Thursday, June 11, 2009

Facing Reality

Earl Creps - pastor, ministries consultant, university professor, and church planter - has written an extraordinary book entitled "Reverse Mentoring." The principle is simple: instead of the traditional mentoring relationship of older to younger, flip it upside down: the younger person now mentors the older person.

Growing in popularity throughout the late 1990s, it now continues to spread the business world, especially as technology seems to outpace our ability to understand and apply it. But it is not just about gadgets and geeks, it's about generational barriers as well. And the church is not latching on to this vital area of learning opportunities.

I think the church is a great place for reverse mentoring to take place. Just look at generational differences alone: it would not be hard to find a church leadership structure in which 3, 4, and maybe even 5 generations of individuals would be involved in leadership decisions and actions. What a fertile ground for reverse learning to take place!

The barrier may be, as Creps points out, a humility deficit more than anything else. Taking instruction from less experienced people in a volunteer organization suggests that the insight and capability of those at the top may be eroding or missing in embarrassing ways. The first step in reverse mentoring, then, is confronting the uncomfortable truths below.

Facing Reality

Identity: I am not cool - admitting that my youth is behind me forms the first step in the process of acknowledging my lack of cool. Older leaders never received any preparation for the importance of cool as an issue - or their inevitable decline in this market. Age and experience alone were supposed to guarantee a following, but it turns out that the beauty, hipness, uniqueness, and contagiousness we once assumed can be counted on no longer. Trying to bluff by dressing or acting differently only makes things worse. Fortunately, a better option probably sits next to you at a meeting: a younger person or some other unlikely brand of friend who possesses both the knowledge you need and the willingness to share it. It is not necessary to be cool or young to lead. It is necessary to have the grace to admit it when you are not.

Culture: I don't get it - a pastor Creps interviewed had this to say: "every day I get a little more disconnected unless I intentionally work at staying connected. We live in a plug and play world, which poses a problem for many of my peers who are hard-wired. They need what only the next generation can give: connectedness." Here's the world that that generation lives in:

  • I love media, but I trust my friends

  • I am aware of broadcasting, but I trust narrowcasting

  • I spend money, but I trust art

  • I respect excellence, but I trust authenticity

  • I resist church, but I trust Jesus

Reverse mentoring requires someone at the top saying "I don't get it" but recognizing that someone else - and maybe not their first choice - does.

Ministry: I am not relevant - despite pure motives and hard work, many key influencers in organizations find themselves at the limit of their abilities long before the midpoint of their career. Their leadership models and skills simply clock out, not because they failed but but because they succeeded in a world that no longer cares as much. Practical relevance itself floats relative to the issues and the context involved. "Relative Relevance" includes the following actions:

  • Beware of large media campaigns; this year's hot promotional item becomes next year's junk

  • "Beta" is now a permanent condition, so hold on to methods loosely because most of them are transitional, just preparation for the next thing

  • The courage to admit that things have changed is the first step in changing things

  • Even when change is the oxygen of culture, you had better know what to hang on to

  • Every leader is relevant if she or he can define the appropriate relevance style

Reverse mentoring connects older leaders with younger teacher, opening a path of enhancing the elder's practical relevance while the young draw from the wisdom and integrity of those who have been sustained by principle relevance for many years.

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