Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Now there is no denying the importance of this mathematician and natural philosopher to our modern world (I mean, he invented gravity for Pete’s sake…wait, that can’t be right). Anyway, did you notice in the above quote that he doesn’t give credit to only one person for helping him out? No, in addition to peers such as Edmond Halley and Isaac Barrow, we know that Newton was heavily influenced by some who came just before him, those such as Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, and Rene Descarte, as well as ancient sources like Aristotle and Euclid.

We might conclude that Isaac Newton did not have a mentor, but instead he seemed to enjoy a variety of people with varying competencies to aid in his own work.

A plurality of mentors is found in the Scriptures as well.

For instance, when encouraging Timothy toward disciple-making, the Apostle Paul writes, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses (plural) entrust to faithful men (plural), who will be able to teach others (plural) also” 2 Timothy 2:1-2. This is in addition to passages that remind Timothy about the influence of his family (2 Timothy 1:5) and other verses which reference the plurality of elders who laid their hands on him to affirm his gift (1 Timothy 4:14).

We rightfully associate Paul as a mentor in Timothy’s life, but he was not alone, and there were many others investing into this young pastor in Ephesus. Timothy (and many others described in the Bible) enjoyed a broad array of influencers and mentors. 

I am a huge baseball fan (Go Braves), and I am always fascinated at how teams use their bullpens. The bullpen is the group of relief pitchers that every team carries so that they can cover the innings that the starting pitcher cannot. The manager never knows ahead of time exactly which pitcher from the bullpen will be pitching in a game. Instead, he calls in the pitcher that is most appropriate to the situation.

If the starter is knocked out early, he will call on his “long-relief” pitcher to cover 3-5 innings. If the bases are loaded, the manager may call on the sinker-ball relief pitcher who can get a grounder to an infielder to start a double-play. If there’s a tough lefty at bat, the manager may call on a guy who is really good at getting out left-handed hitters. If it’s the 9th inning and his team is ahead, the manager will call in the closer to get the final three outs. The game situation determines which relief pitcher the manager puts in the game.

What works for a baseball team is also effective for pastors and Christian leaders when constructing their own bullpen of mentors. Unfortunately, I have learned this lesson the hard way. During seasons of my life, I have been overly dependent on a single mentor for every situation. And, I have found myself led astray because of it.

You know this already, but just because someone can really preach, it doesn’t mean that they have a great marriage. Or, just because someone has incredible parenting skills, doesn’t mean that they are theologically sound. Or, those who are wise with their finances aren’t necessarily as wise in other areas of life. And (most painfully), just because someone gives the appearance of integrity from a distance doesn’t necessarily mean that they are truly trustworthy or will provide good counsel.

More than once I have found myself feeling lost, angry, and confused after my only mentor passed away, or deconstructed, or disqualified himself, or melted down in some other way. Yet, God’s grace has sustained me and taught me a better way! 

Today, I enjoy my own bullpen of mentors that I can call on in different situations. I have one or two mentors that I have personally vetted in the following areas who have made themselves available to me as needed: 1. Health, 2. Marriage, 3. Parenting, 4. Theology, 5. Pastoring, 6. Preaching, and 7. Finances.

When I run into difficulty or have questions, just like the baseball team manager, I assess the situation and make the call accordingly.

Prayerfully consider which areas of life you need mentors and then construct your bullpen to support you for the long haul. And always be open to pitching for someone else’s bullpen as well!

 I was first introduced to a “bullpen strategy” for finding mentors nearly 15 years ago in a leadership coaching video at TheResurgence.com.

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John Welborn and his wife of 20 years, Ashley, have 3 children, Gracie (16), Eli (13), and Charlie (9). John holds degrees from Liberty University (B.S. in Biblical Studies and DMin in Evangelism and Church Planting) as well as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.A. in Ministry Leadership). He was an itinerant evangelist before becoming Lead Pastor of Crosslink Community Church in Harrisonburg, VA where he served for 7 years. In January of 2016, he became the Senior Pastor of Salem Church in Staten Island, New York and he is currently the Director of SEND Network in New York, the church planting arm of the North American Mission Board. His life’s passion is making disciples and multiplying churches. Pastor John’s hobbies include playing golf, riding motorcycles, traveling, and watching his favorite sports teams: the Georgia Bulldogs football team and the Atlanta Braves.

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