One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a student who rose to speak at a “thank you” celebration when I left my first church. I had been involved in youth ministry at this church for 14 years, the last ten as the youth pastor. I had begun to recognize the benefits of developing a comprehensive mentoring program for the youth ministry and invested many hours in the lives of a few young men. All five of these men are currently serving in full time ministry today, most as youth pastors. This particular student, James, was one of those five I poured myself into during the last few years at that church. As many people stood to say nice things to my family and I, this young man silenced the room when he simply said, “You are my Paul and I am your Timothy!” And with that he sat down. The emotion I had been trying to control burst forth at that moment and I realized I was finished. I had completed the task God had called me to at that church. What a compliment that student paid me; on my worst days, I think about that moment and smile. Mentoring may be a “buzz-word” in the business world but the practice of developing another person for specific purposes of skill development or leadership (Smith, p. 95) has been around since the beginning of civilization, evident throughout Scripture – especially in the lives of Paul and Timothy.
An effective mentoring relationship includes a variety of phases, some of which are the following:
1) Entry Qualifications: Recent leadership research has identified similar stages to Jesus’ steps of selection in the mentoring process. “Every mentoring journey is composed of four phases – preparing, negotiating, enabling, and coming to closure…”(Zachary, p. 29). The preparing phase is significant to establish the entry qualifications that are to be met. There have been numerous books written on leadership development, many discuss the qualifications that potential leadership should possess. I have found the three most important qualities to begin a mentoring relationship are availability, faithfulness, and teachable. Tim Elmore identifies a pattern in Jesus’ ministry of developing life-giving relationships. This process begins with an opportunity to observe the mentor in action (availability). “This may mean offering an opportunity to a potential mentee to join us in some community service, or observe some task in action, or to have coffee with us – just to get acquainted” (Elmore, p. 2).
If the individual is ready to make a commitment to grow further, the next stage is achieved by providing a “testing ground” for the mentee to prove his or her faithfulness. “These routines might be faithfulness in meeting together, reading books that you’ll later discuss together, performing a task…” (Elmore, p. 3). In my ministry younger leaders approach me from time to time wanting to learn how to develop their own leadership gifts; however as we begin to talk it becomes clear they have not made the mentoring a priority in their schedules, as they are often unavailable to meet regularly. The consistent meeting together is important for deep mentoring to take place, otherwise I am reduced to the role of counselor or consultant – which may provide meaningful perspective, but not enable effective mentoring. The teachability of a potential mentee is gauge through offering of “challenges”. Often I will ask the younger leader to perform some small task – read a chapter in a book, call me with a desired learning subject, etc. If a new mentee does not follow through with these initial tasks I am able to disqualify them from the intensive mentoring relationship; I usually give them a different task to do before I am willing to meet again. In these initial conversations I am able to determine if the mentee is teachable by their responses to my questions about their life and ministry.
2) Defined Expectations: The second element to effective mentoring is clearly defined expectations. Mentoring can mean a variety of things, so it is necessary to define the expectations of both the mentor and the mentee. “We all have a unique definition of what is normal in a mentoring relationship, sharing these assumptions in a disciplined way allows us to prepare for mentoring in an honest, forthright way” (Zachery, p.31). These expectations should include:
- the frequency of meetings,
- the responsibilities of the mentor during the meeting,
- the responsibility for the mentee to complete assignments,
- and a discussion about the arena of growth the mentee wants to achieve.
Lois Zachary calls this the “negotiating” phase and should include “criteria for success, accountability and how and when to bring the relationship to closure”(p.32). Some additional questions to be discussed to help define the roles could be (Zachery, p.33):
- What are the boundaries and limits of this relationship?
- How and when will the relationship be brought to closure?
- What are our criteria for success?
A reasonable expectation is how the mentee will have a growing influence within the ministry, using its programs to practice new skills developed. “Effective leaders encourage and cultivate creativity in others, setting it within a wider scope of the overarching trajectory of where an organization will focus its energy” (Gortner, p.135). This is a takes strategic planning on the part of the mentor, to assess how the mentee can contribute to the ministry and free up the resources or opportunities for the mentee to take the initial growth steps.
We must also take into consideration the expectations of the mentee. The emerging generation values relationships above almost everything else. Therefore, the mentor must seek to provide relational investments in the mentee. John Maxwell (p.68) uses the acrostic “TRUST” to identify 5 relational elements the mentee may be looking for from the mentor:
Time to listen and give feedback
Unconditional Acceptance, even if mistakes are made
Sensitivity to feelings and needs
Touch - encouragement
Tim Elmore said it brilliantly, “Generation Y isn’t looking for a ‘sage on the stage’ but a guide on the side” (p. 2). However, this relational style of mentoring should have clear boundaries and responsibilities for both the mentor and mentee.
3) Graduated assignments to measure growth:I have also found it essential to provide “laboratory” experiences for the mentee to practice the theory or skills we have just discussed. These experiences begin with the mentee observing me utilizing the skill, then progress to doing the skill with me, and finally doing it on their own while I observe. Immediate feedback, both positive and negative, is very important in the process.
It is important to increase the skill load, by building upon previous skills, enables the mentee to become more effective and proficient. “The mentor’s role… is to nurture mentee by… affirming learning culture, asking the right questions at the right time, and providing thoughtful, timely, candid, and constructive feedback” (Zachary, p. 33). In this way, mentoring is less informational but rather transformational by adding self-directed perspective. “The mentor’s role… is to nurture mentee by… affirming learning culture, asking the right questions at the right time, and providing thoughtful, timely, candid, and constructive feedback” (Zachary, p. 33). Asking questions of the mentee was suggested as the key element to the mentoring process; Jesus often employed this Questioning method effectively to instruct his disciples and challenge the Pharisees.
Asking questions of the mentee was suggested as the key element to the mentoring process; Erik Johnson (p.41) even suggested a series of evaluative questions in his article, “How to be an effective mentor”:
- How is your ministry affecting your own relationship with God?
- How is your sense of God’s call being clarified?
- Where are your skills being tested?
- Where is your character being tested?
- What are your hopes and dreams for future ministry?
- How can I help you?
- What evidence can you point to of the presence and power of God in your ministry?
- As you assess your growth, where do you see areas you need to work on? What are your felt deficiencies?
- What are some new things you could try?
- What are some things we could do that would help you to be more a person of integrity?
- What pain have you experienced and what were some of the effects of that pain?
- How has that shaped who you are?
- How might God use your past to prepare you for ministry in the future?
- What might God be teaching right now through the circumstances of your life?
Eventually, the mentoring relationship will complete its purpose and must transition to an ending phase. Zachary highlights that a good exit strategy has four components (p. 36):
- “A learning conclusion”: integration of learning into life
- “A meaningful way to celebrate”
- “Redefining the relationship”: reshaping the relationship for future connections
- “A comfortable way of moving on”: this is the “transition” to the new relationship
A mentor can feel good about concluding the mentorship because the mentee has either fulfilled the graduated assignments or has disqualified him or herself in the process. However, the first two elements of “entry qualifications” and “defined expectations” should how insure a productive and effective mentoring relationship was established.