Mentoring as a Way of Life
“God has so ordained things that we grow in the Spirit only through the frail instrumentality of one another.” -Alan Jones
Have you ever longed for a mentoring relationship that results in positive life change, but find the thought a bit daunting? How do you start the relationship? Who should you approach? You’ve tried for months to locate a mentor—a sage, someone wiser or more mature—but all the people you’ve approached are too busy or somewhat intimidated by the prospect. Yet you’re left with the nagging feeling that as a Christ follower, you are not meant to go it alone. Every time you read the words of “The Preacher” in Ecclesiastes 4:9 – Two are better than one, something resonates deep inside, and the longing for a mentoring/discipling relationship rekindles.
That longing harmonizes with who we are as divine image-bearers. The Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are in an eternal relationship of delight and dependence. When we mirror that relationship of love with others, a sense of wellbeing emerges, a feeling that this is how we were meant to be. The desire to be in a mentoring partnership also harmonizes with the nature of Christ’s church. It is a Body, where the members rely on each other, it is a Family, where warm relationships are the norm, and it is a Community, where the biblical one-anothers flow.
Consider a sample of those one-anothers for a moment. We are to love one another—to love and be loved (John 13:34); to encourage one another daily—to affirm and be affirmed (Hebrews 3:13); to pray for one another—to pray and be prayed for (James 5:16); to honor one another—to honor and be honored (Romans 12:10); and to admonish one another—to admonish and be admonished (Colossians 3:16). Note the mutuality of those biblical commands. They are two-way relationships.
Seven years ago I realized that God was teaching me what I now call ‘mutual’ mentoring. Up to then I had what educator and author Lois Zacharay calls, “a sage-on-the-stage,” rather than a “guide-on-the-side” approach to mentoring. In other words, if I was more mature (sage like), my task was to locate a less mature person and invest in them. If I were less mature, my goal was to find a guru figure and sit at their feet. Through a relationship with a pastor friend of mine, Don Overton, I discovered the power of mutuality in a mentoring friendship. From day one of our lunch times together, God graced us with a two-way-street relationship. Here’s how Don describes our first meeting:
We chatted a bit, drank some coffee and my friend opened his life up to me. He gave me a window into his soul. In that first meeting he shared what God was showing him, a sin he was struggling with, and asked me to speak into his life. This really messed up my idea of mentoring. I thought he was the teacher and I was the student. It turned out that his intention was nothing less than a spiritual friendship that flowed in both directions.
Sometimes, when I talk about mutual mentoring, people say, “Oh you mean peer-mentoring (two people at approximately the same stage of life, or maturity mentoring each other)? It includes that, but it is more of an attitude than a maturity stage. An attitude that says, “I’ve come to listen to you, and the Holy Spirit through you. I’ve come to learn from you, and want to be real with you. I’m a work in progress, so please come and grow with me.” I’ve found that so freeing—not just because the street opens up, but the number of people I can be in a mentoring relationship grows as well. Most people perceive me as a seasoned mentor. However, Don’s friendship taught me two great lessons: When I come to listen and learn, rather than tell and teach—to listen to the Holy Spirit through each other, life transformation begins to take place.
Secondly, we are all a little further along the road in some things than the other person (Don, for example, from day one of our relationship helped me to think more strategically about life and ministry, and I was able to provide some biblical insights).
So, if you’re convinced that mentoring should become a way-of-life, how do you go about it? Here are three suggestions:
1. Pray and Look Around
Spiritual mentoring, of the sort I’m describing, needs to be orchestrated from heaven. Ask God to lead you to people he is “giving” to you. That’s how Jesus talked about the twelve ordinary men in whom He invested. In His prayer, just before being crucified, He said, I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me (John 17:9). Jesus had the crowds, His 70 followers He sent out to witness, His 12 disciples, His three trusted friends (Peter, James and John), and from time to time His one (John calls himself “the disciple Jesus loved” – I suspect most of the others thought they were also his favorite). So look around. Who is your one, who are your three and your twelve? Consider people that God has already given you an affinity with. Approach them.
2. Learn to Linger
For mentoring to become a transformational way-of-life, you will need to learn the lost art of lingering—to slow down, and make time to meet with the person God may be giving you. Linger long enough for an authentic spiritual relationship to morph into a God-given transformational friendship.
3. Free Up
It’s freeing to flow into Spirit-directed relationships. It’s also freeing to release some of our preconceived notions of what mentoring is all about. Apart from my godly grandmother mentoring me (we never talked about our relationship that way), the first person that intentionally mentored (he used the word ‘discipled’) me required a commitment to meet every week at the Auckland Harbour Bridge at 6:00 am to pray, review memory verses and do a Bible Study. I lived 40 minutes from there and was expected to have a one-hour ‘quiet time’ before leaving! We met that way for 6 years. Now I’m eternally grateful to that man. However I’ve learned to take a more relaxed approach to mentoring. Sometimes I meet a person once, and God forges a deep bond. We might catch up in a month again. Sometimes that’s as far as it goes. At other times we become mutual mentor-friends. On other occasions I meet once a week for two months with someone, and then review. Allow the Holy Spirit to direct you into the form of mentoring that best fits your stage of life at the moment.
For mentoring to become your new way-of-life, you need to be convinced that this is more than a gift that a few people have—to realize that intentional spiritual friendships are one of the primary ways that God wants to transform you. If you are convinced, you need to take action, to pray that God would open your eyes to see those he is giving you, and to linger long enough for spiritual friendships to develop over time.