Recently a church asked me to teach them about mentoring. I was happy and excited to do this of course, mentoring being one of the key foci of my ministry at this stage of my life. I was particularly excited by this invitation because I was told that they have never had a mentoring culture in their church before. (This doesn’t mean that there was no mentoring taking place, but it may not have been recognised as such.) It was an invitation to introduce mentoring to the life of the church. This is what I really want to focus on in the promotion of the practice of mentoring in churches.
Just to be clear as what we are talking about, here is my working definition of mentoring:
Spiritual mentoring is an intentional, relational process for spiritual formation by which one person becomes a spiritual guide for one or several others.
I have found that people use different terms for the process of spiritual mentoring, so I’d rather stick to a definition than debate over names. But no matter what you call it, there are still too few people training others to do it.
I have been thinking of how I would do it if I were invited to introduce mentoring to a church/community. These are my present thoughts. I think I will do it in three stages, theology, strategy, and implementation.
I think it is critical for the church to understand that mentoring is not just another programme. It is based on two prime biblical convictions — that God wants His people to be fully mature in Christ and that the main way this happens is through relational shaping, nurturing maturity through intentional, loving guidance. It must be pointed out that guiding people to maturity through a loving relationship goes back to Jesus. It is what He taught and what He practised. Therefore, any journey to a mentoring culture must begin with clear biblical teaching. When folks understand what they are dealing with, they can decide if they want to buy in. I would prefer to share the theology of mentoring with the key leaders of a church. I have found that if the senior leaders are not in on this and delegate it to some pastor of mentoring, for example, it normally doesn't make much progress.
While the theology of mentoring is clear, each church or community is unique. Which is why I have hesitated to promote a one-size-fits-all programme. Once a church has decided to go down the road of mentoring, I would like to have conversations with the key leaders and the main stakeholders of this commitment. It is helpful for me to know what has been done before in the area of Christian education and spiritual formation, what is being done now, and what they hope to see happen. Once I get a better feel of the church/community, we can begin to explore more concrete plans as to how to put together a strategy for mentoring that would be appropriate for that community. If a key part of mentoring is recognising the uniqueness of the individual, we should also recognise the uniqueness of a given community. This process will take time; something that is not always appreciated in a day when we are addicted to speed. But I have noted that when churches rush to start mentoring, they have often not been successful.
Once an appropriate strategy has been decided on, we now come to the third stage of the journey — the actual implementation of the mentoring programme. Graceworks can help in the selection and training of the mentors, and the selection and preparing of the mentorees. If needed, we can recommend appropriate study materials. We can be available for consultations and troubleshooting. We can monitor the mentoring journey. I have found it helpful to hear from the mentorees after three to six months as to how the mentoring journey is going, what is working and what needs to be improved. Then we'll give feedback to the mentors to encourage them and to suggest ways they could tweak what they are doing to be more effective. There should be closer supervision in the early stages of the mentoring practice in a church. We often suggest that they start modestly with a few pilot groups. Our hope is that after a church has gone through one or two cycles of the mentoring programme, they should be able to run on their own.
In future, if I am invited to speak on mentoring, I will suggest the T-S-I approach. If content is all that is needed, I hope to put together a microlearning module on mentoring and those interested can get the content there. I would rather walk with churches and communities to help them integrate mentoring into the life of the church/community. That’s mentoring.