At the conclusion of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the lead female character, Rey, realizes something unique about herself. She has a presence and a power she doesn’t fully understand or know how to harness. To reach her full potential, she knows she will have to forfeit the familiarities of home to learn from experienced Jedis and masters. She needs a relationship with a knowledgeable person willing to help her and train her. She needs a mentor.
New missionaries benefit immensely from the same sort of wise direction from those who have gone before them. Mentors listen, observe, and interject seasoned perspective. They pray for, support, encourage, and help shape identity. They can accelerate maturity. A mentor’s guidance provides much-needed wisdom that can lead to godly character and effectiveness in ministry.
Mentors Can Literally Shape the Future
Mentorship figured prominently in the apostle Paul’s approach to bringing others to greater maturity in Christ: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9 ESV).
Before I was sent overseas as a full-time missionary, an older man met with me every other week for two years. He listened to my dreams and goals as well as my frustrations and challenges. His insight into my life and ministry continue to shape my view of influence and leadership. A humble and godly man, he knew that he had not arrived. His continual desire to learn and grow was inspiring. As I reflect back on that time and consider how I, too, can be an effective mentor, here are five key fundamentals I have observed.
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Five Key Fundamentals of Effective Mentoring
Any new relationship takes time to develop trust. Shared experiences, dreams, and goals will shorten the distance between two people. Physical distance need not be a limiting factor in mentorship relationships. Technology does offer new avenues for connectivity and availability. Still, there is no replacement for face-to-face conversations and shared experiences.
Good mentors strive to make shared times together happen as often and as regular as possible. Paul did not just impart information to people. He shared his life with people. “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8 NASB).
A clear understanding of the purpose and intent of the relationship can help avoid unrealistic expectations. Each new IMB missionary in Europe is involved in a mentor relationship for the first eighteen months of his or her career. The process of mentorship includes clear objectives and feedback, as well as an expectation that significant growth will take place in the life of the one being mentored. “Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser. Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning” (Prov. 9:9 NASB).
Mentoring is a tangible way to express the love of Christ. Mentors don’t see their investment of time and expertise as merely an add-on or additional to-do item. They view it as a priority in their work and a valuable process for their own continued growth. Mentors, who have seen both theory and the real world, can translate their experiences into the current challenges and issues of the ones they are training.
Agreement and support aren’t the only marks of compassion, though. Good mentors also challenge. With diplomacy and kindness, good mentors share what needs to be said, even when it is not desirable to hear. “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2 NASB).
Healthy relationships are not one-sided. Although the person being trained may not have the same level of experience in the new setting, he or she has many valuable insights and discoveries to share. Great mentors know they have not arrived at their final destination. They are still growing and have a continual desire to learn from peers, from the study of history, and, yes, even from the ones they train. “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you, and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7 NASB).
Effective mentors understand that all healthy relationships have a beginning, middle, and an end. Mentors have experiences, skills, and talents to share. Although many of their ideas and principles are valid, they can also have a shelf life and a limited scope. The intent and purpose of mentorship are to develop less-experienced individuals into solid and mature leaders in their own right in a new setting, not establish a relationship of lifelong authority. “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—let the wise hear and increase in learning and the one who understands obtain guidance.” (Prov. 1:1–3).
Solomon understood the importance of insight, wisdom, knowledge, and discretion. He understood that great ideas are not ends in themselves. They need wise application. Receiving wise counsel from a mentor adds years to one’s maturity and judgment that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
“Wise counsel from a mentor adds years to one’s maturity. Serving as a mentor extends influence beyond one’s life.”
Additionally, serving as a mentor extends influence beyond one’s life. It’s amazing how just being available and willing to listen, empathize, encourage, and challenge can positively impact future situations where a mentor can no longer be present. The mutually beneficial relationship of mentoring, then, not only blesses the two who are primarily involved but extends to every life they touch for the glory of Christ and the expansion of his kingdom.