What we can learn from Joe Paterno

This is not going to be an article on football or the scandal that plagued Joe Paterno in recent days before his death, but rather a few things that I learned from an article in the USA Today written by Jack Carey.

Most people will remember Joe Paterno for his coaching longevity, his accomplishments on the football field or the scandal that eventually led to his dismissal from Penn State University. What stood out to me was something far different.

Joe Paterno had a mentor who believed in him. This belief was not just something that was said and never acted upon. The individual who mentored Paterno was a coach named Rip Engle. As the story is told in Carey’s article, Paterno had been accepted into law school, but while he was waiting graduation, Paterno was given the opportunity to be a part-time assistant under Engle working with the quarterbacks. Engle was later given the head coaching position at Penn State and was allowed to bring one assistant with him and that assistant was Joe Paterno. Paterno ended up succeeding Engle in 1966 and the rest of the story is history.

The part I am focusing on is that fact that Paterno was given a chance by someone who could help him and did help him succeed! Engle gave Joe Paterno a part time assistant job which ended up preparing him for the job that he held for 46 years. Not much was said in the article about the relationship between Engle and Paterno, but it was that key relationship and mentoring that undoubtedly took place between these two men that helped Joe Paterno become one of the most well-known college football coaches. Not many people know who Rip Engle is, but they know who Joe Paterno is!

If you are mentoring someone, what are you doing to make sure that they are advancing and progressing in their respective fields? Many professions require an internship and it is during those times that the greatest learning takes place because it is leaving the theoretical and the book learning and allowing them to put things into practice with hands-on learning. What good is a doctor, if they complete their classroom training, observe the more experienced doctors practice medicine, but then the student is given menial tasks and never allowed to do anything of substance that would allow him to eventually practice medicine and become a full-fledged doctor? What good is a lawyer that finishes law school and passes the bar exam, but is never allowed to argue a case?

I think that there is a big misunderstanding in mentoring. Mentoring is not just getting together, talking and listening, or just watching some experienced person perform various tasks within a certain field. Mentoring is spending time with people and letting them do some of the same tasks that the mentor would do. Mentoring is about making opportunities for the one being mentored so that they can grow and develop.

Too many times we can place too much stock in education. I am not discounting education in any way. I have a B.A , M.A. in Theology and a Master of Divinity, so I am not against education. I think too much emphasis is placed on education and too little on letting people learn hands on. I would not want a pilot flying a plane, if he hasn’t had the proper amount of classroom training along with time in the flight simulator and the right amount of flying hours. The balance here is education with practical training.

The same is true for pastoral ministry. We have enough people out there that are saying, “Watch what I do and learn from me”, but not enough pastors who are willing to take a risk and let people learn by doing.

I think the words of Mark Dever are so applicable in this context of mentoring,

God raises up young men who watch their life and doctrine closely and are gifted to teach his Word publicly. Hire them when they’re a cub. Let them chew things up around the house for a while, and you’ll have a lion that loves you for life! Young pastors make mistakes. But young pastors—if they’re called and equipped by God—can stay for a long time, and have deeply fruitful ministries for decades

Remember, not many people knew who Rip Engle was but they knew who Joe Paterno was. May we be people who not only mentor others but give others a chance to learn by doing and by making opportunities for them to do so!

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2 responses to “What we can learn from Joe Paterno

  1. Read your note – don’t be discouraged – God will give you a spot!

    I came to your blog from Jon Acuff’s site. He has created a tremendous forum for sharing our blogs and impacting more people with them.

    I hope my blog can be an encouragement to you also.

    I write it for encouragement and motivation daily.

    http://i-never-fail.blogspot.com

    Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to watching the connections grow!

    • Thanks Craig, I will stop by your blog sometime and read. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you will continue reading and commenting!

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