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As Iron Sharpens Iron
Building Character In a Mentoring Relationship
By Howard G. Hendricks, William D. Hendricks
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1995 Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks
All rights reserved.
Becoming a Marked Man
Let's begin with a question: Who are the people who have helped to make you who you are today?
I'm referring to the people who have marked you, who have made a significant impact, a lasting impression on your life. The individuals who, at a critical moment, redirected your path such that today you look back and say, "I never would have become who I am were it not for that person's influence."
Obviously, one or both of your parents may jump to mind. You may have been blessed with a father who consistently guided you with words of wisdom and modeled the qualities of love and sacrifice. Or perhaps your mother paved the way by responding to tough times with even tougher faith and character.
But I'm thinking primarily of individuals outside your family—a teacher, a youth pastor, an adult in your neighborhood, a man in your church—persons who have had little if any vested interest in your welfare, who nonetheless have invited you into their lives in a way that has indelibly marked your own life.
If you can remember someone who fits that description, then you know by experience what a deep and lasting difference a relationship like that can make. If not, I assure you that the benefits are without parallel (as we'll see shortly).
In my own life, I can recall several of these profoundly influential figures who were strategically used by God to change the course of my life. The first was a man named Walt. Had it not been for Walt, I seriously doubt whether I would have ever become a follower of Jesus Christ.
I came from a broken home. My parents were separated before I was born, and neither one paid much attention to my spiritual condition. To put it bluntly, I could have lived, died, and gone to hell without anyone even bothering to care.
But Walt cared. He was part of a tiny church in my neighborhood that developed a passion to affect its community for Christ.
"Would You Like to Play Marbles?"
Walt's passion was to reach nine-and ten-year-old boys like me with the gospel. I'll never forget the Saturday morning I met him. I was sprawled out on a Philadelphia sidewalk playing marbles. Suddenly someone was standing beside me. I looked up to see this gangly guy towering over me—all six feet, four inches of him. My mouth sort of dropped open.
"Hey, son, how would you like to go to Sunday school?" he asked.
That was an unfortunate question. To my mind, anything that had the word "school" in it had to be bad news. So I shook my head no.
But Walt was just getting started. "How would you like to play marbles?" he asked, squatting down.
Now he was talking my language!
"Sure!" I replied, and quickly set up the game. As the best marble player on the block, I felt supremely confident that I could whip this challenger fairly easily.
Would you believe he beat me in every single game! In fact, he captured every marble I had. In the process, he captured my heart. I may have lost a game and a bit of pride that day, but I gained something infinitely more important—the friendship of a man who cared. A big man, an older man, a man who literally came down to my level by kneeling to play a game of marbles. From then on, wherever Walt was, that's where I wanted to be.
A Ph.D. in Caring
Walt built into my life over the next several years in a way that marked me forever. He used to take me and the other boys in his Sunday school class hiking. I'll never forget those times. He had a bad heart, and I'm sure we didn't do it any good, running him all over the woods the way we did. But he didn't seem to mind, because he cared. In fact, he was probably the first person to show me unconditional love.
He was also a model of faithfulness. I can't remember a time that he ever showed up to his Sunday school class unprepared. Not that he was the most scintillating teacher in the world. In fact, he had almost no training for that. Vocationally, he worked in the tool and die trade. But he was for real, and he was also creative. He found ways to involve us boys in the learning process—an approach that made a lasting contribution to my own style of teaching.
Overall, Walt incarnated Christ for me. And not only for me, but for thirteen other boys in my neighborhood, nine of whom also came from broken homes. Remarkably, eleven of us went on to pursue careers as vocational Christian workers—which is ironic, given that Walt himself completed school only through the sixth grade. It just goes to show that a man doesn't need a Ph.D. for God to use him to shape another man.
The Preacher and His Protégé
On the other hand, God sometimes gifts a person such that every time he opens his mouth, someone somewhere seems to profit by it. Donald Grey Barnhouse had that kind of impact on me, particularly when I was just starting out in the ministry.
Dr. Barnhouse was for many years pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He was a brilliant preacher and a profound interpreter of Scripture. He often said that "the size of your God determines the size of your faith." He himself had an enormous view of God, and as far as I could tell, a humongous faith. Perhaps that was his greatest legacy to me—his lofty vision of the Savior.
But he also taught me the value of clear communication. He was a master of the illustration, able to draw the most amazing analogies from the simplest of everyday experience to portray the deepest spiritual truths. I longed to do that as well as he did. So one day I asked him to show me how. His response was typically terse: "You wouldn't be willing to pay the price!"
"Of course I would," I insisted.
"Well, then, take anything on this desk in front of you and find an application in it." With that, he turned on his heel and left. For the next several hours, I sat there determined to find a useful principle in the mundane objects before me. To this day, I still engage in that discipline.
Another of his strengths was the question-and-answer session. He would give a lecture and then invite anyone in the room to fire questions at him—the more difficult, the better. I was amazed—and delighted—to watch him handle each one. The response of his listeners showed me the value of that method of teaching. In fact, I find myself gravitating toward that format in my own work as a communicator.
Would I ever have learned these lessons in another way? Who can say? What matters is that God sent Dr. Barnhouse into my life at a critical moment, just at the time when I was forming my basic approach to ministry. In a very real sense, I can say that he helped to make me who I am and that, apart from his tutelage, my life might have taken a very different direction.
Searching for a Guide
What is it that causes certain people to have such a profound influence on our lives? Is it something in them or in us—or in both of us? Do these relationships just happen—an accident of being in the right place at the right time—or can we intentionally take steps to make them happen?
Wherever I go today, I hear men, young and old, asking these kinds of questions—if not out loud, at least to themselves. They wonder, "Where can I find someone with a little more wisdom and experience than I have who would be willing to help me as I navigate my way through life?"
An adolescent in Buffalo is trying to resist mounting pressure to join a gang in his neighborhood. His father is long gone; his older brother is in jail; his mother supports the family. This kid is as sharp as they come, and he wants to do the right thing. But he's scared. He wishes he had an older male to give him courage and practical advice.
A college student in Boston is going after a double major in business and finance. Eventually he expects to work in corporate America. But he also wants his life to make a difference for the cause of Christ. He's looking for a businessman who not only knows the ropes and can give him career advice and contacts but also can show him how to integrate faith with day-to-day work in a distinctive, practical way.
In Atlanta, a young leader named Daryl Heald leads The Capital Group, an association of more than four hundred guys in their twenties and thirties who have expressed a commitment to learn how to honor God in every area of their lives. Twice within the last three years, Daryl has polled the entire group to find out how many meet on a regular basis with an older man for advice, encouragement, accountability, or prayer. In the most recent poll, only 2 percent said they did. But the other 98 percent were unanimous in saying they would welcome such a relationship.
The massive demographic bulge known as the Baby Boomers starts moving into its fifties during this decade. That means that hundreds of thousands, and ultimately millions, of men will begin to ponder a series of predictable questions: What have I accomplished? What does my life amount to? How much success is enough? What have I done that is significant? What do I care about? What am I going to do when I quit my present career? How is my life going to turn out? What will I be remembered for?
Given the traditional way that men tend to process deeply personal matters like these, it's a fair guess that most male Boomers will try to answer these questions all by themselves. However, if given a choice, a vast number would give anything for the help of an older man.
The Very First Mentor
Wherever you turn today, you will find men looking for a guide, a coach, a model, an advisor. They are looking for someone who knows about life.
In essence, they are looking for a mentor. When the Greek warrior Odysseus went off to fight in the Trojan War, he left his young son, Telemachus, in the care of a trusted guardian named Mentor. The siege of Troy lasted ten years, and it took Odysseus another ten years to make his way home. When he arrived, he found that the boy Telemachus had grown into a man—thanks to Mentor's wise tutelage.
Based on this story, we now speak of a mentor as someone who functions to some extent as a father figure (in the best sense of the term), a man who fundamentally affects and influences the development of another, usually younger, man. Later we'll define the term mentor more comprehensively.
For now, I invite you to return to my earlier question: Who are the people who have helped to make you who you are today? In other words, who have been your mentors? What was their contribution to your life? How much less of a man would you be right now if you had never known these people?
Mentoring Is a Must!
As you think about these individuals and the determinative impact they have had, you can quickly see why relationships with mentors are not an option for men today, but an essential. Mentors look inside us and find the man we long to be. Then they help to bring that man to life.
At their best, mentors nurture our souls. They shape our character. They call us to become complete men, whole men, and, by the grace of God, holy men. The Bible puts it this way: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs. 27:17). Have you been sharpened against the whetstone of another man's wisdom and character?
Of course, it's possible that you are among the growing number of men who say (usually with great regret), "I've never had any mentors. I can't recall anyone who took much interest in my development."
If that's true, it reflects more on the generations ahead of you than it does on you. It also bears evidence to the sad fact that people of different generations are not coming alongside each other now the way they once did. Even so, let me assure you that it's never too late to let someone influence your life. Mentoring knows no limits in terms of age or experience. If you are willing to be directed as you take responsibility for your personal growth, then you are a prime candidate for mentoring.
A Primer to Help You Get Started
This book was written to help you get started in that process. My son Bill and I will explain what a mentor is, where to find one, and how to cultivate the relationship. We'll give you practical suggestions for gleaning from another man's expertise and provide lots of real-life examples to demonstrate what we're talking about.
In Part 2, we'll turn our attention to the mentor, the man who is willing to set the pace for other men. You might be surprised to learn that the mentor stands to gain as much if not more from the relationship than the person he mentors—and even more surprised that sooner or later someone out there will probably look to you as a mentor in his life. Does that make you feel uneasy? Stay tuned—you may be more qualified than you think!
Our objective is straightforward: to steer as many men as we can into vital relationships that produce and reproduce men of God.
But before launching into that process, I want to show why these relationships are indeed vital—that is, why you can't afford to do without them as a husband, a father, a son, a grandfather, a friend, a worker, a citizen, a child of God. Mentoring relationships are vital because the world can be vicious, indeed perilous.
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., describes "the unforgiving wilderness that stretches from boys to men." I'm afraid too many of us are trying to cross that wilderness by ourselves, trying to reach personal and spiritual maturity solely on our own resources. We'll never make it that way.
Fortunately, God has provided a better way. Let's consider the benefits of mentoring in the next chapter.CHAPTER 2
"I Believe in You"
The value of mentoring derives from the value of relationships. Show me a man's closest companions and I can make a fairly accurate guess as to what sort of man he is, as well as what sort of man he is likely to become. You see, people tend to rub off on each other—again, "as iron sharpens iron."
Julius learned the truth of this principle during his teen years. Born into a single-parent family in a rough neighborhood in Denver, Julius was headed for deep trouble by the time he reached adolescence. Like many kids in those circumstances, he was aimless, angry, and, as much as anything, bored.
During one of Julius' frequent trips through the juvenile justice system for offenses such as shoplifting, vandalism, and car theft, a detention officer took him aside. "Julius, I've gotten to know you a lot more than I care to," he told him. "You have no business being in here. You could make something of your life—but not the way you're going. If I introduced you to someone who could help you stay out of trouble, would you be willing to go with him and do what he tells you?"
The Gentle Bear
In this way, Julius met Jerry, a bear of a man who had a relatively simple view of life: "Jesus said to love your brother. My brother was shot and killed during a robbery attempt when he was sixteen. So since I've got no brother of my own anymore, I've got to love somebody else's brother."
Following this approach, Jerry combed the streets of Denver, searching for teenage boys headed for trouble. Jerry had three things going for him in relating to these young men: his enormous size, which was dominating, if not intimidating; his background as a college football player, until injuries-forced him from the game; and his loyalty. It was this latter quality that made a particular impression on Julius.
"He stuck with me every step of the way—and I wasn't the easiest kid to stick with," Julius recalls, looking back on his youth from the vantage of a stable marriage and family life, and a job in sales. "The first thing he did when he bailed me out of the house [the detention center] was to make me memorize his phone number. We spent an hour doing that, right there in the car, before we even went anywhere.
"I thought he was crazy. But later, I saw he was just letting me know he cared. He would be there for me. All I had to do was call. Anytime, day or night, for any reason, he said to call him.
"I remember this one time, I fell asleep on the bus. I had been up all night because one of my sisters got sick while Momma was off working. After school I went to this job that Jerry got for me, and then on the way home I dozed off. When I woke up, it was real quiet. I sat up and looked around. The bus was dark and cold, and the engine was turned off. I looked out the window, and there were all these other buses around. That's when I realized, I was in the bus pound! The driver had parked his bus and gone off without waking me up.
"So I went to the front of the bus and got the door open. Just as I stepped off, these flashlights hit me, and somebody yelled, 'Hold it right there, punk!'
"Next thing I know, four guys had me up against the bus, patting me down. It was the security guards for the pound and the transit police.
"'What's going on?' I'm asking. 'You don't understand! I fell asleep!'
"'Shut up!' they kept saying. 'We know what you've been doing.'
"It turns out that some guys had broken into the pound that night and sprayed paint all over the buses—even mine. I guess the transit police thought I was one of them, and they were going to take me in. I kept trying to explain what happened, but they kept telling me to be quiet."
Excerpted from As Iron Sharpens Iron by Howard G. Hendricks, William D. Hendricks. Copyright © 1995 Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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