I was in eleventh grade and I had done something really stupid. In an attempt to prove that I was something other than an academically inclined nerd, I decided to write some incendiary words on the overhead projector in my U.S. History class just to get a reaction from my teacher. As expected, he was furious when he saw what “someone” had written, but even more frustrated when he discovered to my horror that it was in permanent ink. Given that I was attending a Christian boarding school, this teacher thought he would start seeking out the culprit by doing the obvious and asking for someone to admit they had done it. After a few moments of hesitation, I raised my hand and prepared to take my punishment. It was clear that my teacher was shocked that I (one of his best students) was the culprit and he told me in no uncertain terms how unacceptable my behavior was. But that was not the end of the conversation.
Probably because I had acted out like this, it had become clear that I was seeking some kind of “extra” attention. This teacher decided to take the bait. Instead of writing me off as just another obnoxious “know it all” student with a need to be noticed, he decided to pour himself into me. He became a mentor and a friend and changed my life that year. Little did I know that I would play three sports and that he would be my coach in all three. In the middle of the school year, he discovered that I was wrestling with some theological questions and he invited me to his house to discuss these deep issues at length. He recommended books for me to read and he challenged my assumptions while constantly pointing me to God and His word for the answers to my spiritual battles.
A few years later, I was attending a Sunday school class at my church and loved the teaching from one particular man. He seemed to know God’s word in great depth and could make almost any topic or passage in scripture come alive. I was very engaged in his class, asked lots of questions and enjoyed studying whatever issue that was being taught. For some reason, he noticed my interest and offered me the opportunity of a lifetime. He invited me to “co-teach” a class with him the following semester on a particular book of the Bible. Up until that point, I had never really taught an adult class. I had lots of practice with kids and young adults, but this was an intimidating and exciting prospect. He offered to loan me his commentaries and gave me pointers along the way. Most of all, he simply modeled for me what great teaching looked like.
I find myself in a very different place these days with my hair (what little I have left) growing whiter and my energy level slowing down. I am no longer the youngest person in my organization and people are often looking to me for advice and input. On many days, it can be quite exhausting trying to respond to all the demands on my plate. Despite this, I have discovered something wonderful. Pouring myself into others can be as gratifying and rewarding as having others pour themselves into me. Relationships are a lot like a bank account – the more you put in, the more that you can take out. As a leader, I am learning more and more about making relationship deposits these days and trusting that God will get the increase.
This weekend, I have had the joy of watching Godly Christian leaders pour into the next generation of church planters. Men who have “been there and done that” are speaking into the lives of “young bucks” rearing to get into the thick of the battle. Interestingly, there are more than two generations represented at this conference, and the same men who are teaching what they have learned also took time to honor a 75 year old pastor who has blazed the trail ahead of many current urban church planters and set an example for all who would follow in his footsteps.
As part of that middle generation, I had the pleasure of selecting books for the conference book table and helping these next generation leaders choose resources that will bolster them for realities ahead. Who knows how God will use this bounty of scheduled lectures, unscheduled interactions, and perhaps even a particular book from our book table to help guide and grow the urban church this year? Maybe what we are doing this weekend will be game changer for a conference attendee just like those countless lessons, conversations, and books have shaped my spiritual journey.