Body, Mind & Spirit

Not long ago I received a phone call from a young seminary student, who is married with two children, working two jobs and studying to be a pastor. This young man had called to ask if I would consider being his “mentor,” although he was not a United Methodist, had no church affiliation, but had many theological and practical questions he wanted to explore about pastoral ministry.

“I’ve called many pastors,” he told me, “and they’ve all told me they are too busy.”

I told him I was busy too, but would be glad to be his friend and mentor. How could I, in good conscience, say “no”?

“This is too important,” I told him. “Your call and commitment are too important. Let’s meet for coffee.”

During the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of mentoring many people working through the United Methodist candidacy process. Although our path toward ordination has changed considerably since I was a young seminary student at Duke, our church does value connection, mentoring and support along the way.

We can easily forget that there are thousands of other pastoral students out there who do not experience this friendship in their journey to fulfill God’s call on their lives. This friendship is so vital. We United Methodists often take so much for granted.

My call to ministry actually began when I was 19 years old. This call became clearer and more focused as my college years flew by, and didn’t reach absolute clarity until I was at the midpoint of my seminary education. However, along the way I had pastors, Sunday school teachers, friends and a fair number of people in various congregations who supported, affirmed and challenged my assumptions and ideas about leadership. I’m still learning.

I can’t place a value on the opportunities others gave to me to preach, to teach, to write, to participate and to lead. The value found in failure and struggle is enormous but without them, we can never learn from mistakes and discover that the church is (or should be) a grace-filled and forgiving community, which restores and affirms.

I’m also grateful to those many people over a span of thirty-plus years, who accepted my odd and unique approach to pastoral work. Isn’t every pastor unique? I have kept my warped sense of humor intact and have found others in the church, who crave laughter and also find a source of healing in it. I’ve been able to use my gifts – small as they are – to help others find a connection with God. And now that I’m becoming older, I can look back and see God’s hand in it all.

I’m still blessed. And since God isn’t done with me yet, I’ll keep trying to be helpful and urge others to do all the good they can by being a mentor to someone else – in the workplace, at school, at home. There are a lot of people out there who need a friend.

Todd Outcalt serves as senior pastor of Calvary UMC in Brownsburg and is the author of 20 books and has written for magazines including: The Upper Room, The Christian Century, Alive Now!, Rev.!, Leadership and American Fitness.