Last night we had the privilege of hosting a dinner for Tony Horsfall in our home. Of course we wanted this long-time practitioner of spiritual mentoring to say a few words about spiritual mentoring and this he did, after dinner. One of the main points he made was that the heart of spiritual mentoring is listening. This is because we believe that the one who actually transforms our mentoree is the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17–18) and a large part of mentoring is helping the mentoree grow in awareness of the work of the Spirit in his/her life. For that to happen the mentoree needs to process his or her own story. And for that to happen he or she needs someone else to listen to his or her narrative. Empathetic listening creates the space for that to happen.
Anderson and Reeses’ definition of spiritual mentoring is useful.
The spiritual mentor is one who comes alongside another for a period of time, brief or extended, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, for the explicit task of nurturing spiritual formation in the life of the mentoree. (Keith R. Anderson & Randy Reese, Spiritual Mentoring [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999], 50.)
They also tell us why listening is such a critical part of spiritual mentoring—what happens to the mentoree when he or she receives loving listening:
When I am listened to, probed, encouraged, challenged and helped to hear God’s voice, then the mentor has come alongside. (Spiritual Mentoring, 51)
It is critical to bear in mind that the end-goal of spiritual mentoring is helping the mentoree to mature in Christ. Horsfall pointed to key verses that help summarise what he is trying to do when he does spiritual mentoring.
He (Jesus) is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:28–29 NIV)
But listening is hard work. It is one way we carry our cross, because when we mentor we forget ourselves, we die to self, and focus on the one speaking. Horsfall reminds us:
To listen attentively or actively requires real concentration, and to be truly present to another demands that we be absent from ourselves for a period in order to focus on the other. (Tony Horsfall, Mentoring For Spiritual Growth [Abingdon, UK: Bible Reading Fellowship,2008], 39.)
Empathetic listening is hard work.
We also need to listen with discernment. We are specifically told to test everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21). While we offer our mentorees empathetic non-judgemental listening, we are also clear that mentor and mentoree alike are under the authority of the Word of God, and the journey to Christ-like maturity involves allowing our lives to be shaped by God’s Word.
Last night there was general agreement that there were more people seeking mentoring than there were people willing to be mentors. Tony Horsfall’s ministry and Graceworks hope to do our bit by continuing to champion spiritual mentoring and to help train spiritual mentors. On a personal level, I believe 2019 is a year I talk less and listen more, both to God, and to the people I journey with.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. . . (James 1:19 NIV)