Mentoring Up

Once again the world has stumbled across resource-rich terrain fully explored by New Testament saints ages ago, taking advantage of the principles of Christian discipleship – while clueless of their origin.  Ironically and tragically, the churches of this modern era are not aware of the treasures that are rightfully theirs, thereby living in spiritual poverty.

mentor and mentee

The 11/17/2016 issue of Stanford’s Tomorrow’s Professor newsletter discusses “Mentoring Up:  Learning to Manage Your Mentoring Relationships.”  ‘Mentoring Up’ is a concept adapted from ‘Managing Up,’ a business management idea detailed in a 1980 paper by John Gabarro and John Kotter, “Managing Your Boss,” Harvard Business Review 58 (1):  92-100.  The more recent adaptation of ‘Mentoring Up’ stresses the importance of the 2-way nature of the mentor / mentee relationship, that it “involves mutual dependence between fallible persons.”  Both mentor and mentee must work to understand each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences in working and communicating.

The conventional wisdom of mentoring, of course, is that the relationship is dominated by the mentor, reflecting his greater prestige, power, wisdom, etc.  This culture in business and academia is shifting, however.  Many are beginning to realize that the mentee must be proactive in the relationship, making sure that both parties put their expectations on the table, agreeing on a vision and a purpose for their relationship.

In this essay I’ll relate the ‘Mentoring Up’ principles being developed in the academic world and ask you to consider how you might apply them to your church life.  (There are treasures to be found!)  Of course, if you study the New Testament carefully and review some early church history – before the ‘State’ institutionalized much of it – you’ll see just the same principles.  You could . . .  you really could . . . apply these principles with Christians who are close to you, if you want to experience spiritual growth that goes beyond the typically passive, low challenge environment of your modern church.

undergraduate research

The Entering Mentoring curriculum was developed for training researchers in biology and medicine.  A controlled study of 283 mentor-mentee pairs showed that mentors trained on the principles (discussed below) developed significantly more productive relationships with mentees than those not trained.  A parallel curriculum developed for undergraduate mentees, Entering Research, enjoyed similar success.  In brief, if mentors and / or mentees are trained to embrace the 2-way nature of the interaction, much more gets accomplished.

Below are seven core principles featured in the training.  I’ll comment along the way regarding the implications for discipleship, if you were to apply the ideas to your weekly church life.  For this discussion I’ll have in view an older woman, a ‘senior saint’ who has taken on the role of mentor to a younger woman, a Scriptural role cited in Titus 2:3-5.

  1. Maintain Effective Communication.  Mentors and mentees have to understand their own and each other’s communication styles and consciously practice clarity in communication.

The first thing to do is to set aside time each week to actually sit down and talk, pray, and study together.  Church services are dreadfully passive experiences for all except the paid clergy and, perhaps, the ‘worship team’ performers or choir members or soloists on stage.  Sunday School classes and small groups tend to be age-isolated, preventing personal discipleship, especially that involving those who have something to teach (elder women, for example) to those who have something to learn (younger women).  Time spent together engenders a personal awareness and trust that enables a pair to focus in on what can help the most . . . marriage issues, child raising and home schooling, finances, skills that need to be developed in mercy, kindness, hospitality, selflessness, etc.  In contrast, Sunday School and small group curricula tend to be superficial, untimely, and irrelevant to what’s going on in that particular young woman’s life today.

megachurch service2.  Align Expectations.  Both parties need to understand what each hopes to accomplish.  This can change over time, but open communication allows adaptation.

The mentor wants her younger charge to grow in Biblical knowledge and in wisdom and in practice.  The single young lady wants to find God’s will for her life, in education, in choosing a spouse, in pursuing a career.  The young wife wants a happy marriage that honors God and wants to build up her husband and raise children to know and serve the Lord.  This all doesn’t happen by accident!  Just what is it in your weekly church experience that addresses these vital issues directly?  Since it’s not there, do something about it!  The days pass by quickly.

  1. Assess Understanding.  Be honest and open with each other about what you understand and what you don’t.

Admit that the practice of discipleship “involves mutual dependence between fallible persons.”  I’ve never heard a Senior Pastor declare from his pulpit that he is not an expert in several important areas and therefore his church members should seek out particular men and women in the church for help there.  One-to-one discipleship, on the other hand, can foster openness about frailties.

The elder woman has made mistakes that the younger can benefit from.  She has considerable knowledge in some areas and not so much in others.  They are likely to realize that the mentee should seek out other mentors who can help in specific areas.  If such a culture develops within a church, or even a part of a church, genuine New Testament discipleship and spiritual growth may just take off.  In contrast, modern churches are designed as if all expertise is held by the few paid clergy on staff, mostly men, who dispense their immense wisdom in accordance with the scheduled program.  Why does anyone believe this is a good way to organize a church?  Even so, if you insist on residing ‘within the system,’ you can carve out a discipleship culture within it.

  1. Address Equity and Inclusion.  Mentor and mentee should analyze and address any diversity issues or differences in perspective they have based on their backgrounds, experiences, or worldviews.

In the discipleship scenario, there are likely differences in generational perspectives, educational backgrounds, economic status, etc.  In my view these are irrelevant.  The world is obsessed with situational trivia, whereas the Christian recognizes that all are made in God’s image, all believers are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, and Biblical truths are universal.  Sin pervades the culture of every generation and need have no power over the humble believer who seeks God’s will.  See 2 Peter 1:3-4 . . . Scripture gives us the answers for all things that pertain to a godly life.

  1. Foster Independence.  The overriding goal must be the mentee’s independence.  The mentor works to bring the mentee to professional maturity, establishing goals and milestones along the way.

Just as parents work to raise their children to responsible adulthood, so the elder Christian desires the younger to grow to spiritual maturity.  Establish small goals along the way, including objectives in Bible study, prayer, and personal evangelism.  Create practical ‘experiments’ for the young wife / young mother to conduct to establish more harmony in the home.  Beg God for wisdom and thank Him for successes.  Whatever the problems are or whatever immaturities are identified or whatever victories are desired, develop specific tactics and give it a try.  Then evaluate, adapt, and try again.  Pray much.  Don’t drift.  Don’t quit.

mom reading bible with kids6.  Promote Professional Development.  In academia, goals for the mentee include specific professional accomplishments after the training period.

The mentor / mentee relationship should never end, although it should naturally morph into a friendship of peers over time.  As the younger woman matures and establishes a home that is pleasing to God and a joy to her family, she is always looking to serve God better.  This will certainly include looking to disciple someone younger / less mature than she is.  And so Christian discipleship replicates and multiplies strong believers, and churches are populated by members that ‘look different’ from the world.

  1.   Mentor and mentee must interact ethically, keeping in mind the unequal power dynamic in the relationship.

In discipleship, the dominant ‘ethical’ issues are to avoid gossiping about others and to honor the private confidences shared between the ladies.  Don’t violate trust and don’t focus on the sins of others.  For example, counsel and ideas on marriage can be shared without the young wife venting about her husband’s shortcomings.  The elder woman, as ‘mentor,’ must guide discussions accordingly.

Ok . . . all of the above has been just a short glimpse into 1-2-1 discipleship, also known as  . . . ministry.  Ministry, like evangelism, is always 1-2-1, not pulpit to pew or stage to auditorium.  My main point is that regardless of your functional or dysfunctional church situation, you can do this.   

In the December 9, 2016 e-newsletter from David Cloud, he cites a Baptist church manual from 1867 which states “that Christians should ever be in a state of progressive spiritual improvement . . . constantly advancing in the divine life . . . The ‘perfecting of the saints’ is an object of vast importance . . . Bringing the baptized disciples into local church organizations has this purpose in view.  They are to be taught ‘to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded.’  By such observance alone can a church edify itself in love, building up its members on their most holy faith.  By such observance is promoted the symmetry of Christian character, and in it are included all the activities of the Christian life.  Formative discipline, in its sanctifying influences, ought to reach every church member.”

Indeed.  Therefore, the local church – in order to achieve these Biblical objectives – must be structured in its relationships and activities to accomplish these objectives.  When it is not, and you still want to be a part of it, then your personal responsibility before God is to create your own discipleship opportunities, whether you are mentor or mentee.  I predict that if you do so, then you will find the ‘overhead burden’ of the standard program, with its expensive facilities and its scripted low-IQ programs and its impersonal culture, too onerous.  Why pay for overhead that has no profit?

So, in this essay, I’m not explicitly calling for you to flee the non-New Testament church you are part of; rather, to simply initiate one discipleship-focused relationship that bears weekly fruit.  See how that goes.  You might be surprised that God knew what He was doing when He designed that program.  You also might check out the other ‘church’ essays in the Discipleship section of this web site.

Let me know what you think.


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