Updated: Nov 18, 2019
One of the greatest classics of literature, The Odyssey, was written almost 3000 years ago by the great poet Homer. The story is about a guy named Odysseus who went on a long journey, leaving his baby boy in the care of his friend, Mentor. For the next 20 years, Mentor encouraged, fathered, counselled and advised Telemachus until he reached maturity, at which time his dad got back from being away. (Might have been some counselling needed in that family!)
Though the rightness of Odysseus’ decision is highly debatable, the effect that Mentor had on the boy he guided into manhood is a great illustration of the value and importance of people like Mentor in the life of every leader, no matter what level they’re at. Great singers have voice trainers, great sportspeople have trainers too. No matter how good you already are, it stands to reason that one of the best ways to improve your gifts and talents is to connect with someone who can help you become even better. We could all do with someone on the outside of our lives to give us some insight and encouragement for the way forward.
Mentoring is a passion of mine. Thirty years of working in church and leadership structures has convinced me that it’s one of the primary methods of building the Church. When someone with experience and a big picture vision for the future commits to walk with someone else through an aspect of their journey to help, guide, encourage, challenge, facilitate and strengthen them, not only are both their lives changed, but the future is radically altered.
Mentoring is particularly great for developing leaders. It was the model Jesus chose to incarnate His heart into the world. He picked 12 guys, all of whom had issues, (so having issues obviously isn’t a disqualifier) and proceeded to work with them with the specific purpose of establishing the Church. And He didn’t just spend His time on the 12; in fact hundreds of men and women hung around Him throughout His three years of ministry to be empowered for the future Church sake. By that process, ordinary people became the incarnation of Jesus Christ – His body in the world.
From where we stand this model for the implementation of such a phenomenally important mission seems quite clearly unstable, yet this was how He transformed a disenfranchised and fragmented group of people into the institution we know as the Church. Throughout the following two millennia, mentoring has been the vehicle through which the spiritual experience, insight and wisdom of one generation has been passed onto the next.
We are here now because of how they engaged then.
Mentoring has been around for a very long time. It was how Moses raised and equipped the new (and very different from himself) leader, Joshua. Elijah mentored Elisha, Elisha was mentoring Gehazi, Paul mentored Timothy, Silas, and many others. Priscilla and Acquilla mentored Apollos. Many incredible leaders have made fantastic use of their lives by engaging with rising leaders with the intention of leaving as their legacy a new generation equipped and empowered to function as great and effective leaders.
Professor Bobby Clinton, a leading teacher at Fuller Theological Seminary until his retirement, has written and lectured brilliantly for most of his life on the subject of leadership. According to Clinton, mentoring is not only vital in the process of developing a good leader, but it is imperative for that good leader to train and develop others to replace her or him. This series is a blend of what I have learned by experience over the last 30 years of leading, and what I have gained through studying Bobby Clinton’s work.
WHAT IS A MENTOR?
We tend to think of a mentor as someone who is going to take the time to input my life, yet mentoring goes more than one way. It can and should go four different directions. Below is an overview of the basics of mentoring, which I will develop as we go on in this series.
MENTOR – This is the most popular one, the one we all want. To have a good mentor is one of the most valuable gifts of your life. If the mentor is truly engaged with the mentee and has their well being at heart, the relationship will be of irreplaceable value.
MENTEE – This is the person/people you are mentoring. The truth is, we all are much more knowledgeable and gifted than we give ourselves credit for, especially when it comes to taking someone under our wing. The opposite side of being mentored is being willing to give aspects of your life and experience to someone else for a period of time to help them become something greater than they might otherwise be without your encouragement. In other words, don’t just look for someone to mentor you, look for someone you can mentor as well.
INTERNAL PEER MENTOR – This is the peer who is in a similar position to you and who operates within your context. You share the same ethos and the same colleagues and general challenges. It’s amazing how much you can contribute to a peer if neither of you are playing a one-up-manship game but sincerely desire the best for each other.
EXTERNAL PEER MENTOR – This is the peer who has a similar role but in a different context to you. You may both be pastors but in different church networks, or one may work with youth in schools and the other in a youth counselling setting. You will have a different perspective in many ways, but you also share many similar challenges. The insight you can give each other in open, honest friendship can be invaluable for your personal development as a leader.
These four points are the basis of mentoring. Few of us have all of these people in place in our lives, but often we don’t realise that we have do have some of them operating already. A mentor doesn’t have to be an all-seeing, all-knowing spiritual giant, they just need to be ahead of you in the issues you want to grow in, and be willing to give you some of their time and wisdom for a season.
SEASONAL – It’s important to understand that mentoring is seasonal. Someone may mentor you in one aspect of life, but have very little input in other areas. In the same way you need different clothing for different seasons and different occasions, you also need different types of mentoring for different settings and seasons. At times either the mentor or the mentee may try to hold on to the relationship past the season, but if God is changing the season, holding on can be counterproductive in the worst possible way.
So, that’s the intro – next week we will look at: