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A couple months ago, I interviewed a man named Doug Stewart for another Building Church Leaders article. The article is part of an Orientation Guide for mentors. (It’s the same type of article I did a few months ago when I interviewed Michael Aukofer.)

(Note: I did not have a picture of Doug, so he is neither of the men pictured on the left.)

This interview with Doug is not visible on BCL unless you purchase the download, but I’m pasting it in its entirety below. I don’t do this for all my articles, but even before I was done talking to Doug, I knew I would want to include this article on my site. Why, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked. Put simply, Doug is an inspirational guy.

I hope that’s evident in the article. But if it’s not, then take my word for it.

In college, I not only had a mentor, but I also served as a mentor to at least one guy (officially), and a couple others (unofficially). During that time, I learned that there are few things that are more rewarding than helping others process things in their lives, challenging them to live out their faith, to grow ever closer to God. And man, I miss those mentoring relationships. But I had sort of forgotten how valuable those mentoring sessions were, and how valuable those relationships were. Until I talked to Doug.

I hope you find his words just as inspirational as I did. Here’s the article in its entirety:

Advice from an Experienced Leader
One mentor shares his thoughts on establishing effective mentoring relationships.

Doug Stewart has worked for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship for 50 years. He and his wife, Marilyn (who has been with Intervarsity for more than 45 years), are both Specialists in Pastoral Care and Spiritual Formation—although Doug prefers referring to his position as a Ministry of Pastoral Care and Spiritual Formation. Doug currently mentors ten men on a consistent basis and he looks for other opportunities wherever he goes. Tyler Charles spoke with him about his experiences and his approach to mentoring.

Tell me a little bit about your experiences as a mentor.
When I was first invited to speak on mentoring to a local group, I thought, “I’m not a mentor.” I thought of a mentor as an expert in a certain field. But then I thought about it and realized, “I’ve been a mentor all my life.” Mentoring has been an essential approach to ministry that I’ve followed. So I realized that mentoring has been what I’ve done at every stage.

What does a typical mentoring relationship look like for you?
I don’t try to become a friend, a buddy, or a peer—neither do I try to hide behind some expertise. But I do realize, in this particular relationship, they’re seeking something from me, and it’s not about me wanting something from them. It’s not a reciprocal thing. I’m not saying I don’t benefit from the relationship, but I have to realize I’m there for them.

What is the goal of mentoring?
The goal is the empowerment, the encouragement, and the strengthening of another person to take steps forward from where they are. Whether it’s in ministry, in their personal life, with God, or in their family, it’s about getting from wherever they are to whatever is set before them.

Often people seek out mentors when they want to move on in someway, but they don’t know how to do it, or they don’t feel capable of doing it.

Does mentoring come naturally for you, or is it a conscious effort?
As I look over my life, and the ways God has used me, I probably have a gift of mentoring. And it’s one I think I should develop. So that means taking initiative—not to push myself on somebody, but to at least offer an opportunity.

It’s a skill—a posture—that I’ve cultivated, and it now comes naturally to me. This is what I do best. I come alongside of people and try to empower them in whatever way they need to take the next step in life.

How do you approach the initial meeting?
I want to put the person at ease first. They’re always a little apprehensive and nervous; they’re wondering how I’m going to respond. Am I safe? Can they trust me? So I ask them general information—questions that will help them feel I’ve gotten to know them a little bit.

Then I’ll ask them what they are wanting from me. How do they feel I’ll be able to help them? Since I usually meet with a person as a spiritual director, I usually ask them what their journey with God has been like thus far.

I try to laugh, joke a little bit. I want to put them at ease. Then get them to tell me what they’re looking for. I don’t try to cover much more the first time than establishing a confidence and sense of security.

How long does it take for the relationship to go deep?
In some cases, I’ve seen a depth immediately. One man started sobbing the first time we met. I was shocked at such vulnerability. I usually meet for an hour—and I would say it’s usually at least two meetings.

After a couple of meetings, I feel a connection to the person, and I think they feel more relaxed with me.

Is it important for men to mentor men and women to mentor women?
Generally men mentor men and women mentor women, but by no means would I say exclusively. My wife meets with several men; she’s their spiritual director/mentor, and I know they get quite a bit from her. Given the fact that there will be an age difference—and we’re not talking about peer relationships or friendships—I think men can mentor women and women can mentor men. It may not be quite as common, but I think it can work very well.

Is mentoring a rewarding experience for you?

Apart from loving my wife, my kids, and grandchildren, it’s the most rewarding thing I do. It’s extremely rewarding to connect with people’s lives, to encourage them, to open new perspectives; it’s wonderfully rewarding. I hope to do it as long as I can.

It’s something very appropriate for people in my stage of life. A man was telling me how wonderful it was to have a “grandfather” in his life to affirm and bless him, and I said, “You don’t know how wonderful it is to have a young person take and learn something from my experiences.” It’s redeeming. We learn a lot more from pain than successes, and I think [mentoring] is great for people as they get older.

What advice would you offer to new mentors?
A mentor needs to take initiative to ask some questions. I don’t find that others can always explain or want to explain what they’re facing, so their needs may not be apparent at first.

Also, I try to communicate worth, appreciation, and value.

What else should other mentors know?
To me, it’s equally important that I have someone that I go to. It changes the way I do mentoring, because it keeps me humble and helps me realize how to be helpful to another person. I think that we all ought to seek somebody with whom we can have a little more intentionality and talk about what’s on our heart.

It’s very hard for men to do this; it’s hard for them to take that first step. Probably that’s why I take more initiative than might be normal. I like to build a bridge there in case the other man wants to cross it.

If you could give just one piece of advice, what would it be?
Believe that God has given you something that you can pass on and share with another, and be willing to do so when the opportunity arises.

—TYLER CHARLES; © 2009 Christianity Today International/BuildingChurchLeaders.com

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My most recent article, “Deciphering Data Storage,” recently went live on Your Church‘s website. And let me warn you in advance: it’s technical and it’s boring.

Basically, this article was the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Mostly because I knew nothing about data storage; I didn’t even know what direct-attached storage, network-attached storage, and storage area networks were, let alone the differences and advantages of these options.

Well, I know a little bit more now. And hopefully the article will be helpful for churches—even if they are as clueless as I was.

I’ve also updated my “Writing Credits.” I added that article, but I also restructured it so it won’t look quite as much like a jumble of links.

If you’re incredibly bored by data storage (I don’t blame you), I’ve finished a couple other articles that should be live soon. And they’re both a little more interesting. I’ll let you know when they’re available.

MiltonMy wife frequently tells me (often when I’m being more reclusive than usual), “You could be alone for a whole month and it wouldn’t bother you.”

That’s not true. But it’s not far from the truth, either.

I love being alone. I love focusing on a writing project without any distractions. I hate it when I’m jarred from a deep thought by a passing comment or flippant question. (And no, I’m not directing that comment at my wife.) When I worked in an office, there were days when I didn’t want to be bugged. It’s true.

If I was especially focused on something, I wanted to be left alone.

Well, now that I work from home by myself all alone without anyone to talk to…I guess that’s not a problem.

But do you know what I miss? Small talk.

Of all things, I miss small talk. Sure, I enjoy deep conversations, and I miss those too, but more than anything, I miss small talk.

Sports have always been a topic of small talk for me. Whether it was my dad, friends from school, college roommates, or co-workers, I’ve always had people in my life who were interested in discussing sports. Maybe it’s a case of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone, because I never considered that this might be something of value to me.

Until this week.

This week I’ve watched:

  • Amazing tennis match-ups at the U.S. Open.
  • Jordan tributes leading up to his induction in the Hall of Fame tonight.
  • All the hype leading up to the OSU/USC football game tomorrow night.
  • The annoying fallout from Terrelle Pryor’s bumbled comments.
  • Big Ben moving around in a well-protected pocket, pump-faking his Steelers to an overtime victory (not to mention Polamalu’s amazing left-handed snag for a first-half interception).
  • If I still worked in an office, I’d casually say to someone, “Hey did you see that Steelers win last night?” or “Have you seen any of the U.S. Open matches?”

    Even if we only talked about it for thirty seconds, that would suffice. Without those interactions, I’m resigned to tweeting, and more tweeting, and writing blogs like this. And it’s kind of sad. (wah-wah.)

    For other people, sports might not be the default topic, but I’m wondering if this desire for small talk is universal.

    For you, maybe it’s the news that Ellen is taking Paula’s spot on American Idol. Or maybe the congressman who yelled “You lie!” in the middle of Obama’s address the other night.

    And maybe that’s why people ask about the weather (a topic that is completely universal and completely apolitical)—just, you know, to make small talk. After all, is anyone genuinely interested in discussing the weather?

    Maybe small talk is valuable to most people. Or even everyone. Whether or not it’s true for you, apparently it’s true for me.

    And there’s some irony in this revelation.

    You see, I’ve often told my wife that I hate small talk. I hate being asked, “How was your day?” just as a matter of routine. I hate giving obligatory and expected answers. It’s boring. And annoying. If something interesting happened, something worth sharing, I want them to assume I’ll share it. If they trust that I’ll share something interesting, they don’t need to ask.

    And don’t ask just for the sake of conversation. Anything done “for the sake of conversation” leads to boring, pointless conversation. And I prefer silence to meaningless conversation. Always.

    And so maybe I’m realizing that small talk isn’t completely meaningless. And maybe that’s why my wife likes asking, “How was your day?” Maybe that is her equivalent of my desire to talk sports with friends and co-workers. Maybe…

    So maybe I owe my wife an apology…

    procrastinatingwriter-main_FullThe first thing I would tell an aspiring freelancer is this:

    Aspire to be something else.

    Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t mind writing…and I could use a little extra income…so why not?”

    No no no.

    If you are only mildly interested, then find another source of secondary income. Like a paper route. Or a lemonade stand.

    Because freelancing is a lot of work. And the work/reward ratio really isn’t anything to get excited about.

    But if you’re still with me, still interested in freelancing, here are the five biggest lessons I’ve learned about freelancing.

    1) Look For Opportunities Everywhere—even if they don’t pay
    When I first started freelancing two and a half years ago, I looked everywhere for work. For example, I found one assignment on Craigslist (but beware, there’s a lot of scams on there). I also agreed to write articles that paid me nothing. Sometimes the exposure is worth it. Other times—especially for those with limited writing experience—it’s just good to bolster your writing credits.

    Even though I almost have more freelance work than I can keep up with right now (a good problem to have), I’m still doing some work for free. (We’ll call it “pro bono’ to make me sound altruistic. Even though I’m not.) Recently Matthew Paul Turner used his blog (JesusNeedsNewPR) to host a Sex Week, and he tweeted that he was looking for contributors who were willing to write honestly about sex. Long story short, I contributed a post, “The Truth about Santa Claus and Sex.” Even though I didn’t get paid, I was happy to do it because it was an opportunity to write creatively and honestly (my favorite kind of writing) and it was a topic about which I’m passionate.

    I also submitted a book review to The Burnside Writer’s Collective last night. I’m not getting paid for that, either, but again, it’s worth it to me. I enjoyed the book and wanted to review it; I also appreciate Burnside and enjoy being part of that community of writers/artists.

    And sometimes the exposure can be as valuable as the paycheck.

    2) Editors Are Your Best Friends—The More the Merrier

    The day I got laid off (aka: The Day I Became a Full-Time Freelancer), I emailed every editor I knew to offer my freelancing services. Thankfully, I knew a lot of editors. In some cases, I was given work. In other cases, those editors referred me to other editors looking for freelancers. In the three months since being laid off, I’ve done work for many of those editors.

    Of course, I was lucky because I had already worked with some of them (as a fellow editor and also as a freelancer). But even before I became an editor, I was working to cultivate relationships with editors. Don’t hesitate to offer your services. In at least one instance, back when I had very little experience, I told an editor I would work for free because I wanted more experience. He didn’t have any jobs to assign at the moment, but it got his attention. Very few people offer to do work for free. And making that offer shows that you’re serious about it.

    If you get an opportunity, no matter how trivial or mundane it might seem, take it seriously and do a good job. If you do that, you’ll get your foot in that proverbial door and you’ll be a step closer to finding a friend in that editor.

    3) Accept ANY Project
    Editors often need freelancers to do things that aren’t related to writing. Offer to help with anything. I don’t care how unglamorous it might be: keywords, indexes, compiling a list of sources or related links (I’ve done all these things). It’s important to take these opportunities seriously. If you want to be trusted with the projects you would like to do, then you need to prove your mettle with the tedious and mundane.

    And again, accepting assignments reinforces your willingness and interest. And if you do a good job, future projects will follow.

    4) You’re NEVER Too Busy to Accept Another Assignment
    When I was an editor, I was busy. Like all editors. So when I needed to find a freelancer for an assignment, I wanted it to be quick and easy. So who did I contact first? Obviously, I’d contact the freelancers I’d worked with in the past—starting with the ones who were the most dependable, and most likely to be available. If my most reliable freelancers stopped being reliable, they would have been bumped down my list.

    So when an editor contacts me to see if I’m interested in a project, or to see if I have time to take something on, I always say yes. I don’t care how many buns I have in the oven (unless that aphorism refers to babies in the womb, and I think it might—because I would care very much about that), I will accept that assignment. Any assignment.

    Because I know, if I start passing on assignments, I’ll get bumped down that editor’s list, and some other dependable and available freelancer will start getting the first shot at new assignments.

    I don’t care how busy you are—and, truth be told, the editor doesn’t either: they just need to find someone willing to do their project. So when given an opportunity, take it. Always.

    5) Quality is Key—but so is punctuality
    Obviously, if you don’t have the skills or the commitment necessary to do a good job, you won’t get assignments. Quality is infinitely important. But assuming that you’ve got the talent, then the next most important thing is punctuality. When editors give you a due date, they want to know they can expect to receive a polished final product on (or before) that date.

    This can be difficult, especially if you take point #4 seriously and sometimes take on too much work, but it’s essential. Once you start turning in projects late, that editor is going to think twice before giving you the next project.

    To be honest, though, I should probably admit that punctuality is my biggest struggle. So I should probably take my own advice. Especially since I’m writing this blog right now when I have an article to finish (due yesterday) and another unfinished project (due today).

    So I’m going to get back to work now…and if you’re still interested in freelancing, good luck.

    unemployment_sign3To some, the title of this post seems like nonsense. They think “Well, of course losing your job is a bad idea!”

    But what about young people, huh? You know how impressionable young’uns are. As the unemployment rate rises, they will soon start saying, “Well, everybody else is doing it,” and they will inevitably want to give it a try. (I believe this is called “experimentation”).

    Unfortunately, I feel I have propagated this wayward notion with recent blog posts (“A Day in the Glamorous Life of a Freelance Writer“) and tweets (“Watching Finding Forrester while I work…”), and I want to set the record straight.

    In short, I fear I have given kids the impression that losing one’s job is appealing.

    I will admit, losing one’s job does have its perks:

  • freedom to totally disregard personal hygiene
  • ability to spend all day in one’s pajamas (I don’t actually own pajamas, but if I did, I definitely could wear them all day)
  • opportunity to watch movies or 8 hours of Sportscenter every day
  • freedom to shop for groceries during non-peak shopping hours (what kid doesn’t long for this opportunity?)
  • unlimited napping potential
  • And so even as I write that, I’m tempted to think, “Hmmm, I guess it is a pretty good gig.”

    But no, kids. Don’t be fooled.

    Everybody loves summer vacation, right? But you know how you start to get bored in August (like right now), and you actually start wanting to go back to school? When you start feeling like you should be doing something worthwhile with your life? Well, unemployment feels like that every day. Except, for the unemployed, school isn’t necessarily going to start again in the fall.

    And even worse, as an adult, we have something called “bills” (an ugly, ugly thing). In other words, spending all day on the couch today could mean I won’t have a couch tomorrow…

    Since losing my job, I’ve been busy working on freelance projects and a few side jobs. And those have been great.

    But here’s the catch: When working as a freelancer, one only gets paid for the work they produce.

    In other words, one only gets paid for their actual work. Seems pretty fair, I suppose, but it’s not how things work when you have an office job.

    And this is the number one reason why losing your job is a bad idea.

    When I was a full-time employee, I could check my email (and get paid while doing it). I could walk to the coffee station, get coffee, bump into colleagues, spend 10-15 minutes talking about politics, Mark Driscoll, Harry Potter, global warming, or the likelihood that this is the year the Cubs win the World Series. And yeah, get paid the whole time.

    Now, not only do I have to take the time to make my own coffee, but I certainly won’t bump into any colleagues in my kitchen. Which means there will be no riveting conversation, and even if my colleagues did show up in my kitchen (that would be scary) and we talked for hours, I wouldn’t be compensated for a minute of it.

    When you work at home, nobody shows up with a dozen donuts from Dominick’s. Nobody offers you Tootsie Roll pops from their stash under their desk. When you work from home, the only food you find is the food you personally lugged up three flights of stairs after grocery shopping (in those non-peak hours).

    When you work in an office, food has a way of appearing. Someone’s wife makes too many cookies, and Surprise! The next day there’s a platter of goodies sitting an arm’s length away from your desk. The only things an arm’s length away from my desk right now are yesterday’s clothes, which I dumped on my desk chair last night before bed and promptly deposited on the floor this morning.

    And this is the real kicker:

    When you have a full-time job, you get paid to go to the bathroom. Let that sink in for a bit. I mean, that should be every little kid’s dream: to land a job that pays somebody to go to the bathroom. Trust me, it’s a good gig. It doesn’t even matter what your salary or hourly rate might be; if you’re getting paid to relieve yourself, you should be smiling. (Maybe not while you’re relieving yourself, but, you know, just in general.)

    So, kids, I encourage you to find a job that makes you happy. And even though I might claim my life as a freelancer is glamorous, when I go to the bathroom, I do it as an unemployed man. And I don’t smile.

    Remember that.