During my farewell speech at The Heights, I got too choked up to actually say some nice things about my friend and mentor, Bill Ferrell. This blog post will hopefully lay out what I wanted my people to know about him and about mentoring in general.
Mentoring doesn’t generally happen within the context of official programmed ministries, but rather through relationships. An example of this is the 10+ years that I spent loitering around the office (and family room) of Pastor Bill Ferrell. At the time neither of us realized it, but as I look back there is no one person more responsible for my Christian maturity, real life experience in the local church, and where I am as a leader, husband, and dad than this man Bill in all his perfectly tanned golf obsessed glory. So without further ado, I give you:
The Top 10 Things I learned From Bill Ferrell:
1. “No.” There is power in the ability to say “no” in this life. People, agendas, committees, and side projects are constantly at war with my ability to be a good husband, father, and pastor. But I have a trump card to everything that can cloud my mission, interfere with my presence as a husband and dad, and waste my time: I say no. Bill said “no” to more people more times for more good reasons that I can ever remember.
2. “Yes.” Just because someone isn’t perfect, polished, and overqualified, it doesn’t mean they can’t do well. Let people try, give them guidance, and extend a hand when they fall flat on their face or drop all the moving parts. Sometimes we “prepare” people so much for “ministry” that they see it as an academic exercise… that just doesn’t work. In fact, creating a culture where people can fail and learn is the benchmark of growing churches and organizations. When I started teaching in one of Bill’s small groups I wasn’t a seminary grad. When I became a director of that same ministry I wasn’t yet ordained.
3. “What do you care what that guy thinks” There is always someone who will oppose, condemn, debate, complain, and try to derail everything we do as leaders. Listening to every complaint and demand is a futile exercise. Listening to the voices that matter is most important. I used to really get worked up when someone took a petty dig at me or my church. The lesson learned: Who cares? Just because someone is running off at the mouth, it doesn’t mean we need to stop down every day and give them our time. Let them waste someone else’s time, give someone else a headache, and sidetrack good plans with unexpected whining.
4. “So What?” We fear God, not the opinions of a bunch of other people. So and so is mad we didn’t thank them in front of the group for bringing donuts to Sunday School… So What? This guy is mad that we didn’t convince some girl to date him instead of another guy? Heartbreaking. So what? Really… Sometimes a good old fashioned “So What!?” is exactly what a young guy needs to hear when he’s venting his struggles and strife to you.
5. It Is OK To Have Fun. Bill and I may be the only Officiant/Groom combo in NFL History to negotiate (unsuccessfully) a blockbuster trade in fantasy football during a wedding. Oh you can scoff all you want. The truth is, any guy reading this WISHES he had that much freedom in his wedding, and probably his marriage. Have fun at the next Reese Witherspoon movie, you sensitive guys… my wife and I will enjoy tailgating at the next Buffalo Bills game for you!
6. “Get to work” Ministry is best done through relationships. Investing in others and connecting with them on a personal level is the best way to reveal the truth of what a life lived for Christ looks like. That said, sometimes we just have to get things done. If something isn’t working, it needs to be fixed. True leaders don’t shrug their shoulders and say “good enough.” True leaders get things done, one way or another.
7. “I Believe In You.” The man is not a softie, but I remember when he uttered the words “I believe in you” from the stage when my church ordained me as a pastor. It was no light statement. This is the man who had heard my entire life story, each sordid detail, when as a young twentysomething with a past I thought the only way to be a part of the church was to hand him each and every bone fragment one by one from the skeletons in my closet. He had to hear me talk about drugs, about sex, girls, grudges, fear… every mistake I consciously remembered from my life before I moved to Texas. I had so much trouble believing that a guy like me could be a part of a strong church. Now, thanks to having a chance under Bill, I invest in guys like me every chance I get.
8. “I wouldn’t” Not every opinion needs to be shared, especially each and every day. Spending time around someone with a disciplined tongue will teach you this lesson a good way. Learning this lesson a bad way usually involves a bad outcome (death, dismemberment, or both). The only thing better than taking good advice, is sticking around people qualified to give it.
9. “Figure It Out.” It is easy to micromanage people, make them feel like rookies, and cut right to the chase to save time. It is better to help people in the evaluation and decision making process, and turn them loose on the world with a few skills. Letting people make decisions and stick with their decisions is a huge part of mentoring and investing in others.
10. You have to take care of your family. Bill never answered his phone during dinner, no matter how many times I called him at 6:00pm over the last 11 years. He budgeted his money wisely, to invest well for the care of his family, including seasonal vacations and other stuff. He valued his lovely wife (and great friend of mine) Chris Ferrell in front of others and held her up with the highest level of respect and dignity. He attended every children’s ministry event with his daughter Kimberly, and invested in her life outside of church everywhere he could. There is nobody who would suggest Bill could do more for his family, and many who would look to him as the example. For a young single guy, then a married guy, then an ordained seminary grad, and now a father of small children, God truly favored me among many by letting me be able to know Bill as well as I do.
There is a collection of things I have learned spending time with Bill Ferrell. We didn’t have an official mentoring program or a weekly meeting. It was my desire to be around someone who was at a place I wanted to get to, and he was willing to allow me to trespass in his office and home. Where are you loitering these days to gain wisdom? And who are you putting up with and investing in to catapult their own life somewhere?