Why Not?


They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas. Acts 15:39

 I have spent the better part of two years writing about why mentoring is so needed by the next generation.  My posts include biblical stories of mentoring, practical advice on the “how to” and profiling the attributes of millennials and Generation Z so that mentors would be aware of generational differences.

I was reminded of an anecdote recently. A college philosophy teacher was known to ask difficult questions on exams.  When his students arrived for his exam, he wrote one word on the blackboard: “Why?”

Most students immediately set out writing furiously in their exam booklets.  The ones writing furiously all started their answers with the word “Because”. One student, however, pondered the question for a while, and then wrote a two-word answer and turned in his exam booklet and left early.  His answer?  “Why not?”  He received the highest grade in the class.

I have often thought I would have loved to write a two-word answer to a college exam and have the guts to leave early.  I written a lot on the why and how of mentoring.  But when it comes to mentoring, the question might better be phrased as “Why not?” rather than just “Why?”

A recent anecdote may illustrate my point.

A respected elder in my church took it upon himself to get a group of mentor-aged men to consider mentoring younger men.  He asked the church staff if they would help identify millennials looking for a mentor. The result was predictable: he got no referrals. Nada.

I then made a suggestion to the group.  I said that I was mentoring five men in our church, none of whom were referred to me by church staff. I just sought out younger men that I thought might appreciate an older person speaking into their lives and asked them to have lunch (or coffee) with me. All of them said “yes”, and that has led to more lunches and coffees.

I urged them to take the initiative by doing something similar and see what happens. They might be surprised.

Which brings us to the “Why not?”  Well, here are the top five answers:

  • “I’m too busy”
  • “I don’t know how”, or “I feel inadequate”
  • “No one ever asked me”
  • “What do I have to offer”
  • “I don’t care”

The last one is the lamest, but not surprising. Apathy is a default response of many in the Church today. The real answer is that you should care because of the scriptural principle to “pass it on to the next generation.”  When a generation stops passing it on, our next generation loses out. Just look at France which went from 75% Christian 30 years ago to 5% today. That’s the price of not caring.

If Barnabas had not seen the promise in John Mark in Acts 15. Paul was willing to jettison John Mark. But, Barnabas cared enough to take John Mark along with him and encourage him in the faith.  If Barnabas had not cared, we might not have had the Gospel of John written.

Too busy?  Actually, that’s a good thing. People who are busy are successful and often are the ones who have valuable experiences to pass on. Many mentors like me are retired. We have lots of time. As to anyone else, it’s a matter of priorities, not time. You always have time for anything that you make a priority. If you can find time to go to a coffee shop now and then, you have time to spare.

Don’t know how?  This is where I believe that, at its basic essence, being a mentor is organic. Anyone with a life-time of experiences can be a mentor. You know what worked and what didn’t. That’s valuable to someone who has not “been there, done that.”  That’s what you have to offer: your personal experiences have no value if not passed on.

Albert Einstein once said something that resonated with me. He said: “The only source of knowledge is experience.” For the next generation, that’s a valuable resource.

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all method to mentoring. What you do and how you do it will be determined by your own personality and life experiences, and it will also be different for each person you mentor. Sure, you can learn “best practices”, but I think trial and error works well. As the Nike ad urges us, “Just do it.”

Another Einstein quote is appropriate: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” That is a profound insight into leadership – a millennial who is willing to say “I need help” or “I can’t do this alone” is able to get past his or her shortcomings

The challenge here is for those sitting on the sidelines to realize that scripture tells us to pass it on to the next generation. Don’t drop the ball!

For mentees, I generally advocate that they should be proactive.  Seek out someone who you respect and that you think might be helpful. You can invite them to lunch or coffee. You don’t have to mention mentoring because it may cause the knee jerk answers listed above. Then, wash, rinse and repeat.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  If you haven’t been asked, then take the initiative. That goes for both mentors and mentees. Don’t be shy. You could impact a person’s life who desperately is looking for help.

FURTHER STUDY:  Thomas Rainer’s video on Why You Need a Mentor:


RESOURCES:  For men, one of the best books is authored by Howard and Bill Hendricks entitled “As Iron Sharpens Iron”. It is available at Amazon.

For women, I would suggest reading Impact My Life, by Elisa Pulliam.

If you are interested, I have put together a four-page Mentoring Resources, which gives reading suggestions, along with links to individual posts on mentoring topics for the next generation that might be helpful. Drop me a note and I will be glad to provide it to anyone who asks.

WORSHIP:  Listen to Chris Tomlin sing “We Fall Down” which reminds of our humanity and needing help from others: We Fall Down by Chris Tomlin – YouTube

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of the site (www.mentorlink.wordpress.com)  and entering your email address.






5 thoughts on “Why Not?

  1. Pj says:

    Nice one Sir, l believe our youth should learn to look unto the experienced older ones than the Internet for mentorship.

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