by John*, Entrust staff member, Eastern Europe
I see myself as the “non-mentor” mentor because I probably do not follow many of the “rules” for mentoring. I would place myself in the Doug Coe and Dick Halverson school. I met these men—both respected leaders in American evangelicalism—many years ago when I was involved in a prayer breakfast ministry. They have significantly shaped my ideas about mentoring with their focus on concepts like “be with,” have no agenda other than Christ, be someone who will “walk together” with the other person.
My model is Jesus and the twelve, taken from Mark 3:14. “Jesus chose twelve to be with him…” As they walked through the normal, routine, ordinary stuff of life, Jesus discipled or, as we would say today, mentored them. Unlike Jesus and the twelve, we do not now live together or walk the roads of our country together, but I try to spend time with students and young pastors.
Various words or metaphors come to mind for mentoring: “be available to,” “be a friend in Christ” or an “older brother in the faith.” Theology students and pastors already have enough information. What they need and really desire is someone who will listen to them, encourage them and, when needed, offer some input. Recently, for instance, I met with a young pastor who lamented the lack of support from anyone in the church. The ministry was going well, but this person felt alone and isolated.
I try to avoid an agenda with the person with whom I am meeting. No pre-set outline, I trust the Spirit will direct and then make myself available to and for them. Sometimes, I may pick up a string of thought or an issue from a previous conversation or come back to a specific need. I try not to force my program on our time together, but rather, to let them set the agenda and to encourage and love them in Christ.
For those I mentor, I want to help them think like Christ, feel like Christ (at their deepest levels and affections), so they then act and live like Christ. The ultimate aim is Christ-likeness, the restoration of the image of God.
I have found an informal setting is often more productive. In a formal setting, a person’s guard is up, the outline is set, spontaneity is reduced, and real life is minimized. In this setting, it seems to be more mentor-centered. In contrast, an informal context offers a more relaxed, guard down, agenda open, often spontaneous, closer to real life situation. When it is not planned, frequently our time together is more open. When I am not trying to connect, I often connect more deeply. Mentoring times together become more like conversation with a friend. They are person-centered. “How are you?” or “What’s going on?” types of questions flow more easily. In my experience, these questions open the door to deeper conversations than when I have a formal, set meeting “to mentor” someone, and are usually more fruitful.
Let me offer a few examples.
Hallway conversations present a wonderful opportunity to mentor students. Last semester, a seemingly casual conversation with a student about finishing a paper three days before the deadline turned into a meaningful conversation about time management, forethought and honoring God, and how she might use this to mentor other students, who are excessively stressed due to poor planning and pulling late nights. This hallway conversation then set up a longer and deeper discussion about calling, marriage and ministry.
More recently a student meandered past my door fresh from the dentist, gums and jaw still Novocaine-numb, slightly slurring their speech. We didn’t have a hugely “spiritual” conversation, but we did talk about the stuff of life, teeth and dentists, fiancé and wedding plans, and their life together thereafter.
Local coffee shops provide another venue for formative talks. What I thought would be a quick conversation with one person, just to touch base, turned into one of the deepest, most significant conversations I have ever had about being a child of God, fully forgiven and totally accepted. Sacred ground over an espresso.
I close with the words from an Entrust colleague, Al Stirling, now home in heaven. When parting company with someone he cared about and cared for, he would say one of two things; “I believe in you” or “I’m cheering for you.” His words have become my words. It’s my way of saying, “I care about you and I want you to do well. Go in the strength of the Lord.”
*The author remains anonymous to protect the confidentiality of mentoring relationships.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2018 Engage.