I recently had the opportunity to meet Bruce Wilkerson at a special session for teachers at Shiloh Christian school. I was a guest of one of those teachers and as soon as we sat down, Bruce was there to shake our hand and introduce himself, “Hi, I’m Bruce.” Yes he remained humble and common as possible despite his level of achievement.
He treated everyone in the room in the same manner. He made sure to introduce himself to each person and to ask a few questions of them on a personal level. Real and Genuine. There was no guile in his behavior. He used his time to build relationships with his audience. I watched him work the room and he was simply a master of putting people at ease and removing barriers to communication.
Then as he opened the night by building up the indelible imprint that teachers leave on students, he opened the floor to questions. I being a guest would not steal the floor from those for whom he was invited to speak to. However, will all the pleading he could offer, there was no teacher willing to break the silence and speak up to ask any questions. So, I did ask.
To Mr. Bruce I asked, “You spoke about three teachers who touched you in a special way. Would you share about those three people and what made them special?” He looked down silently for a spell. Having taken his eyes off the crowd, he seemed focused on the podium. After a bit, looking up he replied, “I’ll share with you two of the three.”
The answer was much longer than we expected. He shared of a deal his parents made with him to pay for his first year of college if he would attend a Bible college back in New Jersey. With no aspirations for ministry, he reluctantly agreed to abide by their wishes. While there he played sports and developed a relationship with the coach. After his first year of college, he returned home to work the summer at a job that was anything but pleasurable. Everyday he detested the job just a bit more than the day before. Then near the end of the summer, with no plans to return to the Bible College he received a letter that simply read, “Bruce, why don’t you come back?” So, he did.
Somewhere during his time there, he had heard a speaker that moved him. He publicly shared with others at the conclusion of the presentation, “I am going to go where ever that man goes and study under him.” The man Bruce was so impressed with was none other than Howard Hendrix, President of Dallas Theological Seminary.
Bruce did not only make it to seminary, but to Dallas Theological Seminary. He sat under the tutelage of Howard but did not only listen to his message. He studied the man himself. Watching every move, every gesture, every twinkle in his eye as he delivered his message. Bruce made similar notes of other professors, ministers and speakers as well.
But then there was a subject matter that Bruce determined that he wanted to know. He wanted to know that subject so well that he went beyond course work to conduct his own intensive study. Then one day Howard returned a paper that Bruce had written with a personal note of encouragement, “Bruce, you will undoubtedly become one of the foremost authors on the subject in years to come. I look forward to reading your work.”
After his presentation before the teachers, I slipped back up to ask another question or two. I had attended a church in Dallas where the deacons and elders were mostly faculty at DTS, and we enjoyed sharing of my pastor Don Geiger that he remembered.
Somewhere in the mix I returned to ask him about the depth of his relationship with Howard. He flat shut down the thought that I had believing he had a rich relationship with Howard. “No, he said, Howard was not a relational person. I reminded him of what he shared and he reiterated that he did have a great relationship with his coach during Bible college. It was simply the note on his paper that became a driving motivation for Bruce to achieve. It was because his mentor Howard believed in him.
Given all this, I question the issue of mentoring. Who is it that you have chosen to “mentor” you? WHY? What have they achieved? Describe their persona or charisma. Why in the world would you want to be like them? What do you possibly hope to achieve? Bruce chose a person, his coach, who had persona and charisma enough to put Bruce in the right place at the right time to be exposed to Howard.
Then he placed himself at the feet of the master, one who had reached the pinnacle of academics, communication, and the ability to motivate others.
Before you place yourself at the feet of anyone with the intent that they lead you, evaluate where they will take you. Don’t settle for a more convenient mentor. Make the effort to find and acquire the very best. One who can lead you to the ultimate advancement you desire. But also ask if they can bring more out of you than you even imagine of yourself. I’m not sure that Bruce saw himself as the leader that Howard described on his paper, until he read the note. Then Bruce aspired to be everything his mentor envisioned.
You may have to have that one person like Bruce who puts you in the right place at the right time. I encourage you to listen to those you value. However, recognize that if you are looking to reach a pinnacle, then those who have gone before will be the best mentors. Request an introduction. Ask for their willingness to mentor. Study them and what they share. Watch what they do. When you find the right mentor and follow with wisdom, you will excel and most certainly Celebrate Success!