For the last month or so I’ve been particularly focused on issues of leadership development. I’ve been considering the respective roles of mentoring, coaching, and training. These are hot topics these days in many areas and it’s been difficult to know what material to consider. My special interest has been to view distinctively Christian perspectives on these areas, and in particular to see how they can be a help to Christian ministry. I’m discovering there is much to be learned in these areas, but we need to carefully sift the helpful from the not so helpful. Mentoring Matters by Rick Lewis is full of practical wisdom and helpful advice that’s been tested by experience. However, I believe there’s a theology driving this book that is actually unhelpful.
Lewis offers this definition of mentoring:
Within intentional, empowering, unique relationships, Christian mentoring identifies and promotes the work of God’s Spirit in others’ lives, assisting them to access God’s resources for their growth and strength in spirituality, character and ministry. (p20)
All parts of this definition are important to the author. Mentoring relationships should be tailored, focused on supporting and equipping the mentoree, for their good. The focus is on being, more than doing, and seeking to allow God’s agenda to shape the mentoree from the inside out. They’re more than a friendship because they’re grounded on an agreement between the two parties about the purpose and shape of the relationship.
Mentoring Matters shows mentoring to be an effective way of addressing many problems faced by today’s Christian leaders. The mentor can provide help in encouraging personal spiritual health; non-judgmental friendship and support; safe peer relationships in which to discuss vocational issues; accountability from a person outside the organisation with no positional power; help in integrating the theory and practice of ministry through reflection; and help in reaching specific goals for change.
Lewis argues that everyone in ministry would benefit from a mentor outside their particular church or organisation. Indeed, the advance of God’s kingdom can be helped by the focus on developing more leaders, more frequently, of a better quality, and who will last longer. He provides evidence that in Australia there are as many ex-ministers as there are current ministers and argues that good mentoring can change this sad equation.
A strength of Mentoring Matters lies in how it distils so many different factors in mentoring with clarity and simplicity. I plan to write up a number of checklists for myself based on the material in this book. A good example is this ‘rough guide’ to help new mentors quickly get their bearings on pages 111-118. This is also summarised on the Mentoring Matters website.
Build genuine relationship
Spiritual mentoring is more than an arrangement set in place for pragmatic purposes and cannot be conducted from an emotional distance. An environment of mutual positive regard, respect and heartfelt care is required.
Establish mentoree responsibility
Mentoring is effective only when the mentoree takes responsibility for his or her own spiritual growth and health. There is absolutely no domination or control in healthy mentoring.
Prioritise the inner life
While the whole person is of interest, development of the inner life is fundamental to spiritual mentoring. Our doing flows out of our being. The principal means of bringing about deep inner change is the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the mentoree.
Put aside other agendas
Good mentors do not see mentorees as a means for achieving a preconceived agenda. The mentor’s concern is for the spiritual growth of the mentoree, beginning where the person is at, and working toward what God has designed them to be and do.
Discern God’s work
Mentoring involves a process through which two people together seek to understand what God is doing and saying. This does not need to be an obscure, mystical process. Thoughtful conversations linked with prayer comprise an effective process.
Facilitate reflection and goal-setting
Encouraging reflection and goal-setting in mentoring is aimed at achieving experience-based learning. Reflection turns experience into learning, on the basis of which mentorees can construct and commit to goals and to action steps.
Provide positive accountability
Mentorees set their own goals and action steps and give their mentor permission to hold them accountable for following through on those commitments. Accountability is an opportunity to prove progress rather then to expose failure.
Both mentors and mentorees will get the most out of mentoring sessions only if they are prepared to review points covered previously, complete any undertakings made, and prepare good questions for one another.
Pursue mentoring energetically
Be deliberately proactive about your mentoring relationship. If mentoring is not made a priority it will certainly be edged out by the huge number of competing demands on a leader’s time and energy.
Encourage mentorees to mentor others
Where a mentoree takes on the role of serving another future leader, the benefit they have received through being mentored is more firmly established in their own life.
Learn from Jesus
Spiritual mentoring is a Biblical process, modelled most perfectly by Jesus. He mentored his disciples by who he was, what he said and what he did. The gospels comprise a mentoring handbook useful to the most experienced mentor.
So what are my main concerns with this book? And how important are they?
A key theme running through this book is the idea of discerning God’s particular will for the mentoree. Mentoring is seen as a specific journey of helping the mentoree to work out where they are, where God wants them to go, and how they can get there. This has to do with discovering what God’s Spirit is doing in their life. An earlier cover of the book describes the book as Identifying and promoting the work of God’s Spirit in the lives of Christian leaders. This has now changed to Building strong Christian leaders. Avoiding burnout. Reaching the finishing line. I’m not aware that the inside of the book has changed at all. My guess is that the new cover has been designed to appeal to a broader audience and to focus on the outcomes of mentoring.
Am I concerned with this emphasis on identifying and promoting the work of God’s Spirit? Am I one of those evangelical Christians ‘who don’t really believe in the work of the Spirit’, ‘who are all head and hands and no heart’?
Let me try to communicate clearly! The work of God’s Spirit must be central in the life of the mentor and mentoree. No equivocations. If we’re not on about God’s work in people, then we’re wasting our time. No amount of mentoring will be of any eternal benefit unless God’s Spirit is at work. Therefore, I believe it is critically important to identify and promote the work of God’s Spirit in the life of the Christian leader.
It’s what the author understands this to mean and his suggested methods for discovering and discerning the will of God that I take issue with. Lewis writes that Godly mentors are attuned to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Out of a deep desire to live a life pleasing to God, they are able to discern the ‘still, small voice’ and are in the habit of following that leading. (p125) While saying that tuning into the Spirit’s work doesn’t have to be a mystical experience, the overall message and vibe of this book is that it is. There is very little mention of the Bible as a source of discovering God’s will. In fact, there is very little Bible in this book at all. Its main appearance is in the chapter called an Ancient Art for a Post-Modern Context where various Bible passages provide part of the justification for mentoring today. Very helpful passages, by the way.
I worry that mentoring conducted along these lines could be unhelpful to the participants. It could lead to people believing they need to be looking for and responding to particular, personal, leadings of God’s Spirit, rather than concentrating on the given, revealed, sufficient, sword of the Spirit, the Bible. Over time the focus turns away from reading the Scriptures, that are able to make us thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17), to reading circumstances, weighing up feelings, or looking for God to speak in other ways outside of the Bible.
My concerns about this book are not so much with mentoring per se, as they are with a perspective on guidance implicit throughout. I would love to see much more in Mentoring Matters about opening the Bible together, searching the Scriptures, seeing God’s revealed plans, to discover what this means for our lives, ministries, and the options before us. A great model of this approach is offered in Don Carson’s book on the topic of prayer, called A Call to Spiritual Reformation. He reveals how his mentor patiently and carefully helped him to pray according to the will of God as they delved deeply into the Bible together. If you’re keen to work through what the Bible teaches about guidance, let me recommend you work carefully through any of the following books:
Decision making and the will of God by Garry Friesen
Just do something by Kevin de Young
Guidance and the voice of God by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne
If you’re serious about mentoring Christian leaders, then you will find much in Mentoring Matters that is helpful and practical. You will benefit from the emphasis on internal transformation, the priority on being before doing, and the focus on genuine relationships at the core of mentoring. But, let’s read with discernment, as we should with every book.