Image courtesy of Gavin Whitner at musicoomph.com
by Dick Wiedenheft
This summer I am taking guitar lessons. Though I have played for years, until now I never had a real lesson. I am quickly learning that my guitar teacher is way better than the myriad guitar videos on the internet. Why? A video can tell me which strings to pick, but it can’t listen to me do it and then point out that I am not picking the bottom string loudly enough. It can tell me where to place my fingers, but it can’t answer my questions, “Do you mean like this?” “Or more like this?” A video always delivers the appropriate lesson when I click play, but it can’t tell whether I practiced last week. In short, a video can provide great information. But it can never be a mentor.
And, when attempting something challenging and complicated, a mentor is what we need.
It took me only two guitar lessons to realize this. I wish it had dawned on me sooner when it comes to learning to live and lead missionally.
In my first semester of seminary in 1999, I decided that I wanted to lead a “missional” church. (I probably wanted to before that; I just didn’t have a word for it, yet.) When I found myself responsible for leading a real congregation several years later, I quickly realized that I didn’t know how to lead missionally. So, I did what the other pastors around me were doing. I read all the best books and went to the latest workshops and conferences. Each gave me fresh inspiration as well as new ideas and strategies. However, when these didn’t work for me or in my context or proved harder than I expected, I had no one to turn to with my questions; no one to show me how—to walk me through the details; no one to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey, three months ago you were all excited about this. What happened? Did you give up?”
The books-and-conference approach provides great information, but it is no substitute for a mentor.
Being a follower of Jesus, I should have known better. During his earthly life, Jesus never wrote a book. Many of those who flocked to his kingdom conferences didn’t stick with him very long. But, Jesus also focused on mentoring (discipling) a small group of people. He demonstrated for them by his example the ways of his kingdom. He answered their questions. He corrected their mistakes. He spoke into each of their lives personally. He offered them accountability. He loved them. As a result, they grew and were transformed. The movement they launched changed the world!
I, meanwhile, after years of taking the book-and-conference approach, finally found some missional mentors (thanks 3DM!). Yes, it cost me some money (just like my guitar lessons do), but they have helped me, finally, to live a more missional life and to lead my church into mission. The road has been a long one. I have been at it for over five years now, since seeking mentoring. Along the way, I have had lots of questions. I have needed help figuring out how to get past roadblocks, solve problems, and clean up messes. I have needed encouragement when I wanted to give up. But I’ve made serious progress. Enough so, that I now find myself in a position to mentor others.
Looking back, I can’t believe I relied on books and conferences for so long. Lesson learned: If all you need is information, you probably already know how to find it.
But if mentoring is what you really need, you won’t find it on YouTube.
Dick Wiedenheft is author of the forthcoming book The Meaning of Missional: A Beginner’s Guide to Missional Living and the Missional Church. To learn more about it, visit and/or ‘like’ his Facebook author page. Dick is a 3DM frontier leader and has a Doctor of Ministry in Discipleship and Mission from Northern Seminary. He pastors a church in New York where he lives with his wife and four children.