In their classic book on Spiritual Mentoring, Anderson and Reese give us various dimensions of the practice of spiritual mentoring. They say that spiritual mentoring:

. . . cultivates recognition of the already present action of God in the life of the mentoree through the Holy Spirit. (Keith R. Anderson and Randy D. Reese, Spiritual Mentoring [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999], 50.)

In a more recent book, Andersen expands on this:

Spiritual mentoring is not the inventive, individual work of the mentor, pastor, teacher or friend who tries to make something happen in the life of another. It is, instead, the work of reading what the Author is already writing in the days and nights of the mentee. Different than other forms of mentoring, spiritual mentoring starts with faith in the presence and voice of the living God. (Keith R. Anderson, Reading Your Life’s Story [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2016], 40.)

In other words, it is not the spiritual mentor who is primarily responsible to effect change in his mentoree. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore a large part of spiritual mentoring is learning to recognise what the Spirit is up to in the life of the mentoree.

I thought of this aspect of spiritual mentoring when Bernice and I met up with Roger and Janice recently. Roger Capps was the person most instrumental in helping me realise that my vocation was to be a teacher of the Word of God.

After my ‘A’ levels (pre-university), I was already thinking of going to seminary in preparation for ministering full time in church. Dad and mum convinced me that I should prepare for a secure job and serve God as a committed layman. They had suffered much during World War 2 and wanted their only son (and possible grandchildren) not to have to struggle to make ends meet. After all, they said, even the apostle Paul had a regular profession — tentmaker — while he served as a missionary.

My theology wasn’t that nuanced then. God does call people to serve in the marketplace. But there was the matter of my personal assignment. What was God calling me to do? Listening to my parents (this was the default response of my generation), I applied to the University of Singapore and, by some miracle, got a place in dental school. (If I applied today with those same grades, I wouldn’t even be on the waiting list.) I thought my life was settled. I would be a dentist and serve God in some lay capacity.

But throughout dental school, I continued to be concerned for the church. People were being won to the Lord but the quality of Bible teaching and preaching in most churches I knew was poor, so God’s people were not growing in Christ. For some reason this really bothered me. (I have since learnt that the Lord gives different burdens to different people.) I was even upset with Christ. After all, He was the Lord of the church. It was His responsibility to care for His church and that included calling out the pastors and Bible teachers the church needed. Why was He not doing so? Why was He failing in this key responsibility?

Then came the night that was to change my life. It was my final year of dental school. I was back in Penang on holiday. After prayer meeting one evening, a group of us adjourned to Gurney Drive for supper. Roger Capps was also in that group. Sometime that evening I turned to Roger and asked the fateful question: “Why wasn’t Jesus calling out more of His people to serve as pastor-teachers when the need was so obvious?” Roger’s answer was to change my life. “The Lord is calling but His people are not responding. You, for example.” Roger assures me that he is not always so direct. But that evening he was and it was a prophetic word that would change the whole trajectory of my life.

Looking back on that exchange that happened so many years ago (1977), it is clear to me now that Roger was just calling out what the Spirit had already been saying to me for some time. It wasn’t Roger who influenced me to enter the pastorate. It was the Spirit, God Himself. As a good mentor, Roger helped me recognise “the already present action of God”.

Bernice and I are committed to mentoring, encouraging and equipping others to mentor. But we are both clear that it is God who changes lives, not mentors. The mentor is a catalyst, a servant of the Lord who seeks to help the mentoree recognise the hand of God in his or her life. The need for spiritual mentoring is more critical than ever. But we need mentors who understand that God is the primary mentor.