Is mentoring a Biblical concept?

I often get asked about the term ‘mentoring’ and whether it has a theological and biblical base.  This is a great question and an important area in which not enough work has been done. I will reply by sketching out the way we handle this in our training of mentors within John Mark Ministries. For interest I have linked just a few sample files from our training web storage.

While the term “mentoring” is an extension of the Mentor – Telemachus narrative from Homer’s The Odyssey, (the account in Fenelon’s Les Adventures de Telemaque is better and more applicable) and as such is extra biblical, the semantic framework commonly associated mentoring certainly is a biblical concept. I understand this framework to be:

An intentional trust relationship in which a more experienced person supports, guides and develops another in life, ministry and leadership.

There are a number of contemporary types of intentional relationships which we contrast with mentoring in our training, these include: spiritual friendship (soul friends, or the Celtic anamchara), spiritual direction (in both its Catholic and Protestant forms), discipleship, counselling (therapeutic), pastoral care, and life / leadership coaching. While we distinguish between these, many of them have a similar theological and biblical basis.

The biblical and theological basis for us is derived from three primary areas of reflection:

Biblical examples of experienced persons mentoring emerging leaders. Each of these are examined in our training and participants reflect on the contact, experiences and processes involved in each leader being mentored.

  • Jesus and his disciples (particularly Peter, James and John)
  • Barnabas and Saul / Paul
  • Paul and Timothy
  • Paul and Titus
  • Moses and Joshua

There are several important NT Greek terms which we spend quite a bit of time on in the training seeking to understand how they might are applicable to mentoring. These take the forms of word studies based on NT Greek usage. Again our mentoring trainees work with each of the applicable references which include these terms and we seek to construct a basis for mentoring out of them.

    There are several theological concepts which we have found instructive in establishing, framing and facilitating mentoring relationships

    • Our communal God and human relationships (especially community [we need each other], covenant [the nature of a commitment to journey together between Christians] and accountability [to what degree are we connected and responsible for each other?])
    • The processes of holiness, purity, refinement and personal growth (what we would have traditionally called sanctification)
    • Servant leadership: I.e leadership not primarily as a individual skillset but as a relational dynamic in which others are empowered to grow and serve.

    I have been training mentors for around 20 years and am fairly strongly convinced that the only way they can be adequately prepared is by:

    • Being mentored themselves for a period of 2 – 3 years and
    • Learning mentoring in an action-reflection mode of formation (i.e. books, seminars and studies are useful to give a conceptual framework but they do not create mentors)

    In our training we begin with people who have the personal spiritual and relational maturity to mentor and feel called to this ministry. We begin their formation in a 4 day residential and get them started in mentoring. The training takes place intentionally over three years of supervision, equipping, resourcing and reflection on their mentoring facilitated in 9 – 12 workshops.

    Our goal is for a person to be able to say to us:
    I am a mentor. I have mentored 5-6 people through at least 12 months of leadership growth. I know the kind of approaches to pastoral development that work for me and can articulate my philosophy of mentoring. I have a sense of my strengths and weaknesses as a mentor. I have a wide range of useful resources to use in mentoring and am in the process of creating more. I have a settled conviction of where mentoring fits in the overall shape of my life and ministry for the future.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *