someone with deep Free Methodist roots and a sharp theological and pastoral mind to review drafts. Since I was still relatively new to the Free Methodist Church, I needed input to make sure the final product would ring true to Free Methodist ears, not only in content but also in feel. At some point, I contacted Bishop Bastian and asked if he was willing to review drafts and give me feedback. He was willing, and so the emailing began. The feedback was timely, wise, and greatly improved my submission to the publisher. Also, being able to mention his help in the preface gave legitimacy to the project, something a bishop can do like no other.
One of the benefits that became clear to me through the help of Bishop Bastian is the importance of seeking counsel from ministers who served previous to my generation. There is a timeless wisdom there and a way of looking at things that is at once unnatural to me and at the same time makes me wish I had lived in that previous generation. Ministers are very foolish indeed who look only to the latest books on ministry and church growth and mega church pastors who “know how to do real ministry today.” C.S. Lewis made a similar statement about books in an essay included in On the Incarnation. He wrote,
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
Every age has its outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means old books (1977, p. 4-5).
I am thankful to Bishop Bastian who gives me a perspective that I would not have without his input. He is a precious, classic, “old book,” and I mean that with great respect.
May the Lord make more of us into mentors for younger people, and may he help us to be patient with them as good mentors have been to us.
Athanasius (1977). On the incarnation. With an introduction by C.S. Lewis. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladamir’s Seminary Press.