This post is part of Mennonite Church USA’s #BeTransformed series.
Jewel Gingerich Longenecker is dean of Lifelong Learning and co-director of the Doctor of Ministry in Leadership program at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She attends Kern Road Mennonite Church in South Bend, Indiana, where she co-teaches the young adult formation class and leads the gifts discernment team. She is married to Fred Longenecker, and they are the parents of two adult children, Jenae and Jace.
When I was in my mid-thirties, one of my pastors, Mag Richer Smith, played a pivotal role in my leadership formation. One day, she shared with me that she had felt nudged by the Holy Spirit to encourage me to apply for a particular job. I was surprised to learn this, and with two young children at home, I wasn’t initially drawn to the idea of a new role. However, since she had asked me to consider it, and since she said she felt the Spirit speaking to her, I agreed to take a look at the job description. To my surprise, it sounded a whole lot like something I wanted to do. I was intrigued.
A few days later, on a bit of a lark, I submitted an application. Eventually, I got a call, inviting me to participate in a telephone interview with a four-person search committee. At that time, in 2001, group telephone interviews were unfamiliar to me, and I was intimidated by the notion of trying to make a compelling case for myself to four potentially scary people whose faces and reactions I wouldn’t be able to read. I was so intimidated, in fact, that I decided to withdraw from the process. I put in a call to the hiring manager to let him know I was pulling the plug, so to speak. However, he wasn’t in the office, so an assistant said he’d call me back.
That evening, I ran into Mag at a concert. She asked for an update on the job front.
After hearing me out, she said, “Jewel, what are you most afraid of? I really encourage you to stick with the process. Just take the next step and see what happens. Whatever happens, you can trust that God will be with you, and it will be alright.”
And so again, because of her encouragement, I changed course. When the hiring manager called me back the next day, instead of backing out, I shared that I was uncertain about doing a phone interview but that I was willing to give it a try.
Long story short, I made it through that phone interview, several email questions and, eventually, in-person interviews, and ended up taking the job. The job became a vocation and lifelong passion that has allowed me to participate in “educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world” at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary for over 20 years. Looking back, I’m so glad I’ve had this opportunity! Those conversations with Mag changed my life.
I will be forever grateful to Mag for her mentoring work in listening to the Spirit, noticing and calling out my gifts, and encouraging and empowering me to trust God enough to do things that scared me. I admire Mag for her firm belief that God still speaks, for her commitment to contemplative practices that help her to hear God’s voice, and for bothering with and nurturing younger people into leadership.
For all of us, a mentor’s guidance and accompaniment help to make transformation possible. If you are a leader, regardless of your age, it’s not too soon — or too late — to get started in offering mentoring support to the next generation of emerging leaders.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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