The Nuts and Bolts of Mentoring

The Tall Stranger

“He floats from job to job, and is happiest doing nothing but telling stories.” Whispers were on the lips of many people in a river town about a new arrival. The young man found some odd jobs for income. Barely able to read and write, the fellow was pleasant, told some great stories, and was fun to be around.

Discovering that a local school teacher was renting rooms, the young man paid for room and board. He might have noticed the vacant room as he inquired about a sprightly girl entering the house. Ann was under the care and tutelage of teacher-mentor Graham and his wife. In that environment a master teacher was linked, by mentoring, with a young man looking for help in grammar and speaking. And the world would be different.

Years later Mr. Graham sat in the bleachers at the Capitol in Washington, DC. He had traveled to see the inauguration of the new President of the United States. The tall man on the platform looked down, searching the noisy crowd for some recognition of a friend. Spotting Mr. Graham, he yelled for him to come and sit on the platform. Speechless, with hat in hand, Mr. Graham pushed through the crowd, mounted the steps, and was hugged by his former grammar student.

Three years later that President was deep in thought, speeding to Pennsylvania on a train. He wrote a few sentences on the back of an envelope for his speech. That two minute talk became unforgettable. His sentence construction had been carefully taught, even hammered into, a newly motivated rail-splitter who learned both grammar and surveying from Mentor Graham. “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth a new nation. . . .”

Mr. Graham died years after the murder of his pupil, having taught school for 50 years. A local obituary column recalled the faithfulness of the old man, and his mentoring that marked the life of Abraham Lincoln — by transforming his writing, then his speaking style.

This story touches me as I think of the “Lincolns” around the globe waiting to be mentored. Nothing I've done in 40 years of ministry has been as rewarding to me as intensive mentoring. The time has produced “fruit” who have surpassed and multiplied my own ability. The Promise Keepers men's movement has emphasized the Biblical concept that everyone needs to mentor someone, and that all need a mentor.

Questions About Mentoring

What is mentoring?

Dr. Robert Clinton defines mentoring as “a relational experience in which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources.” 1 There are three intensive kinds of mentors: Coach, Spiritual Guide, Discipler. The three occasional mentors are: Teacher, Counselor, and Sponsor.

Remember a person who taught and encouraged you in a skill or project? Mentoring.

Think of that teacher in school who gave you special attention. You'll never forget his/her name. Possibly a relative made you feel valuable, opened a “door” for you, or shared resources. Mentoring, again.

The Lord Jesus, Paul, and Barnabas are prime models of this powerful relationship in the New Testament. Old Testament mentors include Moses who spent time with Joshua at God's command (see Deuteronomy 3:28 ). Later, Elijah made time for a seeking Elisha who asked and received twice the miracle power of his mentor.

How does one begin?

You may establish a mentoring relationship by passing on your special “God-given resource” — helping another person learn mechanics, cooking, computers, first aid, or Bible study methods and problem-solving through Scripture. It may involve a few meetings of informal listening, or just being available to encourage. Or, you could end up building a lifetime relationship that may fully demonstrate the term “intimate friend.” In each case, you set the parameters.

How does it work?

Mentoring involves a relationship around a common area of interest or commitment. Some relationships just happen; others are established by the mentor or mentoree. The stronger the relationship, however, the greater the transfer of skills or spiritual focus.

Older people have a natural opportunity to impact someone younger with their experiences, and to grow wealthy with new friends in the process. Age isn't the criteria, however loving and sharing is. Nothing pays off in a lifetime quite like investing in other people. Some relationships aren't productive, but most mentoring relationships surpass our wildest dreams. You receive more than you give.

To grow in a relationship expectations should be clearly spelled out on both sides. An agreed-upon purpose helps mentoring to progress positively. Jesus gave His requirements in strong, bold strokes, “. . . If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

What is the length of time commitment?

Being open about expectations is essential for a long relationship. When doing coaching or discipling-mentoring, meeting weekly is standard. The less intensive mentoring — of a sponsor, teacher, or counselor — does not always require that regularity. At the start, you should have a goal in mind, or a fixed time commitment, instead of leaving it open-ended. For instance, meet together until the next major holiday. When one must bow out, leave the door open for further fellowship.

Mutual accountability gives mentoring its strength of transmission. One of the most loving things anyone can do is to not let you get away with mediocrity. The mentor must model well, and encourage with a balance of love, patience, and honesty. I typically make short notes after meeting with a mentoree, recording prayer needs, pressures revealed, and principles taught.

What do you do?

Seek to introduce your mentoree to a strong devotional life, including Scripture memory and its meditation. Model in your life the specific application of Scripture. Also, learn and practice a witnessing tool. If time permits, do a joint project of ministry. My mentoring goal is to see the mentoree loving Jesus Christ, in obedience to His Word, and responding, through the Spirit, in Christ-like character. And with every area I cover, I always ask myself: “How can I help him reproduce what he's learned? Is this pass-on-able to those he will mentor?” Model what you want him to learn and be. You'll experience the teaching power of the Holy Spirit and begin multiplying your life this month!

1 Paul D. Stanley & J. Robert Clinton, Connecting: the Mentoring Relationships You Need To Succeed In Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992), p. 12.