Formation Through Mentorship

by Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister

Erik Erikson, psychologist, developed an eight stage theory of psychosocial development. You may remember it from a psych class in high school or college. The seventh of eight stages in his helpful construct is “generativity vs stagnation.”  He associates this stage with the middle years (40-65.) To engage this stage one begins to think about contributing to future generations through parenting, grandparenting, and mentoring future generations. If we do not engage this stage we stagnant and life loses a sense of purpose.

This past year I became a grandfather to William. He has brought so much joy to my life. Even though he lives with our daughter and son-in-law in Long Beach, California, Mary and I have been able to bond and stay connected thanks to modern travel, and the technological wonder of FaceTime. Our lives take on new meaning as we engage our small part in mentoring this precious child.

A central task of the church has to do with faith formation. There are, of course, many beautiful examples in the Scripture of this happening through mentor/mentees such as that of Paul and Timothy, Naomi and Ruth and others. In the 1980’s I had a hand in developing the “life-planning” process in the Mennonite Church. In part, it was a plan for matching an adult with a youth, and helping them develop a generative relationship. The program has long since died, but the need remains for adults to consider how they pass on the faith.

Reflecting back on my early years in pastoral ministry, I was blessed to have mentors who noticed gifts for ministry and encouraged me to consider seminary. While in seminary I learned so much from an experienced and wise pastor, Clare. He was gracious when I made stupid mistakes, he affirmed and challenged me, and was always ready to give new opportunities. He modeled a love for Christ and the church, and was vulnerable with his struggles. He was never stagnant but growing and generative.

Wayne Nitzsche (right) prays for Jessica Miller at her installation service, November 2016

Now I’m older than Clare was when he mentored me. I’ve had the great privilege of mentoring Jessica Miller, who began at Perkasie Mennonite (PMC) in November, 2016 as our pastoral intern, but has since become our Associate Pastor. Jessica and I have long conversations about ministry, life, theology. I see her not only as a mentee, but also as a colleague from whom I can learn. I value her youthful wisdom and welcome the integration of her ministry with her theological studies at Drew Theological School. She has been a great gift to PMC. I trust that I might model some of the same things for Jessica that Clare did for me.

When we sit down together, sometimes we are intentional in reflecting on a specific aspect of ministry, personal or professional development. Other weeks it’s more informal and might be related to preaching, worship planning or pastoral care.

Steve McCloskey and family

I’m still finding my way in another mentoring relationship with Steve McCloskey, who pastors Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship in Vermont. With the distance, we’ll perhaps need to rely more on technology to make connections. So be patient with me, Steve, as we find our way in this new relationship!

I’ve had to deal with self-doubt, wondering what, if anything, I had to offer. However as we offer ourselves and trust the Spirit, both our gifts and places where we are still being formed can be formative.

Might you, if you are like me and nearing the end of your active pastoral ministry, consider how you might mentor someone younger? Perhaps if you feel “stagnant” it might be the prompting of the Spirit to consider such a relationship. You’ll discover a joy and sense of purpose that is a gift from the Great Mentor, the God and Parent of us all. If you’d like to talk more about it, I’d be glad to share more over a cup of coffee. But bear with me, you’ll also have to indulge me as I share a picture or two of grandson William!