There is no doubt that our parents have the greatest impact on how we turn out as human beings. How could it be any different? They spend the most time with us in our formative years. They are God’s personal gifts to us, his agents of development, to guide us to be the people he wants us to be. But next to them, who has had the most profound influence on your life? Who are your life mentors?

The most famous mentor in our culture would have to be Yoda, the little green Jedi master who assisted Luke Skywalker to discover the Force. What’s your favorite Yoda statement? “Try not! Do or do not. There is no try.” “When you look at the Dark Side, careful you must be, for the Dark Side looks back.” “Much to learn you still have, my young padawan.”

Mentors do not have to be alive. In fact, sometimes inspiration and guidance are more powerful from those who have passed away. You may not even have been aware of the impact a person was having on you at the time. But you know that that impact was there because you keep remembering the mentor’s advice, keep asking yourself, “What would he or she do now?”

Besides my parents, I have at least three. One is a seminary professor, Dr. Siegbert Becker. An avid Bible student with a near-photographic memory, Dr. Becker would accept challenges from students who would quote him the most obscure Bible passages. He could tell you which book of the Bible they came from as well as the chapter, and often the verse number too. His powerful example of faith and trust in God’s words has stood me in good stead, as well as his willingness to allow for a Christian’s personal judgment when Scripture has not spoken. When classmates of that era want to remember his voice, all we have to do is repeat one of his classic lines, “What does the Bible say?”

A second is Pastor Kurt Eggert. I sang in his choir, served as a pastoral assistant at his church, and was recruited to be the hymn text editor for the Christian Worship hymnal project of which he was the executive director. His passion for Christian music, breadth of experience, drive for excellence, and sheer musicality made him a joy to work for and with. A third is Dr. Gary Greenfield, the president who built Wisconsin Lutheran College. It was my privilege to serve on his board of regents for a dozen years. From Gary I learned how little I knew about development and fund-raising, but from him I also learned how to put a network of support together, how to dream big, have no fear, and set the bar high. Interestingly enough, Gary told me once that he had a mentor too—Jack Harris, former chief development officer for Carthage College and later the executive director of the Siebert Foundation. It made me feel better to learn that Gary himself didn’t always know everything.

So who are your mentors? May I challenge you right now to take a notepad and write down the names of the three people (besides your parents) who have most profoundly influenced your life? Have you thanked God for them recently? Have you found a way to pass on the wisdom you received from them?

One last thing. Mentors sometimes know that they are mentors, because someone has called them that and asked for their advice. I’m not aware of being anybody’s mentor, but you never know who’s watching and listening. I’m not sure if Siegbert, Kurt, and Gary knew how closely I was listening to them and watching them operate. They are all in heaven now. I hope they would be happy to know how much I remember of them. And appreciate them.