If you’re a leader in mission you know the central importance of making disciples. And you know that it’s an ongoing, lifelong process that is not a solo effort but requires partnership with others in grace-filled relationships. But as you go about discipling others, by what means are you paying attention to your own need to keep growing and developing as a disciple of Jesus? If we neglect this we become dishonest – failing to practice what we preach.
There are several elements to a well-rounded lifestyle of discipleship covering praxis, prayer, relating in community, learning and more. Among these elements, mentoring stands out as a powerful, multifaceted way of integrating all those elements into a coherent approach to life under God. Good mentoring keeps coming back to two fundamental questions:
- How is God working in your life to transform you into the person he has in mind for you to be?
- What are you going to do to cooperate with the work that God is doing in you?
What do mentors do?
Mentors help us remember and learn from the moments we are at our best. They help arrest the drift, pulling us back to our most noble intentions, our deepest connection with God, our most perceptive insights, our most gracious dealings with others, our most Spirit-filled service.
Mentors help us to integrate all kinds of helpful discipleship input from various sources into a coherent approach to a healthy, sustainable lifestyle of loving and serving God.
Mentors ask good questions, listen carefully, point us to relevant Scripture, give us important feedback, help us to set goals for ourselves and plan action steps, pray for us, challenge us, encourage us, hold us accountable, cheer us on.
Mentors help us to identify and promote the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
What is your part?
While it is a potentially powerful sort of relationship, there is a critical point in approaching mentoring to bear in mind: It’s your life and it’s your decision to follow Jesus and accept his call to be a leader in his mission. You must take responsibility for yourself. Your mentor cannot do this for you, and he or she must not take charge. You must take the initiative to press on as a disciple and put in the effort to discern God’s work and determine your response to it. Then a mentor can come alongside and help.
What happens in a mentoring session?
The best mentoring conversations are referenced directly to your unique, real life context. Both the content and process of sessions should be designed around you as an individual. I don’t believe there is an effective one-size-fits-all approach, nor any standard, pre-set curriculum that is going to meet a particular leader’s needs. However, in a flexible way effective mentoring conversations do have the following shape:
- Review. Each mentoring session should pick up where the previous one left off, revisiting the insights and intentions covered last time. This maintains accountability, continuity and momentum for growth and development.
- Discernment. You should be encouraged to think carefully about relevant events in your experience and your own responses to those events to gain insights about how God is working. Engagement with the Bible and the practice of prayer are so valuable here.
- Encouragement. Inner resources of hope, courage, determination and confidence should be nurtured to provide the emotional wherewithal to bring good ideas to action.
- Planning. Working with insights gained through review and discernment, and sifting through options generated in the conversation, your mentor should help you to choose a specific plan of action that will be reviewed in the next session.
Some leaders I know have become wary and even a bit cynical about mentoring after having had an experience with a mentor who was not able to keep up with them. We need to recognise that, as leaders, the demands we place on our mentors is greater than the average person, and the stakes are much higher. This means that you may need to look long and hard to find the right person and you may even need to be prepared to engage a professional mentor who gives significant time and attention to this ministry.
I’m interested to know your experience in looking for a mentor who can serve you well in the ways described above. Are such people becoming easier to find? Have you had success in helping your mentor understand what you need as a leader? Is mutual, peer mentoring working for you? Please leave your comments here so we can benefit from your perspective.