Monday morning our son Josh and I sat down with a man who has been one of the most strategic mentors in my life of ministry. This man has not been a formal mentor; we have never met for a series of weeks or worked through a book together like so many imagine mentoring to be. We have not spent scores of hours talking. Yet when I look back over my life of ministry, his shadow looms large over me. Why? At critical junctures in my life he offered great wisdom, encouragement, and personal help which has shaped my trajectory profoundly.
In my late 20s I found myself in a position of significant leadership for a kid just turned 30, working with a network of almost 400 churches in the state of Indiana. Further, I was given the task of given specific leadership to youth evangelism.
I had a problem. I had just finished my classwork for the PhD, was ABD, and had done almost nothing with youth for years. As fate (read: God’s Providence) would have it, I encountered for the first time the same man in whose hotel room I sat this Monday morning. He offered to help me, to come and serve, and to give counsel. His advice far more than my leadership allowed us to see remarkable growth in the next few years.
The man’s name: Jay Strack. Jay has likely spoken to more youth and more youth pastors than anyone alive. He now leads a remarkable and unique ministry called Student Leadership University (SLU). I was honored to speak at a breakout at the Houston venue this week, for one of their Youth Pastor Summits, and thus Josh and I found ourselves fellowshipping with Jay.
From those days in about 1990 to today some 25 years later, Jay has strategically been used of God in my life. God called me as a young man to one thing above all else: to inspire and equip leaders in the church to advance the gospel. One way I’ve been able to do that is to serve SLU in various ways. But Jay and SLU have done far more for me than I could do for them.
Monday, again, Jay encouraged me. Last fall I spoke to about 100 leaders about revival. Jay was there. He remarked how he could see the hand of God on me as I shared that day. I felt like a 20something again, hearing these words of encouragement from a man who has shaped me as much as anyone.
Sometimes the right encouragement from a mentor comes as a refreshment from the Lord.
Jay taught me to love the next generation. My love for them is greater than ever.
He taught me to love those who lead the next gen. So, I now teach student ministry as well as evangelism, and write as many books for student pastors as for pastors.
He taught me to communicate with excellence to a diversity of audiences. Over the past month or so I have spoken to a network of church planters, student pastors, a pastors gathering, and on a college campus. And, most important of all, to my graduate students.
Jay taught me to love Jesus, to love revival, and to stay focused on the Word. We talked this week about the Jesus Movement, such great memories of a season that changed us both.
Jay taught me never to settle, not to be a skinny kid from Alabama trying to survive till Jesus returns, but to be the man of God He created me to be—to write, to teach, to preach, and to lead with excellence.
Above all else, Jay did one more thing. This past Monday, I watched him do for my son, a student pastor in his 20s, what he did for me starting 25 years ago. He encouraged Josh and gave him great wisdom.
Sometimes I get frustrated when I feel like I do not have time for every student who wants to see me, to answer every request to speak at this or write that or help with whatever. But this week I remembered that one of the most significant mentors in my entire life is a man with whom I have not spent more than eight full hours of serious conversation.
And yet, I had just the conversations I needed with him the past 25 years. How much was that? I had enough, that’s how much.
I pray that you and I would not be bound up in whether we are as available as we would like to be, but focus on using the time we do have to give the encouragement and wisdom needed in that moment. It could be one conversation is exactly what that student, young leader, or fellow believer needs. We as leaders are trajectory-shapers; may we guide well.
Thanks, Jay, for guiding my trajectory.