On mentoring…

Recently, I gathered with a group of fun people to hang out and talk about church stuff, and we got into a discussion about mentoring.

I’ve always had a professional mentor. Someone I could call and ask for advice. Usually, it’s someone who has been in the ministry longer than I’ve been alive, and the relationship developed organically, through clergy groups or lectionary study groups. My mentors have been diverse and have included African-American pastors and a Jewish Rabbi, but never women. I often wish that women were more pro-active in this area. It seems that there are norms in certain cultures that make leaders look out for those who are less experienced.

But, let me get back to those who were around the table, because the overall sentiment was that they did not like the idea of mentors.

“What’s wrong with mentors?” I asked.

 And the answers varied.

One person said that he had been in the pastorate for ten years. He was in his thirties, and resented the fact that he was still considered to be a youngin’ who needed to be mentored.

Another pastor explained, “Our generation just doesn’t do it that way. We get advice from peers, not experts.”

And there was a general sense that a mentor program would feel contrived, unnatural. That it’s a relationship that ought to grow up, rather than be forced.

So, do you have mentors?  How did you meet them? How can we create a culture where these relationships form? Does the idea irritate you? Why or why not?

the photo’s by Sir Cam


9 thoughts on “On mentoring…

  1. As cheesy as it sounds you and Brian have become mentors to Mere and I. Cindy told me I needed to talk to you and Brian and an email began the relationship.

    I also have professors that have become mentors, Stan Hall, David, White, Arun Jones, and David Johnson all have given me time and allowed me in to their world. Michael Jinkins made me his RA and thought me how to write books.

    I have two mentors that are in ministry (besides you) on is a senior pastor in Colorado the other is on break from ministry and looking at the possibility of returning to ministry as a pastor.

    I have been blessed to have so many wonderful people take an interest in me and walk with me as I ask question after question and seek their wisdom.

    I think vulnerability is essential to the mentor relationship. One must be open to correction and critique as a mentor seeks to witness the one they mentor too.

    I think we must decide to mentor others. We got to get out of our individualistic little do it yourself, pull your self up by the boot straps kind of thinking and be vulnerable to each other.

    I think the more we walk with each other and cease the competition to be the biggest, baddest, and most influential minister, pastor, seeker, whatever, we shall receive the greatest gift in just being the person we are called to be.

    In that uniqueness that we all have of being created in God’s image, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Thank God we are not all the baddest or biggest. What happened to the meek shall inherit the earth? It certainly is counter-cultural to shed power and seek to love all as Christ loves the church.

    Imagine a world where young and old alike walk with each other in confidence, that the Kingdom is present here and now…so why worry and why horde? Imagine that place and I will show you a place that mentoring is more than obligation. It is part of the fabric of divine understanding.

  2. This is interesting for me, because I think the fact that I don’t really have a mentor and my resistance to thinks like spiritual direction might be related.

    Part of it is just plan ol’ ego. I want to think that, given time, I can figure everything out and make a good decision. For the most part, I can do those things. I mostly make good decisions and I usually figure out what I put my mind to figuring out. The advantage would be, obviously, not having to re-invent the wheel for myself every time.

    On the other hand, I think that there is a difference between knowledge someone shares with you and knowledge that you learn the hard way.

    I’m definitely more willing to have a mentor who teaches a skill rather than a way-of-life mentor. I’m also sort of a private person. I don’t really want someone else in my business unless they’re invited into it, and invitations are kind of rare for me.

    The connection to my resistance to spiritual direction is connected – ego and the desire to figure things out for myself. I also just have the feeling that spiritual direction would make something I enjoy and that is life-giving (spirituality) into a job (receiving direction).

    I am of course hypocritical in this. I love teaching and I love helping people figure out their spirituality, short term or long term. Maybe that’s part of it too – someone who loves driving doesn’t want to be driven around…I dunno.

  3. My first mentor was the pastor of the church I belonged to when I went to seminary; he taught me the practical aspects of pastoral ministry and gave me hands-on experience during my school years, in a way which worked better for me than our Field Ed program.

    In my first years in ministry, I knew several pastors who’d been around longer than I, who were glad to answer questions or talk about the work of pastoring. I met them through denominational committees, mostly. Some were women, most men, but I was part of the first large wave of women coming out of seminary in the 80s. There just weren’t many women around in those days.

    As time has passed, I’ve found it easy enough to identify colleagues who know more than I do, or have had more experience than I, in certain situations. Today, some of those folks are on-line companions, some are face-to-face. They’re not all older than I, btw.

    And I now know a fair number of women clergy who encourage newer women in ministry — serving as mentors. And. . . I’ve now had opportunity to share my experience with others, to be a mentor in turn.

    Are mentors helpful? They have been for me. I learn best in conversation and enjoy the visible experience of collegiality. Mentoring isn’t, I think, top-down, “Mentor speaks, newbie listens” stuff. I think it crosses lines and creates connections, breaking down the isolation of the pastorate. Just as we can all use a mentor, we also can all be mentors, sharing experiences, and making ourselves available to those who need the conversation.

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  5. My field education experience gave me a good mentoring relationship — in the traditional sense. But, a year was enough for me. I lean toward the second voice you offered. We do it differently. Wisdom is needed, but I don’t want the knowledge of the previous generation(s) of pastoral experience. It just doesn’t help me.

    Instead, I call upon friends. Those are the people that I trust. Some of them have been in ministry longer. Some of them are older. Some of them are classmates from seminary. But, they are my mentors.

  6. Probably the most important thing I learned in college was the phrase that was inscribed above the entrance to the library: “He who knows only his own generation remains always a child.”

  7. I’m of the opinion that mentoring is hugely valuable, but agree that it must also be organic. When I see programs that require the “assignment of a mentor,” I cringe a wee bit.

    I’m not sure that the distinction between mentors and friends is a valid one. A good mentor is a friend, just a friend with more experience and life-knowledge.

  8. I’m not in Ministry, of the formal sense, but I’ve appointed a couple of people to be my mentors. One runs the art program I volunteer for, and the other is a friend of mine who is light years ahead of me, that I look up to. They both know they are my mentors. I told them about it, I thought they should know!

  9. The interesting thing about mentors is probably whether you see them as individual people or whether they can also be “mentoring communities.” That term is borrowed from Parks’ “Big questions, Worthy Dreams” – and it speaks about the way churches can be mentoring communities (mind you, there are also the workspace, and other groups). I think church communities are in a unique spot to foster values and, most of all, hope. I recently wrote on developing a pastoral theology of hope for and with young adults (http://churchculture21.blogspot.com/2008/05/pastoral-theology-of-hope-for-and-with.html), and I think that “tiny little thing called hope” is very often overlooked – mentoring can also be a catalyst for hope. The problem with mentoring relationships (communities as well as individuals), in the end, is that it requires commitment – and, that’s what makes a lot of peopl cringe (and run away).

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