Cliff Fletcher, Lead Pastor – Barrie FMC, in Ontario
We’ve seen some really great things go on here in Barrie. I was asked recently if I would do things differently knowing what I know now, having learned the lessons we’ve learned as a church family. That’s an easy one: “Of course!” The biggee would be, being intentional about creating a “discipleship culture”. Here we are today with the number of people that call this home, and we are just now trying to develop this. It would have been so much easier a few years ago, with fewer here. By “culture” we mean that discipleship is so very naturally a part of who we are. We believe that Christian growth happens in community: older Christians investing in younger ones, and peers investing in each other. It is our dream that discipleship would not be a ‘program’ per se, but a way we understand church family. The commission to “make disciples” is an intentional and organic process, where relationships are developed that nurture converts into maturity. It has become my opinion that the church has not practiced discipleship well in North America. For several years I have literally kept an informal survey in my journal. The question I ask individuals in the church is simple enough, “did you experience discipleship when you were younger in your faith?” Almost without exception the question shot back is ‘what do you mean?’ This question only tells me that the language of discipleship is not necessarily familiar or standard in church life. My response is to clarify the question, “did an older Christian pay particular, consistent attention to you at the beginning of your journey so to grow you in the faith?” “Did anyone really know your name, ask about your journey, check up with you for more than one season, pray for you and with you…” The answer to my informal survey is, 98% of the time (though not officially tallied) “no”. In fact, as I have this conversation with people I sense across the board a melancholy, an expressed desire to have experienced such a discipling relationship, older to younger. We have emphasized the personal conversion experience at the expense of the more Biblical mandate of conversion in the context of community. We have Sunday school classes, new life classes, programs, but few of us have experienced the gift of an older Christian over a lifetime, keeping tabs on us, calling us on our mess ups, and cheering us on in our better moments. Few of us invite younger believers into arguments we have at home to show how Christian couples fight Godly! Few of us have been brought fishing, or for a car ride or over for tea once a week for 50 years to simply be checked in on – to have Scripture spoken into us, to be prayed for. Too often I hear, “that’s not my ministry” when I ask older believers to jump into discipleship. In fact discipleship is not a ministry – it is relationship and it is what church is meant to be.
The Mentoring Marketplace | Teneshia Samuel
Vulnerability and self-awareness are two things, from what I have learned in my own experience, that create a fruitful and reciprocating mentoring relationship. Five years ago if you were to ask me what a mentoring relationship entails I would have responded by telling you that it is a give-and-take sort of relationship: the giving comes exhaustively from the mentor, while the student remains only on the receiving end of the mentorship. Now, I’ve come to realize that as a mentoring relationship grows, the boundary line separating the ‘giver’ and ‘taker’ becomes blurred, and soon both persons begin treading on the soil that, by convention, belongs to the other.
A mentoring relationship is like a marketplace, where people can meet, display what they have to offer, show interest in the goods of others, and offer criticisms on that which is being displayed. Buyers may enter a marketplace believing that they are venturing in with the sole purpose of purchasing something for themselves when suddenly they come upon someone who is in need of something that only they bear within themselves. For all of those involved in the marketplace, it is expected that everyone be vulnerable, open to shifting his or her stance on various situations. At the same time, every member of the marketplace must be self-aware, rooted in some kind of standard that holds a uniform level of ubiquity among the people – which would be faith in Jesus Christ and reliance on the biblical texts as the authoritative and unwavering Word of God, in the Church’s situation. A mentoring relationship should be a marketplace of individuals, bearing their own unique contextual situations, who are united in mind and purpose. On occasion there will be those who will infiltrate the marketplace with intentions that run against the standard of the community, which is why every member of the marketplace is also responsible for being inquisitive, alert and discerning about which members with whom they should become relationally involved.
While walking through the mentoring marketplace, one can come upon another person with more experience in the marketplace; and he or she may be willing to take the other by the hand in order to reveal the secrets and new developments of the community. The marketplace is also a place where members can carry the loads of others when spiritual or emotional sacks grow become cumbersome. The marketplace is a community of accountability built by people who are willing to open their lives up so that others may have a peek inside. In a mentoring relationship, both persons must be willing to do such a thing, taking turns being curious about the other and willing to be examined.
Reciprocity and the Spirit of Mentoring
Elizabeth Natividad, Pastor of Grace Methodist Church
in Mississauga, Ontario
Such is the way of mentoring. We can be motivated to imitate someone’s behavior – but we may also be inspired to head in the opposite direction. As such – nearly anyone can serve as a powerful mentor. I have personally benefited from both positive and negative mentors. There have been people in my life whose grateful, humble attitude, simple lifestyle and joyful attitude really inspired me. There are others whose sour disposition and victim mentality made me want to deal with the disappointments of life and get on with living checking my heart for any resentment or bitterness in order that I would live a life of grace and freedom.
Mentoring not only happens in our relationships but through the biographies we read. The scriptures are filled with powerful mentors. Again there are positive and negative role models. I’ve always been inspired by Joseph who refused to sin against God and Joshua who continued to serve with faith and dignity when others cowered in unbelief. But then there are the stories of Gideon – who served well until… And of course who could forget Solomon – who had it all – but was led astray by his dating habits! These are a reminder to me that I need to be careful. Surely if the wisest man who ever lived could fumble I am certainly all the more capable, and so I throw myself afresh on the mercy of God.
One mentor in the Old Testament is Eli. Eli was the high priest during Samuel’s youth (1 Sam. 1-4). Eli’s sons acted wickedly and while they had a very high calling to serve in the temple of the Lord, yet they “had no regard for the Lord.” “The sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.” ((1 Sam. 2:12b;2:17) In all this we wonder about Eli’s lack of control over his sons. Of course we know no human can control another human being – but a father disciplines, corrects, instructs his children and when necessary allows them to experience all the consequences of their actions. Surely Eli’s sons’ actions deserved some immediate and decisive disciplinary action, yet Eli seemed to be M.I.A. – missing in action. His sons continue to serve in the temple of the Lord despite their brazen disobedience of God. Eli was not doing a great job of mentoring his sons.
But something was remarkably different in his relationship with Samuel. Gordon Macdonald suggests that Eli may have realized late in life his mistakes – and although he could not erase the past, he determined with God’s help to do it differently with Samuel. Certainly we know that from a very early age God’s hand was on the boy Samuel – nevertheless the scripture attests to the fact that Eli had a big hand in the formative years of Samuel’s life. Samuel grew to be a strong godly leader with a durable integrity. His record shines as few others in the Old Testament.
We rarely think of someone like Eli as a likely mentor for the next great leader – but isn’t that the way God works? God takes someone who has been there – in the depths of disappointment, failure and brokenness and restores them to a place of service. In reality the best mentors are not faultless – they are faithful to who God made them to be. Aware of their limitations, good mentors share out of the vast experiences of their lives– both good and bad. As they live life they learn from every experience life offers and share with others on the journey of life.
So I ask myself, am I learning the life lessons God is trying to teach me? Am I willing to share the reality of who I am and where I’ve been with those around me? Am I living faithful to God’s call on my life – embracing both my unique giftedness (what I can contribute) and my limitations (what I need you to add)? Do I receive others with a spirit of reciprocity? Reciprocity is not only at the heart of mentoring – it is the soul of ministry.
A Personal Note
This past summer our church has had the privilege of hiring a youth director – someone I have had a mentoring relationship with for the past four years. I have often been the student – the one learning in our relationship. At the start of the summer Teneshia and I were in a ministry situation where I did it again… I BLEW IT! I said what was right – but in the wrong place and time – which makes it all wrong! Well – when the evening ended I sat down with her and said “that is what not to do!”
The best mentoring is organic – by that I mean that it happens in a relationship which is naturally developing. There is chemistry, communication and an appreciation for the otherness of the person you relate with. That describes my growing relationship with Teneshia Samuel – the author of The Mentoring Marketplace.