Mentoring: What?

by on January 1, 2009

This is part two of a three part series on mentoring.

Last time we talked about the importance of having a mentor as you prepare for ministry. The next step is to look at what exactlythat relationship will look like.

Stephen Garber has an excellent book called The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior. The book is intended primarily for college students and teachers, its basic premise being that Christian young adults have a significant challenge before themas they seek to learn to serve God and make sense of the world in such a fragmented society (if you’re interested, a recent post on my own blog deals with the content of the book more closely). One of the key ways of helping students do this isthrough mentoring relationships, and so I would highly recommendthe bookto anyone who will find themselves in some sort of ministry position.

You might remember the post I wrote a few months ago which discussed the importance of forming a biblical worldview that shapes our ministry. I think Garber offers some very helpful considerations that can guide us in how to make that worldview function in our lives and our ministry, and that is why I am bringing his book into the discussion. One of the primary things we need if we are going to begin to live out of a particular worldview is to have a mentor who incarnates that worldview we are seeking to live out of. Having a close relationship with someone and watching them connect convictions, faith, and life can be a deeply formative experience for us. Garber says,

Though a worldview is always more than a set of ideas, it is never less than a constellation of convictions which have a propositional dimension. To understand the character of someone’s convictions, at some point, requires an understanding of that person’s intellectual history, not only the books they have read and the settings in which they have studied, but also the books and settings of their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers. And on and on. Ideas do have a history.

But their history is never abstracted—it always has a ‘blood-stained face,’ as Camus put it so poignantly. Ideas inherently have legs, human legs. And so we must understand that finding a mentor who incarnates the worldview is one side of a reality whose other side is that the ethic of character teaches that beliefs are most clearly seen in behavior. For a student to truly understand the content of his convictions he must see them lived—students need to see their worldview incarnated in the lives of their teachers, if it is to be grasped in a way that can make sense of life for life.

Although what Garber is saying here is not framed in the context of seminarians and mentors in pastoral ministry, perhaps the point is clear to you already. All of our convictions, from our most basic commitments to our views on the Church and the pastoral calling, influence how we think and approach ministry. In many cases, though, we need to learn how to make these connections and this is best done in the shadow of a mentor who has already learned to do that faithfully.

But we don’t want to talk about this only from a more abstract point of view, so let me note that this mentoring extends right into the practical realm as well. We need mentors who will teach us to pray and read Scripture, teach us how to love our flock, to care for those in need, teach us how to listen and how to counsel, show us how to lead and encourage. We need a mentor who will support us and guide us, but who will also rebuke us when we become proud. It should be clear by now that this is a very intense and involved relationship. It really is essential to have people who are that involved in our lives.

While there have been scores of books written on these things, there is no substitute for watching someone doing it and learning from their example. A mentor plays a pivotal role in forming who we are.

In the next post, we’ll look at what is involved in finding a mentor and entering into that relationship.

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Comments

I feel for those young men and women looking to start out in ministry. I struggle with it in this world, and I have the experience of years dealing with the world as a non believer in Christ as well as some years as His follower.

It isn’t easy and my prayer is that all who try be blessed with a mentoring relationship to draw upon.