Silent Mentors

By Les Robinson

Many of us regard our parents and siblings as having mentored us in some manner, certainly in the early stages of our lives, and perhaps even into our later years. Most of us still remember the names of teachers and coaches and clergy and other “instructors” who also built a supportive relationship with us and have helped shape who we have become as adults. Of course, spouses, children and friends often fill this role as well. Their mentoring (guidance, suggestions and interaction) have been verbal, face-to-face, consistent, and often.

But what about the “silent mentors?” What about those persons who make a profound impact upon our lives, even though they may not have verbally spoken to us often (or ever), or maybe we have never even met them face-to-face?

I can think of three “silent mentors” who emerged during my three different adult careers.

Upon graduation from college, I accepted an offer to enter the management trainee program with Sears, Roebuck and Co. Some of you remember that Sears used to be a significant player in the corporate world. When I joined them they were the 5th largest U.S. corporation, the world’s largest retailer (that is where the WLS call letters came from for the company-owned radio station in Chicago), employed more than 350,000 people, and had annual sales in excess of $40 billion. According to an inflation calculator, that equates to $316 billion today.

The first store I was assigned to was in Crestwood, MO. The store manager was Mr. Spellacy (I never knew his first name). It was a large store with hundreds of employees, but he always called me by name. Actually, after reporting on the first day, the only time we ever spoke is when he walked past me as he was making a trip through the store. But, he was a “silent mentor.” I admired his ability to know people’s names; heard story after story of his caring reputation; watched the store grow in volume and reputation. One Monday morning as I arrived at the store with dozens of other employees, we were greeted with the news that Mr. Spellacy had died the night before. He never knew the impact he made on my career. There were many other managers and executives with whom I came into contact over the next 10 years, but none who played such a significant role as a “silent mentor.”

My “call” to career ministry landed me in seminary with an incredibly supportive wife and two small children. Needless to say, my new (2nd) career brought with it some major challenges! Ministry keeps you constantly engaged with people of all shapes, sizes, and make-up, all of whom cast some level of influence on one’s development. For me, one really stands out. As a student, I was offered a stipend to serve part time on the staff of a church where Dr. John Claypool was the senior minister. It was a large staff, and while I saw John on many occasions, it was his prophetic words that gave him the title of “silent mentor.” He was one of the truly great preachers of the 20th Century, and I followed him through his preaching ministry for at least 20 years. Even today, when I read one of his sermons, I can actually hear his unique voice and delivery. More importantly, I can glean new insight into scripture and new concepts for applying the biblical truth to my life and ministry.

Several years later, I was faced with choosing a topic for my doctoral dissertation. It required a subject that included not only the traditional literature search and writing, but also original research. Without going into all of the details that led up to the decision, I chose the topic of interim ministry. This was well before the writing and training that is available today. But there were a couple of early “pioneers” who were paving the way for what is now commonly referred to as Intentional Interim Ministry – my 3rd career. One of those forerunners was Dr. Loren B. Mead.

Two years after I celebrated completion of my doctoral program, Mead wrote a book entitled, Critical Moment of Ministry – A Change of Pastors. Those whose ministry is dedicated to working with congregations during the interim time between pastors recognize this as a seminal work in the field of interim ministry. In fact, it still remains the basis for the process and work in which practitioners engage congregations during this crucial time.

I only met Loren twice face-to-face. One simply involved a hand-shake; the other was his four-word verbal comment about a workshop I was co-leading: “this is good stuff.” However, during the 25 plus years I have been involved in interim ministry, Loren has been the most important of my “silent mentors.” I have grown in both knowledge and wisdom as a result of his writings.

All three of these folks are now deceased. As I look back at their impact on my life, I am profoundly grateful for the role they played in it. I also am deeply aware that I never formally thanked them for their influence. But, maybe that is how it works for those who are “silent mentors;” they simply go about doing their best, and along the way, someone follows their example, their actions, or their words, becoming stronger and better and more competent in their work. Thanks be to God!

May God richly bless you as you remain faithful to your ministry calling – and, along the way, may you become a “silent mentor” to someone who has a passion (and calling!) for interim ministry.