By Rev. Anna Radcliffe
RCA Director of Future Church Innovation
My first experience with mentoring went something like, I walked up to a sophomore in college and we started meeting together regularly. We’d hop over to the local coffee shop and swap stories about faith and our life. Nothing formal, nothing programmed – just two young women learning to live life together.
Today, when I prompt church people to consider mentoring, they often look at me horrified. How could I ever do that? I’m not qualified. I will then remind them of these words from Genesis 15.
“God took him (Abram) outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Just before this, Abram had spent significant time chastising God for fear that he might lose all that had been granted to him. He says to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Just a reminder here, the legacy of this biblical leader was dependent upon his ability to keep his possessions and property in his family. Abram is not solely frustrated that he can’t have a child, but he’s quite concerned that his legacy will not outlive him.
This reminder I believe, serves as our invitation to continue thinking about our faith in a similar fashion. What is the legacy we seek to leave behind? Perhaps a different leadership question is, who are you investing in?
If you, like me, have been looking across not only church demographics but also major industries you might be surprised to learn that several industries are at risk of dying out due to a failed leadership development pipeline. Younger people just simply aren’t stepping into some industries in the ways they used to. A friend of mine who used to pastor in the southwest explained that family farms are hard for younger kids to purchase now because of the mountains of student debt. Another friend explained to me that his carpentry business was overwhelmed with work because he’s one of the only young craftspeople he knows. These voids all invite a larger question: what is lost?
I want to be clear; in my work helping to bridge generational gaps, we don’t teach about legacy for the purpose of institutional preservation. Rather, we invite this idea of mentorship as an invitation to practice leading adaptively. When younger and older leaders come together, a beautiful melody of old and new are brought near. Often seasoned leaders provide history and important context while younger leaders invite spiritedness and a willingness to fail. It’s important to remember though, that bridging the gaps of generations is not without challenges. It requires a commitment to listening to understand the other. It involves a lot of empathy and a recognition that neither one of you knows best – the best type of knowing comes when you discover the way forward together.
So for part one of this month’s devotional, here’s your invitation to think of someone else – maybe they’re a year younger, maybe they’re older – ask them to meet together with the intention of listening well. Consider together if a long term relationship of meeting and sharing life together would be beneficial. (I can promise you it is.)