Throughout my education and career, I can reflect back and identify many informal mentors – this was before recent formal mentoring became an intentional aspect of professional development. In each case there were principles that were characteristic of the relationship. I will share four things that are essential to an effective mentoring relationship: knowledge, character, identity and perseverance.
First and foremost, it is a relationship of a person who has knowledge and experiences that can be passed to a person with less knowledge and experience. Though the current trend of mentoring is relatively new, the concept is very old. It is first recorded in The Odyssey by Homer. Odysseus leaves home and travels for years leaving his young son, Telemachus, without a father figure. In order to provide protection, nurturing and education, Athena, enters his life to serve as a counselor and friend. During the Renaissance period, mentoring was the accepted method of teaching a young person a trade.
As part of this knowledge function component, the mentor can provide the mentee specific information relevant to both the overall professional development of the mentee and details of the specific position. Establishing goals, networking with other pastors and significant persons in the community, providing feedback, sharing traditions of the church and culture of the community, and offering protection from potentially harmful persons and situations can all be a significant part of the knowledge acquisition function of mentoring.
A second purpose of mentoring is character development. This involves attention to all developmental domains – spiritual, psychological, social and physical well-being. As we face a crisis of public issues of destructive behaviors in ministry, it becomes that much more critical that congregations and the denominations as a whole hold their pastors accountable for their behavior. Ideally pastors continue to seek out mentors throughout their career who can hold them accountable and assist them to grow both professionally and personally.
A third issue which is the foundation of character development is the need to clarify one’s identity. The pastor needs to lead the congregation to embrace the core identity as a child of God and the commanded identity of a servant of the living God. One cannot lead in this critical area unless the person first of all embraces this in his or her own life and ministry. This needs a life-long devotion to resisting the temptation to serve as “sage on the stage” but rather embrace the example of Jesus as the person who washed his disciples’ feet. Once this identity is embraced then core values, relationships, behaviors and boundaries can be addressed.
Though there are many aspects of mentoring that could be addressed, the format allows for only a few. So with brevity in mind, the final aspect addressed is perseverance. The Apostle Paul shares in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. In order to finish well, one needs to start well and be intentionally focused on growing in all areas and at every stage.
As a professional counselor and counselor educator, my focus was less on pathology and more on growth and development. Because I found such a benefit from having a mentor at many stages of my career, I became an advocate of mentoring for those who expressed a desire to be challenged in their personal and professional development. Maybe one of the reasons I found mentoring to be such a critical component of my professional growth is it was not a requirement or expectation. I sought it out based on a personal desire to do the best job and become a better person. So, I encourage you to make the most of the mentoring experiences that are required upon entering the pastorate and then be intentional about engaging in mentoring experiences throughout your career in order to meet the inevitable challenges of ministry and life.