What is spiritual mentoring? The answer to this question is needed more than ever because the need for spiritual mentoring has never been greater. Two years of Covid has upended our lives and many are seeking the help of safe, wise, and loving friends to help process their lives, to revisit key questions like “Who is God?”, “Who am I?”, and “What is our purpose?”. But many are hesitant to assume the responsibility of being spiritual mentors because they fear that to be one is to be some kind of spiritual super-guru. Therefore, they feel they don’t qualify and they shy away from providing spiritual mentoring. As a consequence, they also shy away from getting training to be better mentors.
It doesn’t help that there are many terms in use for the practice of guided spiritual formation and that many use the same term with different nuances. Therefore, I think it is better to work with definitions rather than names. Here, Anderson and Reese are helpful when they say:
Several different names have been used across the centuries for the concept of the mentoring relationship that gives attention to the development of one’s spirituality. What we are calling spiritual mentoring has also been referred to as spiritual counsel, spiritual direction, soul-friendship, discipling and simply spiritual guidance. We have chosen the term spiritual mentoring for any of these forms of guided spiritual formation that are practiced today. These relationships may be formal or informal, structured or unstructured, hierarchical or mutual, but they will have one function: they are processes of spiritual formation by which one person becomes a spiritual guide for one or several others. (Keith R. Anderson & Randy D. Reese, Spiritual Mentoring [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999], 35–36.)
I don’t think “spiritual counsel, spiritual direction, soul-friendship, discipling and simply spiritual guidance” are identical. There are overlaps in what the different practices do but they are not identical in what they are trying to do and even how they do it. Which is why it is more helpful to stick to a definition for spiritual mentoring. Based on Anderson and Reese’s definition, I understand spiritual mentoring to be:
“An intentional, relational process for spiritual formation by which one person becomes a spiritual guide for one or several others.”
Expounding from this definition, we have the following parts:
Intentional: There is an understanding that there is a goal to the process — growth in Christlikeness.
Relational: This is key. Spiritual mentoring is not primarily a programme, though a programme may provide some structure to the exercise. Mentoring is a personal relationship between mentor and mentoree.
Process: To be mentored is to be in a journey of growth. We only fully arrive when we see Jesus face to face, but we are in a process where we become more like Him.
Spiritual formation: The goal of spiritual mentoring is to help people grow in Christlikeness. Hence the “spiritual” in spiritual mentoring is not to differentiate the process from “material” mentoring. It is a statement that we are helping others to grow in their life in Christ, in all areas of life.
One person: The heart of the mentoring process is not a book or a technique. It is the person of the mentor. He/she takes responsibility to guide the growth of the mentoree. The whole exercise must be based on God’s Word but it is actualised through the interaction between the mentor and the mentoree.
Spiritual guide: The mentor is primarily a guide. He/she doesn’t take over the mentoree’s life by micromanaging it. We understand it is the Holy Spirit that transforms lives. The mentor guides the mentoree in how he/she responds to the Spirit’s work in his/her life.
One or several others: In the past, the focus has been more on one-to-one mentoring. This has been very effective in shaping lives. But there is also value in mentoring groups where a mentor may guide the spiritual formation of two or three mentorees. This means that a mentoree has the benefit of a mentor and a mentoring community.
Therefore, whenever I or Graceworks speak about spiritual mentoring, this is what we mean. This is how we define it. Clearly there is much more that can be said. But this definition is our starting point.
I have stated in an earlier column that I dream of starting a school of mentoring. I feel this conviction more than ever — if not a school, then at least a mentoring training programme. I have already started conversations with some key practitioners of spiritual mentoring here in Singapore as to what such a programme should look like. I sense the urgency because I am also receiving many invitations both to walk with people and to train others to do mentoring. I am swamped and I can’t do this alone. I know there are many others out there who are already doing good work in this area, but I am now talking to and praying with friends to see if there is something unique we can bring to the table. If you have any thoughts on this, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I close with my guiding verses from Paul:
He 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. (Col 1:28–29 NIV)