“This generation of undergraduates is different. They are hungrier for mentoring.” He was a senior lecturer at one of the main universities here in Singapore and he shared his observation during a lunch-time meeting of a group of Christians who meet regularly to support each other in their desire to live for Christ in their work. He said that many of his students would see him about work but would hang around to talk about life. He said he found himself often playing the role of a surrogate parent, which he found ironic since he was single and didn’t have any children of his own. I forgot to point out to him that he was in good company. The apostle Paul, who had so many spiritual children, was single. And then there was Jesus.
What I did was agree with him wholeheartedly. It’s not just universities. In the churches and parachurch groups I work with, I see the same hunger. I teach often on the topic of spiritual mentoring. At the end of my instruction there will invariably be those who will ask if I could be their mentor. Mentoring is time-intensive. I couldn’t even begin to respond to all the requests that come my way. Which is one of the reasons why I write and teach on the subject, and walk with those who I believe the Lord wants me to walk with. I am hoping that more will take the risk of walking with people to help them in their growth.
I found another great reminder of the nature of mentoring in our devotional reading for today.
In Paul Timothy found someone who could train him in his faith, someone who could love him and guide his growth while modelling a life lived in wholehearted service to Christ. We might call it mentoring or spiritual direction or holy friendship — whichever term we use, Timothy submitted to the discipline of guidance by opening his life to Paul and seeking growth through Paul’s influence as they worked together. (“A Mentoring Influence,” A Year With God, Eds. Richard J. Foster and Julia L. Roller, New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2009, Day 163.)
Reading Foster’s definition of mentoring, we are struck again by how demanding (love, guide, model) mentoring is and how critical it is in nurturing people.
But are today’s young people hungrier for mentoring than other generations? That has been my experience. Maybe Gen Y and younger are less cynical than their Gen X siblings and more willing to trust? Maybe more and more come from families where little parenting happens. There are those who have lost a parent to divorce. Some have lost a parent to death. And many come from families where dad and mum have to work long hours and have little time to nurture their children. So maybe Gen Y and younger do have a greater need for mentors. Or maybe they are just more upfront about it.
In truth we all need significant figures in our lives to love us, guide us and model life for us. Paul shares some of his spiritual parenting practices in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2: 7b-12, NIV)
Foster’s definition of mentoring above could have been an exposition of these verses. Don’t we all need people:
- to care for us
- to love us
- who delight to share their lives with us
- to model life for us
- who do not burden us
- to encourage us
- to comfort us
- to urge us to live lives worthy of God.
I am profoundly grateful to those who have given me these precious gifts. I know the power of mentoring because I know that who I am today, everything good in me, is first and foremost a gift from God, and a lot of that gift was delivered by people who invested their lives in me. Much of my motivation for mentoring is a desire to pass forward what I have received from my disciplers and my mentors.
So much of education, and that includes Christian education, focuses on instruction delivered through talks, lectures and sermons. And while I am all for talks, I am more convinced than ever — and I have been trying to do mentoring for more than thirty years now — that mentoring is indispensable in helping people to live lives that are “worthy of God.” I told my lecturer friend that he was doing critical work.