Have you heard of the term “reverse mentoring”? I first encountered it recently in a BBC article.
Traditional notions of mentoring are top down: senior leaders guiding lower-level staff. But the tides are changing — and younger workers are now teaching up. Senior executives with years of experience have valuable advice for junior employees — but their decades-younger colleagues also have lots to teach their higher-ups, too. That’s the idea behind ‘reverse mentoring’, a technique first developed in the 1990s to share technology skills. Now, in the pandemic era, the practice has fresh potential to help companies overcome the new challenges of hybrid working, diversity and inclusion, and unpick stereotypes that underpin generational divides. (Nicole Kobie, 14th November 2022)
Here is a more relational definition:
Reverse mentoring encourages employees to form “professional friendships” — regardless of seniority — to exchange skills, knowledge, and understanding.
The Graceworks team was excited when we read this. We have been working hard at how to help the different generations in church connect meaningfully. For some time now we have taught and trained churches to do young-adult mentoring. Usually, older mentors — Baby Boomers or Gen X’s — would be mentoring Millennials and Gen Z’s. We discovered that when this went well, both mentor and mentee reported that they were learning from the mentoring experience. This is as it should be because the best mentoring should be mutual. Perhaps it was time to make this mutuality intentional.
Reverse mentoring still implies a unidirectional experience, now bottom-up instead of top-down. We are aiming at both directions. So, perhaps this looks like intergenerational mentoring where mentor and mentee have interchangeable roles, with everyone helping everyone else to grow in maturity. Indeed, we think now is the time for intergenerational mentoring. In the past the older mentor had both knowledge and wisdom they could pass on to the mentee. But as my colleague Wei Hao reminds us, today the young have more learned expertise but the old have more lived experience, i.e., the old have more experience but the young have more knowledge. Instead of competing, young and old now have things to offer each other. Intergenerational mentoring, done well, could be one way we can facilitate this.
While the Bible is obvious in teaching the more traditional understanding of mentoring (2 Tim. 2:2), Timothy, probably around 30, is told that he shouldn’t allow people to look down on his youth. Instead, he is told to be an example to others, and that would include folks of all ages (1 Tim. 4:12). In intergenerational mentoring, Jesus is the main mentor, while both mentor and mentee alike are mentees of Jesus.
We are still working on how intergenerational mentoring will work out. This will be one of my key projects in the days ahead. I suspect that both young and old will struggle with this approach. The older mentors have to believe that there are things they can really learn from the young, and the young have to muster the courage to guide their seniors.
. . . more senior team members may not believe that their younger mentors have valuable knowledge to share, and they may not be open to receiving feedback from people with less experience. Conversely, newer team members need to feel confident enough to share their opinions, and they may be less willing to participate if they are afraid of giving feedback to more established colleagues.
But the Scriptures tell us to be humble and to consider others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). And Jesus actually tells us to learn from children (Matt. 18: 1–5)! We are called to submit to one another in Christ (Eph. 5:21). Of course this calls for humility all round. But think of the potential benefits — young and old helping each other to be their best for the Lord.
In recent times I have had the privilege to walk with younger folks, many of whom are around the age of 40. These are some of the best people I know. They inspire me and teach me so much. I see them as my peers and I feel very privileged to be allowed to walk with them. I often forget they are a couple of decades my junior in age. I am encouraged that saints like C. S. Lewis also had this mutuality in their mentoring. Writing about C. S. Lewis’ mentoring, Edward C. Sellner says:
Helping others discern their call and encouraging them to risk changes can affect the mentor as much as the person being mentored. In a very real way mentoring contributes to each person’s ongoing conversion and discernment of vocational response. This mutuality in mentoring, so often experienced by those who call themselves friends, affirms the most fundamental belief of all Christians. It is not Christianity in the abstract that saves, but Christianity in the flesh. (Mentoring, [Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2002], 59.)