Out of Africa

African harp

There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe people and language, standing before the throne and before the lamb. Revelation 7:9

I’ve had a couple of weeks to recover from my trip to Jos, Nigeria.  I thought I would reflect on my experience as to what I learned. Although our cultures are very different (I will elaborate a bit on this thought), we are quite similar. The cultural context may change, but the hearts and the issues are the same.

African life is much more impromptu and unscripted than ours. Maybe it’s part of a colder versus warmer climate phenomenon.  Time is relative; things don’t always start or end on time, and that’s OK with them. I call it African time. For those of us who are a bit compulsive, it might drive you nuts.

An example of this occurred when one of the speakers for our conference was unable to attend at the last moment. That left a hole in the schedule for an hour presentation. Our conference leader looked around the room at his leadership and asked one man, a pastor from Gambia, to take his place.  This was at 7 pm, and the man was to speak the next morning at 10.

Without hesitation, the Gambian pastor accepted the assignment, and his presentation the next morning was accompanied by a power point slide presentation. He did a great job under pretty tough circumstances, although I wonder if he got any sleep.

He is pictured above playing an African harp, the design of which has been around for 1,000’s of years It may have been a relative of the harp today. It is played backwards, and the stalk of the instrument where the strings are attached is made of stretched cowhide which can be adjusted to tune it. The instrument had a marvelous sound.

Another example was the style of worship. Here in America, nothing is left to chance, and most worship leaders provide music or lyrics for the next weeks’ songs in advance.  Everyone is thus playing off the same sheet of music when you practice and prepare.

Not so in Africa. They have no music or lyrics to provide, and having practice seems irrelevant to them.  If you from America are holding a mike o stage, it is quite disconcerting, to say the least. You are expected to perform. Fortunately, most songs are in English and have repeatable refrains that are easy to pick up and provide harmony.

Still, looking at the keyboard, drums, trumpet and guitar without any music or direction is unsettling. They are used to it, and the music is always beautiful, although not always perfect.

One similarity, though, is that the millennials are digitally connected, not just in America but in Africa too.  That’s what makes millennials in Africa not much different from those in other cultures. The pastors and leaders in the room were all interested in connecting to this next generation but were scratching their heads on how to do it.

Conversely, the millennials in the audience (about a third) were there trying to figure out the opposite: How to connect with a Christianity which is not digitally savvy.  It occurred to me that we have two groups of people – the millennials and older generations – each trying to figure out how to interact and communicate with each other, yet neither one having the perfect answer.

A woman pastor from Nigeria has a church which is about 95% millennials (which is good). She was struggling to find relevant ways to communicate and interact with them. What we both learned is that we have things to learn from millennials, just as they have things to learn from older generations.

By the time the conference was over, I think she had some insights on how to approach them more effectively.  What I said at the conference is true: it is not what you teach them, it is how you deliver the message that is important.

The challenge is to embrace newer technology which is not going away. It is the pipeline into the millennial culture, and the more creative we can be to harness it, the easier it will be to connect with our next generations.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Listening to your mentee is important. You can learn from them which is so important in helping guide their path in their world which is technologically different from yours.

WORSHIP:  Listen to Michael W. Smith sing Open the Eyes of My Heart.

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.




Peer Mentoring

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

This is a topic I’ve touched on over the past  two years, but thought I would take another look at it. The topic comes up wherever I go, and often gets a lot of questions about how it works, or how to get started.

For openers, mentoring comes in multiple forms. We usually think of the term as describing a relationship between an older more experienced person with a younger one. Most of my mentoring relationships are in that vein.

But for pastors and others, both here and abroad, there is a need for another type of mentor – someone who is a peer or a colleague. It’s what I refer to as “peer mentoring”, where a group of peers get together on a regular basis to invest in each other’s lives.

My own experience with peer mentoring comes from meeting with Ralph Ennis and Stacy Rinehart for weekly. Although I am the eldest of the group (somehow, I am always the oldest), we are in close proximity in age.

Over the past 25 years, we encountered a broad spectrum of life issues: child rearing issues, kids going to college, health problems, death of parents, marriages of our offspring, and issues of our vocations. There really was no limit to what we talked about – life is not linear, and so as our lives meandered with issues, we dealt with.

We literally “one anothered one another”. We started with a friend who expressed a desire to have a spiritual board of directors. For those not accustomed to corporate lingo, a “board” provides oversight and input into each other’s life. Major decisions or life issues were to be brought before the “board” for input or comment. It was a priceless benefit to each of us.

If you are a pastor and you feel isolated, you should consider finding someone to be a peer mentor. From my experience, the candidate needn’t be another pastor. Here are five suggestions to help you along the way:

1. The qualifications for a peer mentor may look like the character traits of an Elder in listed in  1 Timothy 5 and Titus. Seek out a like-minded Godly man who is committed to developing a deeper relationship with you and is willing to be transparent. They are out there, but you may have to spend some time canvassing your colleagues.
2. Be patient in developing a relationship and learning about each other. One way to start, if you don’t know the person well, is to have each person tell his story to the others. Women are more relational, and often can develop deep connections better than men.
3. The ideal number of peer mentors is 3 or 4, because if one is out-of-town or unavailable, the others can get together in his absence. This comes from Ecclesiastes 4:12 which mentions that “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
4. You have to commit to meet regularly as schedules permit. How you meet – in person or over skype or What’s App – is up to you. Our meetings changed as to time of day and the day of the week based on our personal schedules over time.
5. Using the term “mentor” often causes confusion. For what it is worth, my group never used the term until much after the fact.

I was recently asked if one can have peer mentors (or even a mentor) at a distance. I have thought about it, and while it is not ideal, it can be done with technologies like Skype or iM (Instant Messaging through a Facebook app), or other apps like What’s-App. The platform doesn’t matter, but the connection does.

Sometimes, one in the group had a pressing issue which required a deep back and forth about considering options or consequences to possible solutions. That was OK, and usually each of us in our group had our moment in the sun when our issues were so deep that we needed that kind of focus.

In “We is Better than Me”, , I encouraged men to live in community with one another. The concept of an accountability group is similar and can be encompassed with your peers. I tell men at our weekly Friday bible study that God did not put us on earth to be isolated. No one commits a carnal sin in a group. A person who thinks he can survive alone in this world without a close friend or peer is deluding himself.

Few men and pastors have deep relationships that would be tantamount to a peer mentoring group. I find it sad because they are missing out. The challenge for you is that, if you feel a need for someone else to speak into your life, you need to take the initiative and seek it out. It won’t happen accidentally.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Peer mentoring can be a useful tool in your tool kit by encouraging your mentees to seek other peers to join them on their life’s journey.
RESOURCES: A good read for all men is “Man in the Mirror”  by Patrick Morley which was recently updated.

WORSHIP: Listen to Paul Baloche sing “Today is the Day”  reminding us to put our past behind and starting fresh each day.
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.


Reaching Millennials

Anita/Jos Conference

In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely.
Titus 2:6

I participated in a conference in Jos, Nigeria which had the theme of “Keys to Winning with the Millennials” recently. The conference discussed generational differences going back to the Silent Generation who were born between 1915 and 1945. From there, they described uniqueness of the Boomers, Generation X, Y and Z. I joked that I was so old that I should be Generation “A”.

My presentation included a study of the Millennials and now Generation Z and highlighted the differences between them (and there are differences). The audience had about 75 people including at least 25 millennials. Most were pastors or church leaders from Nigeria and surrounding countries.

One of the best sessions at the conference was given by a panel of five millennials. One of them was John Mark Hopson, a young man I have been meeting with in Pinehurst for the past year. This year, he had a role in leading the worship sessions, as well as participating in the panel discussion. I thought he added a lot to the discussion and he grew a lot from the responsibility.

The millennials desire to be actively heard, but that in many cases, they are often shut out from participation in their churches. They are about to be the largest single population segment in the U.S., and to an extent, they feel they are mis-understood and often marginalized.

What they were really saying is that they want to participate with other generations in their church, but that they often don’t have the opportunity. On the flip side, the church (generically) is trying to figure out how to connect with this digital generation. Some ideas of “keys” came up which bear mentioning.

Sitting in a church and listening to a sermon that lasts more than 10 minutes is passé. The next generation doesn’t have the attention span to stay engaged, and most millennials will soon be on their phones texting or on an App like Snapchat.

Some things that look promising, but the church has to creatively embrace them. Media has already embraced millennials: many news programs have segments that focus on millennials – often showing YouTube videos sent in by millennials.

John Mark discussed something that a pastor did in our church. Our senior pastor realized that there were no real offerings aimed at the millennials. That was a need that was not being met.

He decided to form a small group of millennials at his house. They had a meal that millennials provided by each of them bringing an ingredient. The participants scattered around his house in small groups. Instead of teaching a bible study, he gave the millennials the right to choose their topics. Instead of being a lecturer, he became a facilitator by guiding the discussion to keep it on track.

It has been a success. Millennials learn best by collaborating. They like to be able to discuss an issue, and not be lectured to. The study has now advanced so that some of the topic presentation and preparation is now being turned over to the millennials. The pastor, as leader, becomes even more passive. They love it, and it has already impacted a lot of lives.

The challenge here is to reach and engage the next generation. One takeaway from the conference is not the “what” to discuss, but the “how” to deliver it. I will address some of these ideas in future posts.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: One thing that has never gone out of style is mentoring, and the next generation are crying out for mature adults to invest in their lives. You can make a big difference, but you also need to encourage others to join you as mentors.

PICTURE: This is a picture with Anita Nkwete Etanga, a millennial who lives in Cameroon, and I’ve known for 3 years although this was the first time we spent more than 12 minutes together after we first met in Limbe.

FURTHER STUDY: Here is a YouTube of one of my presentations on Millennials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOUp42rgVtE&t=14s

WORSHIP: One of the songs we sang at the conference was !0,000 Reasons by Mat Redman.
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.