What can I do for you?

I was meeting with a friend recently in Atlanta when he took control of the conversation with a great question. Paul is the CEO of a small mission organization, and I get together with him every time I’m in town. I appreciate his wisdom and experience, and our conversations seem to be mutually beneficial, though I’m quite sure I get more out of it than he does. Anyway, the last time we met, he suddenly asked me, “What can I do for you?”

I sure wasn’t expecting the question, but I won’t say I wasn’t prepared. I knew I had an opportunity, so I asked him if he would be willing to be a mentor. Jim Collins suggests that every leader should have a “personal board of directors,” and I wanted Paul to be among that small group. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what it means or how it works, but he had some ideas. We’re going to talk monthly by phone in addition to our face to face visits.

I love that question. Of course, it’s not a new question. I skimmed Bruce Wilkinson’s Prayer of Jabez book a while ago and missed it. Only recently did I became aware that he recommends that question. Whenever he prays that God would expand his territory, he turns and asks the person immediately behind him, “What can I do for you?” It always leads to a ministry opportunity.

But it’s even older than that. Nehemiah had just been wrecked by news from Judea that Jerusalem was still lying in ruins. He prayed for days that God would do something and that the king would be favorable to him. When he finally got an opportunity to tell the king his heart, Artaxerxes responded with that question. Nehemiah was ready with a request.

I think that question is the key to mentoring. It opens the door between established leaders and rising leaders. It gets past the walls we set up to protect ourselves. It begins the unloading of wisdom and resources between the generations. There are a large number of established leaders who are willing to be mentors but don’t know how to get started. And young leaders who would love a mentor. Often the initiative comes from the latter, and that’s probably appropriate; I can’t imagine someone saying, “I’d like to mentor you.”

Setting up a mentoring relationship is like a dance. Someone has to take the first step. That question lowers the guard and starts the dialogue.

What can I do for you?

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